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Anglo-Saxon poetry was circulated orally in a preliterate society, and gathered at last into books over some six centuries before the Norman Conquest ended English independence. Against the odds, some of these books survive today. This anthology of prose translations covers most of the surviving poetry, revealing a tradition which is outstanding among early medieval literatures for its sophisticated exploration of the human condition in a mutable, finite, but wonderfully diverse and meaning-filled world.
Anglo–Saxon poetry is esteemed for its subtle artistry and for its wealth of insights into the artistic, social and spiritual preoccupations of the formative first centuries of English literature.
This anthology of prose translations covers most of the poetry surviving in the four major codices and in various other manuscripts. A well–received feature is the grouping by codex to emphasize the great importance of manuscript context in interpreting the poems. The full contents of the Exeter Book are represented, summarized where not translated, to facilitate appreciation of a complete Anglo-Saxon book. The introduction discusses the nature of the legacy, the poet's role, chronology, and especially of translations attempt a style acceptable to the modern ear yet close enough to aid parallel study of the old English text. A check–list of extant Anglo-Saxon poetry enhances the practical usefulness of the volume. The whole thus adds up to a substantial and now widely–cited survey of the Anglo–Saxon poetic achievement.