The Earliest English Poems

The Earliest English Poems

Translator: Michael Alexander

  • Paperback
  • ISBN 9780140445947
  • 192 Pages
  • Penguin Classics
  • Adult


Anglo-Saxon poetry was produced between 700 and 1000 AD for an audience that delighted in technical accomplishment, and the durable works of Old English verse spring from the source of the English language.

Michael Alexander has translated the best of the Old English poetry into modern English and into a verse form that retains the qualities of Anglo-Saxon metre and alliteration. Included in this selection are the “heroic poems” such as Widsith, Deor, Brunanburh and Maldon, and passages from Beowulf; some of the famous ‘riddles’ from The Exeter Book; all the “elegies,” including The Ruin, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Wife’s Complaint and The Husband’s Message, in which the virtu of Old English is found in its purest and most concentrated form; together with the great Christian poem The Dream of the Rood.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Table of Contents

A Note on the Translation
Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the Third Edition

The Ruin

Caedmon’s Hymn

Bede’s Death Song

Heroic Poems
Deor and Widsith
Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg

The Wanderer and the Seafarer
The Wife’s Complaint, the Husband’s Message and Wulf and Eadwacer

Gnomic Verses


The Dream of the Rood

The Phoenix


The Battle of Maldon

Map of the Site of the Battle of Maldon
A. The Runes
B. Suggested Solutions to the Riddles
C. Anglo-Saxon Metric
Glossary of Proper Names
Further Reading

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