How to Write a Boast Poem
In Anglo-Saxon England, boasting was a common practice, and works of literature from this period, such as the epic tale “Beowulf,” are full of boast poems. Boasts were speeches that told of a hero’s adventures and accomplishments, and the Anglo-Saxons took these proclamations seriously, expecting the hero to live up to his declarations. Even if you didn't fight the monster Grendel, you can write about your own achievements in a boast poem modeled after the Anglo-Saxon style.
Look at Examples
Before you sit down to write your own boast poem, examine a few examples to identify characteristics of the style. In “Beowulf,” for example, the hero announces: “When it comes to fighting, I count myself / as dangerous any day as Grendel. / So it won’t be a cutting edge I’ll wield / to mow him down, easily as I might.” In a more modern example, Faramir from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Return of the King” introduces Aragorn in a boast: “Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn, chieftain of the Dúnedain of Arnor, Captain of the Host of the West, bearer of the Star of the North, wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing, the Elfstone, Elessar of the line of Valandil, Isildur's son, Elendil's son of Númenor." Notice these examples indicate the victories or qualities of a hero. The Tolkien example begins by introducing the hero’s lineage, a common practice in Anglo-Saxon boasts.
Create an Outline
Write down a list of at least five of your personal accomplishments. These achievements can be academic awards, sports victories or special talents. Many boast poems also include goals you have for the future, so write down one or two things you want to do. Also make notes about your genealogy, as your boast poem should include information about your parents or where you were born. When you make your list, put your humility aside; boast poems are often exaggerated and are meant to state how great and special you are.
Exploring Anglo-Saxon Style
To write a boast poem, you must consider some stylistic norms. Anglo-Saxon poetry is written in alliterative verse, meaning there is repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. Look at your list of achievements or genealogy and come up with alliterative phrases, such as “super soccer star.” You should also include at least three original kennings, which are phrases that substitute for a noun. For example, instead of writing “piano,” try the kenning “twinkling ivories.”
The Final Touches
Use the elements from your outline and Anglo-Saxon style ideas to write your boast poem. Begin by introducing yourself, telling your audience who you are the son or daughter of and where you come from. Write about your accomplishments, and make them sound like the grandest things anyone has ever done. Use words like “glory” and “victory” to highlight your achievements. Brag about the one or two goals you wrote for your future, telling the audience you are sure to make those goals with little effort. After you write your draft, divide it into about 15 to 20 lines. There should be caesuras in nearly every line, meaning there’s a pause in the middle of the line. Check to make sure you include plenty of alliteration and kennings, and ensure the ends of lines do not rhyme. To make your boast poem complete, perform it for the rest of your class.
- University of North Texas: Boasting
- Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition; translated by Seamus Heaney; 2008
- The Return of the King; J.R.R. Tolkien; 2005
- Hugo House: How to Write Your Own Anglo-Saxon Poetry
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