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The Richness of Medieval English Literature

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reviews Stephen Coote’s English Literature of the Middle Ages

Stephen Coote’s English Literature of the Middle Ages (Pelican) was published thirty years ago, in 1988. It’s taken me until this week to read it, but it’s one of the most illuminating and important introductions to medieval English literature you could hope to find. Clear, accessible, and endlessly informative, Coote’s book covers everything from Beowulf to the Morte Darthur, taking in alliterative and rhyming verse, courtly dream-visions and Arthurian narratives, Anglo-Saxon kennings and Middle English prose.

It took a train journey to Doncaster to get me reading Coote’s book, which I have been meaning to read for a while now. Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of the Christmas Carol ‘Once in Royal David’s City’

What connects the popular Christmas carol ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and the popular hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’? They both share an origin – but the origins of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ are not as famous as the words. And the words themselves deserve closer analysis…

Once in Royal David’s City

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of the ‘Little Boy Blue’ Nursery Rhyme

What are the origins of Little Boy Blue?

‘Little Boy Blue’ is a popular children’s rhyme, but as is the case with so many nursery rhymes (as we’ve been discovering in the course of researching these posts), the meaning of ‘Little Boy Blue’ is far from apparent. What does this curious little nursery rhyme mean, or is it an example of that genre of perennial appeal, nonsense verse?

Little Boy Blue,
Come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow,
The cow’s in the corn.
But where is the boy
Who looks after the sheep?
He’s under a haystack,
Fast asleep. Read the rest of this entry