English Poetry

The history of English poetry stretches from the middle of the 7th century to the present day. Over this period, English poets have written some of the most enduring poems in Western culture, and the language and its poetry have spread around the globe. Consequently, the term English poetry is unavoidably ambiguous. It can mean poetry written in England, or poetry written in the English language.

The earliest surviving poetry was likely transmitted orally and then written down in versions that do not now survive; thus, dating the earliest poetry remains difficult and often controversial. The earliest surviving manuscripts date from the 10th century. Poetry written in Latin, Brythonic (a predecessor language of Welsh) and Old Irish survives which may date as early as the 6th century. The earliest surviving poetry written in Anglo-Saxon, the most direct predecessor of modern English, may have been composed as early as the 7th century.

With the growth of trade and the British Empire, the English language had been widely used outside England. In the 21st century, only a small percentage of the world's native English speakers live in England, and there is also a vast population of non-native speakers of English who are capable of writing poetry in the language. A number of major national poetries, including the American, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and Indian poetry have emerged and developed. Since 1921, poetry from the Irish Republic, has also been increasingly viewed as a separate area of study.

This article focuses on poetry written in English by poets born or spending a significant part of their lives in England. However, given the nature of the subject, this guideline has been applied with common sense, and reference is made to poetry in other languages or poets who are not primarily English where appropriate.

Read more about English Poetry:  The Earliest English Poetry, The Anglo-Norman Period and The Later Middle Ages, The Renaissance in England, The Restoration and 18th Century, The Romantic Movement, Victorian Poetry, English Poetry Now

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