Alphabet Poems: A Brief History

Chaucer ABC

Alphabet Poems: A Brief History

By Nyr Indictor

Word Ways, Vol. 28: Iss. 3 (1995)

Chaucer ABC

Excerpt: Sometime before the advent of the printing press, as authors were making the transition from Latin to their native European languages, it was inevitable that someone should think to write alphabet poems in English, French and other vernaculars. The earliest English alphabet poems (Roman, rather than Runic) date from no later than the XIVth century. and the earliest one of known authorship is by Geoffrey Chaucer. His poem, which is usually untitled or simply called “An ABC”. is a prayer to the Virgin Mary. the first three verses of which begin:

Almighty and al merciable queene…
Bountee so fix hath in thin herte his tente …
Comfort is noon but in yow, ladi deere …

The Chaucer alphabet is thought to have been written in 1369; if so, it is his earliest surviving composition. But it is not original; it is a translation of a popular French poem written about 1330 by Guillaume de Deguilleville. A beautiful illuminated copy of the French poem in the Morgan library (M 272) may be the earliest illustrated alphabet poem in this country.

Click here to read this article from Butler University

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