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Free poems online from ancient epics through the Middle Ages

Chaucer's "The Cook"

Illustration from an edition of The Canterbury Tales depicting a cook with a meathook

In honor of National Poetry Month, we’re releasing a list of our library’s top five most researched poems from the ancient epics through the Middle Ages, and making them available for free for an entire month. Check out some of the oldest epic poems ever written. In their time, they used to be more frequently performed aloud rather than read! Visit our topic page on poetry for even more poetry, critical analysis and quality research.

  1. Beowulf This epic poem, “the oldest epic narrative in any modern European tongue,” tells the story of Beowulf, a hero who defeats the monster Grendel as well as his mother, who is terrorizing Hrothgar, King of the Danes. Most likely dating back to the eighth century, the author of Beowulf is unknown, though it’s believed that portions of the story must have originally began circulating by oral transmission. Read more