Alliterative verse

The Old English epic poem Beowulf is written in alliterative verse.
The copies of the Golden Horns of Gallehus exhibited at the National Museum of Denmark
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a well-known alliterative poem in Middle English (from original manuscript, artist unknown).
The Fyrby Runestone tells in fornyrðislag that two brothers were "the most rune-skilled brothers in Middle Earth."
Drawing of the copper Sigtuna box with a dróttkvætt verse written in the runic alphabet
The Karlevi Runestone contains a dróttkvætt poem in memory of a chieftain.

Form of verse that uses alliteration as the principal ornamental device to help indicate the underlying metrical structure, as opposed to other devices such as rhyme.

- Alliterative verse

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Late 14th-century chivalric romance in Middle English.

First page of only surviving manuscript, c. 14th century
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (from original manuscript, artist unknown)
The legendary Irish figure Cúchulainn faced a trial similar to Gawain's (Cúchulain Slays the Hound of Culain by Stephen Reid, 1904).
Knights of Gawain's time were tested in their ability to balance the male-oriented chivalric code with the female-oriented rules of courtly love. (God Speed! – Edmund Blair Leighton 1900)
In the 15th-century Saint Wolfgang and the Devil by Michael Pacher, the Devil is green. Poetic contemporaries such as Chaucer also drew connections between the colour green and the devil, leading scholars to draw similar connections in readings of the Green Knight.
Another famous Arthurian woman, The Lady of Shalott, with a medieval girdle around her waist (John William Waterhouse, 1888)
Gawain's Shield, with the endless pentagram in gold on a red background
Gawain represented the perfect knight, as a fighter, a lover, and a religious devotee. (The Vigil by John Pettie, 1884)
Scholars have pointed out parallels between the girdle Bertilak's wife offers Gawain, and the fruit Eve offered to Adam in the Biblical Garden of Eden. (Adam and Eve Lucas Cranach, ca. 1513)
Lady Bertilak at Gawain's bed (from original manuscript, artist unknown)
Lud's Church

Written in stanzas of alliterative verse, each of which ends in a rhyming bob and wheel; it draws on Welsh, Irish, and English stories, as well as the French chivalric tradition.

Piers Plowman

Middle English allegorical narrative poem by William Langland.

Page from the 14th-century Luttrell Psalter, showing drolleries on the right margin and a ploughman at the bottom
Image of the opening of Piers Plowman from manuscript Laud misc. 581 in the Bodleian Library
Piers Plowman from the early-15th century manuscript in the National Library of Wales

It is written in un-rhymed, alliterative verse divided into sections called (Latin for "step").


One of the often named poets who composed skaldic poetry, one of the two kinds of Old Norse poetry, the other being Eddic poetry, which is anonymous.

Bersi Skáldtorfuson, in chains, composing poetry after he was captured by King Óláfr Haraldsson (illustration by Christian Krohg for an 1899 edition of Heimskringla)
A minstrel sings of famous deeds by J. R. Skelton, c. 1910
Illustration from the 18th-century Icelandic manuscript NKS 1867 of Thor's fight with the World Serpent, the subject of early skaldic verses by Bragi Boddason and Úlfr Uggason
Snorri Sturluson, illustration by Christian Krohg (1899)

They are characteristically more ornate in form and diction than eddic poems, employing many kennings and heiti, more interlacing of sentence elements, and the complex dróttkvætt metre.

Poetic Edda

Modern name for an untitled collection of Old Norse anonymous narrative poems, which is distinct from the Prose Edda written by Snorri Sturluson.

The title page of Olive Bray's English translation of Codex Regius entitled Poetic Edda depicting the tree Yggdrasil and a number of its inhabitants (1908) by W. G. Collingwood.
The cover of Lee M. Hollander's Poetic Edda.

The Eddic poems are composed in alliterative verse.

Prose Edda

Old Norse textbook written in Iceland during the early 13th century.

Title page of a late manuscript of the Prose Edda written by Snorri Sturluson (13th century), showing the Ancient Norse Gods Odin, Heimdallr, Sleipnir, and other figures from Norse mythology.
The likely stemma of Snorra Edda, considering only the main source of each manuscript.
Gylfi and three speakers. Manuscript SAM 66 (Iceland, 1765–1766), Reykjavík, Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies.
Thjazi and Loki. Beginning of the myth of the abduction of Iðunn, attested in Skáldskaparmál. Manuscript NKS 1867 4to (Iceland, 1760), Copenhagen, Royal Library

The Prose Edda appears to have functioned similarly to a contemporary textbook, with the goal of assisting Icelandic poets and readers in understanding the subtleties of alliterative verse, and to grasp the meaning behind the many kennings used in skaldic poetry.

Old English literature

Old English literature refers to poetry and prose written in Old English in early medieval England, from the 7th century to the decades after the Norman Conquest of 1066, a period often termed Anglo-Saxon England.

The Peterborough Chronicle, in a hand of about 1150, is one of the major sources of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; the initial page
In this illustration from page 46 of the Cædmon (or Junius) manuscript, an angel is shown guarding the gates of paradise.
Remounted page from Beowulf, British Library Cotton Vitellius A.XV
First page of Beowulf, contained in the damaged Nowell Codex.

The most distinguishing feature of Old English poetry is its alliterative verse style.


Repetition of similar sounds in the final stressed syllables and any following syllables of two or more words.

A simplified procedure for determining whether two sounds represent the same or different phonemes

Old English poetry is mostly alliterative verse.


Metrical pause or break in a verse where one phrase ends and another phrase begins.

An example of a caesura in modern western music notation

In the alliterative verse that is shared by most of the oldest Germanic languages, the caesura is an ever-present and necessary part of the verse form itself.


First page of Beowulf in Cotton Vitellius A. xv. Beginning: HWÆT. WE GARDE / na in geardagum, þeodcyninga / þrym gefrunon... (Translation: What! [=Listen!] We of Spear-Da/nes, in days gone by, of kings / the glory have heard...)
Tribes mentioned in Beowulf, showing Beowulf's voyage to Heorot and the likely site of the poem's composition in Rendlesham, Suffolk, settled by Angles. See Scandza for details of Scandinavia's political fragmentation in the 6th century.
Finds from Gamla Uppsala's western mound, left, excavated in 1874, support Beowulf and the sagas.
Carrigan's model of Beowulf s design Key: (a) sections 1–2 (b) 3–7 (c) 8–12 (d) 13–18 (e) 19–23 (f) 24–26 (g) 27–31 (h) 32–33 (i) 34–38 (j) 39–43
Wiglaf is the single warrior to return and witness Beowulf's death. Illustration by J. R. Skelton, 1908
Remounted page, British Library Cotton Vitellius A.XV
The traditional view is that Beowulf was composed for performance, chanted by a scop (left) to string accompaniment, but modern scholars have suggested its origin as a piece of written literature borrowed from oral traditions. Illustration by J. R. Skelton, c. 1910

Beowulf (Bēowulf ) is an Old English epic poem in the tradition of Germanic heroic legend consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines.

Metre (poetry)

Basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse.


The metre of the old Germanic poetry of languages such as Old Norse and Old English was radically different, but was still based on stress patterns.