A History of English Literature

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
Blake here recalls the ancient legend that Jesus came with Joseph of Arimathea to
Glastonbury, in Somerset. One answer to his wondering question would be: ‘No, on
Literature is written language. Human settlement, in Britain as elsewhere,
preceded recorded history by some millennia, and English poetry preceded writing
by some generations. The first poems that could conceivably be called ‘English’ were
the songs that might have been heard from the boats crossing the narrow seas to the
‘Saxon Shore’ to conquer Britannia. ‘Thus sung they in the English boat’, Andrew
Marvell was to write.
The people eventually called the English were once separate peoples: Angles,
Saxons and Jutes.St Bederecounts in his Latin Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis
Anglorum(Ecclesiastical History of the English People, 731) that the Jutes were
invited into Kent in 449 to save the British kingdom from the Saxons and Picts.
The Jutes liked what they saw, and by about 600 Britannia had fallen to them, and
to the other invaders we now call the Anglo-Saxons. The Celtic Britons who did
not accept this went west, to Cornwall and Wales. The new masters of Britain
spoke a Germanic language, in which ‘Wales’ is a word for ‘foreigners’. Other
Britons, says Bede, lived beyond the northern moors, in what is now Strathclyde,
and bey ond them lived the Picts, in northern and eastern Scotland. English was
first written about the year 600 when King Æthelred of Kent was persuaded by St


St Bede(673–735) Monk
of Wearmouth and Jarrow,
scholar, biblical commentator,

The coming of the Angles,
Saxons and Jutes in the 5th,
6th and 7th centuries.

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