The major traits found in the poems of the Old English Period can be known through the major works of the time. The best-known long text in Old English is the epic poem Beowulf. Beowulf himself is a classic hero, who comes from afar. He has defeated the mortal enemy of the area – the monster Grendel and has thus made the territory safe for its people. The people and the setting are both Germanic. The poem recalls a shared heroic past, somewhere in the general consciousness of the audience who would hear it.
Beowulf is the beginning of a heroic tradition, emphasizing strength and the territorial imperative. The structure of Beowulf involves the main plot featuring animals and monsters with only the sub-plot involving human beings.
The language of Beowulf is extremely rich and inventive, full of imposing tones and rhythms: there are a great many near-synonyms for ‘warrior’ many compound adjectives denoting hardness; many images of light, color, and blood; many superlatives and exaggerations to underline the heroic, legendary aspects of the tale.
It is a poem of praise for ‘valor and venturous deeds’, a tragedy, since the hero inevitably dies, and an elegy, since it recalls heroic deeds and times now past.
When the battles are lost and won, the world is for the young, and the next generation must take on the responsibilities of the warrior king. Questions of history, time and humanity are at the heart of it: it moves between past, present, and hope for the future, and shows its origins in oral tradition. It is full of human speech and resonant images, and of the need to resolve and bring to fruition a proper human order, against the enemy.
Beowulf is the beginning of a heroic tradition, emphasizing strength and the territorial imperative. The structure of Beowulf involves the main plot featuring animals and monsters with only the sub-plot involving human beings. The two narratives are interlaced with conflicts between the two groups and even a sermon on human behavior. Beowulf suggests what a hero is, and how important the hero is as a focus of public attention and admiration.
Way of contrast, another text whose subject is war, The Battle of Maldon, is less fanciful. It is a documentary of the battle, a glorification of warlike values. It recounts a defeat, stressing the bloodshed and loss, commemorating a battle in the year 991. It is a more realistic depiction of the necessity of victory. Perhaps Beowulf in having three generations of mythical monsters as the principal enemy is more suited to the myth-making hero it extols. Even an anonymous text almost always has something of an author’s personality in it, although texts in the oral tradition probably underwent many changes.
Most Old English poetry is anonymous, even though names that are in no way comparable, such as Caedmon and Deor, are used to identify single texts. Alfred’s influence on translation into idiomatic accessible language took England ahead of the rest of Europe in beginning a tradition of language and literacy in the vernacular which in many ways marks the beginning of the long traditions of literature in English.
How the Poems of the Old English Period differ from the lyrics of the Middle Age?
Middle English literature casts the Federalist society which is different from that of the Old English Period as it is heroic. The old English literature has heroic themes basically a war, fight, heroism on the battlefield, whereas, the themes in the Middle English are religious and orthodox. Allegory and satire are dominant figures of speech in Medieval English literature, whereas alliteration is dominant in the Old English period. The language of the medieval lyrics is influenced by French. The anonymity of the authors in the old English period becomes a dominant theme. But there is an authentic author of literary works in the medieval age.