Into the 11th century; all known Old English poems follow, with some variation, the Germanic tradition of alliterative verse. Alliteration is not just an optional rhetorical device but a formal requirement of Old English poetry. Old English verse lines consist of two half-lines, each containing two stressed syllables. Alliteration is usually on the first stress of the second half line, which alliterates with either, or both, stresses of the first half-line, thereby connecting the half-lines. All vowels were seen to alliterate, consonants only with like consonants. Special poetic vocabulary - a wide range of synonyms for common nouns, with various initial letters - allowed the poet flexibility. Some techniques of alliterative verse were also used for an elevated style of prose. Distinguished writers of alliterative prose in Old English were Ælfric and Wulfstan.
The history of alliterative verse following the Norman Conquest of 1066 is uncertain. Middle English poetry displays the continental style of stanzaic, syllabic rhyming verse, until the second half of the 14th century shows a return to Germanic verse tradition, with a modified alliterative technique. This period, lasting into the earlier part of the 15th century, is labelled alliterative revival.
Whether this 'revival' was an intentional striving towards past Germanic composition – away from French predominance - or merely a continuation of orally composed alliterative pieces since the 11th century, remains open. Notable poem in this context are Layamon's Brut and the Poema Morale, ca. 1200, which in parts recall the Old English alliterative verse tradition . Examples of alliterative prose in early Middle English are the works of the Katherine Group.
Some works of the alliterative revival are the alliterative Alexander Fragments, William of Palerne, Wynnere and Wasture, , The Parlement of the Three Ages, Piers Plowman, the works of the Gawain-Poet, The Pistel of Swete Susan, St Erkenwald, The Destruction of Troy and The Destruction of Jerusalem, The Wars of Alexander, and the Alliterative Morte Arthure.