This article focuses on poetry written in English from the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (and Ireland before 1922). However, though the whole of Ireland was politically part of the United Kingdom between January 1801 and December 1922, it can be controversial to describe Irish literature as British, and for some this includes authors from Northern Ireland. The article does not include poetry from other countries where the English language is spoken.
The earliest surviving English poetry, written in Anglo-Saxon, the direct predecessor of modern English, may have been composed as early as the 7th century.
The earliest known English poem is a hymn on the creation; Bede attributes this to Cædmon (fl. 658–680), who was, according to legend, an illiterate herdsman who produced extemporaneous poetry at a monastery at Whitby. This is generally taken as marking the beginning of Anglo-Saxon poetry.
Much of the poetry of the period is difficult to date, or even to arrange chronologically; for example, estimates for the date of the great epic Beowulf range from AD 608 right through to AD 1000, and there has never been anything even approaching a consensus. It is possible to identify certain key moments, however. The Dream of the Rood was written before circa AD 700, when excerpts were carved in runes on the Ruthwell Cross. Some poems on historical events, such as The Battle of Brunanburh (937) and The Battle of Maldon (991), appear to have been composed shortly after the events in question, and can be dated reasonably precisely in consequence.