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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

XV. Pearl, Cleanness, Patience and Sir Gawayne

§ 9. Erkenwald, etc.

The alliterative peom of Erkenwald comes nearer to the work of the author of Cleanness and Patience than any other of the alliterative poems grouped in the above-mentioned list. It tells, in lines written either by this author himself or by a very gifted disciple, an episode of the history of the saint when he was bishop of St Paul’s; and, in connection with the date of its composition, it should be noted that a festival in honour of the saint was established in London in the year 1386.

Internal evidence of style, metre and language appears to outweigh the parallel passages and other clues which are adduced as tests of unity of authorship in respect of the Troy Book, Titus, The Wars of Alexander and Golagros. For the present, these may be considered as isolated remains which have come down to us of the works of a school of alliterative poets who flourished during the second half of the fourteenth and the early years of the fifteenth century. So far as we can judge from these extant poems, the most gifted poet of the school was the author of Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight: he may well have been regarded as the master, and his influence on more northern poets, and on alliterative poetry generally, may explain in part, but not wholly, the parallel passages which link his work with that of other poets of the school, who used the same formulac, the same phrases and, at times, repeated whole lines, much in the same way as poets of the Chaucerian school spoke the language of their master.