Many of the poems from the medieval period have a strong focus on religion. During the medieval period, it was mostly clerics who were able to read and write, so that’s part of the reason why many poems were religious. Religion had a firm hold on the people in the medieval period because they couldn’t control so much of their lives and death was common. As a result, the church was a shelter of solace for their problems. However, poems about war and warriors were also very common.
Beowulf is one of the earliest medieval poems to come around. It was written in Old English, as was the poem Christ. Most early medieval poetry was written in verse form and it’s believed that most of it, no matter the language, was set to music. This explains how the poems survived and spread. When bards and minstrels traveled across Europe, they carried the poems and brought them to other cultures, mostly in oral forms. As a result, the authors of these poems remain unknown.
As Latin was the most influential language in those times, many poems were written in Latin, including the Gregorian Chants. During this time, many Christian hymns were composed. Some of the Medieval hymns that have survived up to this day include Hildebert’s Hymn to the Trinity, Benedictis’ The Mater Dolorosa, and Veni, Creator Spiritus.
The next poems, written in Irish and Welsh, were vernacular poems which were written by the “common people.” Some Irish medieval poems are praise poems like Brian Ó Ruairc, My Chosen Darling and Star of the World, Catherine. Meanwhile, Welsh medieval poems such as Stafell Gynddylan and Diffaith Aelwyd Rheged still remain up to this day. From there, it spread to other countries that used Germanic languages. Alliterative verses were being used in all areas as did internal rhymes and slant rhymes. These types of poems then influenced Latin poetry so much so that Latin poets started to use rhyme instead of meter.
When the printing press was invented near the end of the period, people were able to publish poems much easier. Then, poems were no longer limited to traveling bards who memorized verses or clerics who only composed religious poems. Anybody who could write a poem could spread it around. Geoffrey Chaucer composed his The Canterbury Tales during this time.
Poetry in the medieval times was surprisingly similar, no matter the location. The same subjects were used as was the same type of composition. Many of the world’s most famous poems were written during this time.
Here’s more information on medieval poetry:
• Medieval Poetry and Literature
• Medieval Poetry Overview
• Medieval Ballads and Lyrics
• The Medieval Lyric
• The Gregorian Chant
• Medieval French Lyric Poetry
• Medieval Welsh Poetry
• Oral Tradition in Medieval Welsh Poetry
• Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
• The Complete Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Poetry
• Old English Poems
• Characteristics of Anglo-Saxon Poetry
• Anglo-Saxon Poetry Guide
• Electronic Beowulf
• Beowulf Text
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