The Alliterative Revival refers to a resurgence in the use of alliterative verse in Middle English poetry, occurring primarily in the 14th century. This revival marked a return to the alliterative patterns of Old English poetry, a style that had fallen out of favour following the Norman Conquest in 1066, which brought a significant French influence on the English language and its poetic traditions.
Alliterative verse is characterized by the repetition of the initial consonant sounds of words in a line of poetry, rather than by rhyme at the end of lines. This form of verse was common in Old English literature, as seen in works like “Beowulf.” During the Alliterative Revival, poets in different regions of England began to rediscover and use this traditional form, blending it with contemporary Middle English.
The Alliterative Revival produced several notable works. Among the most famous is “Piers Plowman” by William Langland, a lengthy allegorical poem dealing with complex theological and social themes. Other significant works include “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” which combines alliterative verse with intricate narrative and moral complexity, and the “Alliterative Morte Arthure,” a retelling of the Arthurian legend.
This revival was not uniform across England and seemed to have been particularly strong in the North and the West Midlands. The poets of the Alliterative Revival often used their work to address contemporary social and political issues, making their poems not only artistic endeavours but also commentaries on the state of society.
The Alliterative Revival is significant as it represented a conscious return to and preservation of older English poetic forms, and it played a crucial role in the development of English literature. It bridged the gap between the Old English poetic tradition and the emergence of distinctly Middle English literature.