It was early into the 13th century after the messiah was born. In a small island north of Europe, the French had lost England. But the remnants of their culture were still to be found. The language spoken in that Island, which was predominantly Anglo-Saxon, prior to the French invasion in 1066, had amalgamated with French. And hence, Middle English was born. And while the words in Middle English had French origins, the poetry that remained largely took its roots from Beowulf; alliteration was the norm, rhyme was merely an ornament, fit to be worn by the Queen. Going beyond the fourth meter was an abomination.
And then, about seven score years later, a man was born, who would change English poetry forever.
He traveled across Europe, studied Dante extensively, learnt the romantic poetry of the romantic languages; and decided to implement the same forms in English. He dared. He stretched the meter… A language which is inherently beautiful in its brevity was stretched just a tiny bit. But he just didn’t do that. In his own words,
But trusteth wel, I am a swoot remarne,
And cannot weste Rum-Ram-Ruf.
Now these lines may seem to the casual reader as mocking the alliterative verse. But history is more profound than this. At the same time when Chaucer was busy composing his Canterbury tales, and singing the tales along to crowds who would shower him with gold, northwestern England saw one of the greatest poems Middle English has ever seen: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight- which, by the way, was alliterative verse.
So, when people argue that alliteration died away, it’s untrue. Chaucer helped kill it. Chaucer helped people shape their opinion through his poetry. And why would Chaucer do it? He was politically motivated. His grandson had a shot at being king of England through marriage, so that is indicative of how elite Chaucer was!
Fast forward seven centuries. What relevance does this bit of lost history have to do with our world today? Well, not much, except that the same tools which Chaucer used so many years ago to demean a certain group of people, is being used by the Empire today. True, the medium has changed. The means haven’t. Entertainment back in the day was poetry. Entertainment today is TRP ratings. So, when the media decides to coin words such as ‘Islamists’ in lieu of ‘Muslims’, ‘Islamism’ instead of ‘Islam’, we need to be wary. These words rhyme eerily with ‘Terrorists’ and ‘Terrorism’; words that have extensively and casually been used by the Bush regime and forward. And the sad part is that often times, Muslim media-houses get caught up with the same terminology! Just as it happened, all those years ago, when northwestern England was forced to believe that alliteration is inferior to rhyme!
France may have lost England, but English lost to French.