The Alliterative Morte Arthure (14th century)

        The Alliterative Morte Arthure is composed of 4,346 alliterating four-stress lines, and tells the story of Arthur's fall from power due to the treachery of his nephew, Mordred.  The poem was a source for Malory's compilation of Arthurian narrative, and also probably influenced the Pearl-Poet (esp. Cleannesse).  There also is a stanzaic version (late 14th century) which adds Lancelot's adultery with Guenivere, the Maid of Astolot, and Arthur's ambiguous final voyage to Avalon after the battle with Mordred.  See the bottom of this page for the library's copy of a parallel text edition comparing both poems.

        The poem's alliterative scheme is somewhat uneven, changing from four to three alliterations per line.  See the first two lines below where the alliterating consonants are in red.   Most alliterative poems do not rhyme consistently, but the Pearl-Poet's work is the exception.  His greatest poems, Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl, both alliterate and rhyme in extremely complex stanza forms.  For this reason it has been suggested that he may have been a self-conscious "archaizer" (user of ancient forms) who may even have resided in London at the same time Chaucer lived and wrote there.  Of the Alliterative Morte's author, we know nothing certain, though scholarship around the turn of the twentieth century indulged in a rash of wild speculation that since has been disproven.

The Thornton Ms., (lines 1-53)
(to read more, click here)

1: How grett glorious Godd, thurgh grace of Hym seluen,
2: And the precyous prayere of Hys prys Modyr,
3: Schelde vs fro schamesdede and synfull werkes,
4: And gyffe vs grace to gye and gouerne vs here,
5: In this wrechyd werld, thorowe vertous lywynge,
6: That we may kayre til Hys courte, the kyngdom of Hevyne,
7: When oure saules schall parte and sundyre fra the body,
8: Ewyre to belde and to byde in blysse wyth Hym seluen;
9: And wysse me to werpe owte som worde at this tym
10: That nothyre voyde be ne vayne, bot wyrchip till Hym selvyn,
11: Plesande and profitabill to the popule şat them heres.
12: 3e that liste has to lyth or luffes for to here
13: Off elders of alde tym and of theire awke dedys,
14: How they were lele in theire lawe and louede God Almyghty,
15: Herkynes me heyndly and holdys 3ow styll,
16: And I sall tell 3ow a tale şat trewe es and nobyll,
17: Off the ryeall renkys of the Rownnde Table,
18: That chefe ware of cheualrye and cheftans nobyll,
19: Bathe ware in thire werkes and wyse men of armes,
20: Doughty in theire doyngs and dredde ay schame,
21: Kynde men and courtays and couthe of courte thewes;
22: How they whanne wyth were wyrchippis many,
23: Sloughe Lucyus şe lythyre, that Lorde was of Rome,
24: And conqueryd that kyngryke thorowe craftys of armes;
25: Herkenes now hedyrwarde and herys this storye.
26: Qwen that the kyng Arthur by conqueste hade wonnyn
27: Castells and kyngdoms and contreez many,
28: And he had couerede the coroun of the kyth ryche,
29: Of all that Vter in erthe aughte in his tym:
30: Orgayle and Orkenay and all this owte iles,
31: Irelande vttirly, as occyane rynnys;
32: Scathyll Scottlande by skyll he skyftys as hym lykys,
33: And Wales of were he wane at hys will;
34: Bathe Flaundrez and Fraunce fre til him seluyn,
35: Holaund and Henawde they helde of hym bothen,
36: Burgoyne and Brabane and Bretayn the Lasse,
37: Gyan and Gothelande and Grace the ryche;
38: Bayon and Burdeux he beldytt full faire,
39: Turoyn and Tholus, with toures full hye;
40: Off Peyters and of Prouynce he was prynce holdyn,
41: Of Valence and Vyenne, off value so noble,
42: Of Ouergne and Anyou, thos erledoms ryche,
43: By conqueste full cruell şey knewe hym fore lorde;
44: Of Nauerne and Norwaye and Normaundye eke,
45: Of Almayne, of Estriche, and oşer ynowe;
46: Danmarke he dryssede all by drede of hym seluyn,
47: Fra Swynn vnto Swetherwyke, wiş his swerde kene.
48: Qwenn he thes dedes had don, he doubbyd hys knyghtez,
49: Dyuysyde dowcherys and delte in dyuerse remmes,
50: Mad of his cosyns kyngys ennoyntede,
51: In kyth there they couaitte crounes to bere.


TITLE King Arthur's death : the Middle English stanzaic Morte Arthur
and alliterative Morte Arthure
/ edited by Larry D. Benson.
PUB. INFO. Exeter : University of Exeter, 1986.
DESCRIPT xxxvi, 257 p. ; 23 cm.
SERIES Exeter medieval English texts and studies.
Exeter medieval English texts and studies.
NOTE "First published ... 1974."--T.p. verso.
BIBLIOG. Bibliography: p. xxxiv-xxxvi.
LC SUBJ HDG English poetry -- Middle English, 1100-1500.
Arthurian romances.
ALT AUTHOR Benson, Larry Dean, 1929-
UNIF TITLE Morte Arthur. 1986.
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