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Old English Metre

Old English Metre: An Introduction

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 152
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Old English Metre
    Book Description:

    Old English Metreoffers an essential framework for the critical analysis of metrical structures and interpretations in Old English literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9383-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    This chapter serves as a preliminary to the following chapters. I provide a sketch of two important features of Old English metre, alliteration and rhythm. We shall also see how these features relate to grammar and word-choice in the poetry and how this knowledge will lead to the better reading of extant poetic texts.

    One of the most conspicuous features of Old English poetry is ALLITERATION, a repetition of the same sound at the beginning of two or more stressed words in a line (alliterating letters are in boldface type):¹

    fēasceaft funden. Hē þæs frōfre gebād (Beo 7)

    destitute found...

  6. 2 Alliteration
    (pp. 12-26)

    Alliteration is one of the most significant traits of Old English poetry. The alliterating words usually have the same initial sound, as infēasceaft funden. / Hē þæs frōfre gebād(Beo 7) discussed at the beginning of the preceding chapter. This is, however, not the whole story. Although they share the same initial consonant,stān‘stone’ andsand‘sand’ do not form an alliterating pair in Old English verse. On the other hand,æþelingas‘nobles’ andellen‘courage,’ which have different initial vowels, are regarded as an alliterating pair. What exactly makes two sounds suitable for alliteration? As we saw...

  7. 3 Rhythm: The Basics
    (pp. 27-48)

    In Old English poetry, as we saw in chapter 1, each line is made up of two parts, the on-verse and the off-verse. Each half-line usually contains two primary rhythmic stresses although the number of unstressed syllables in a half-line varies. A word’s part of speech helps us to determine whether it bears rhythmic stress. The distribution of rhythmically stressed and unstressed syllables in a half-line is not random but highly regulated to yield the five basic types of verse rhythm. we also look at lengthened modifications of the basic types (known as hypermetric verses).

    The first step toward scanning...

  8. 4 Rhythm: Advanced Topics
    (pp. 49-62)

    In the previous chapter, we saw that the rhythm of Old English poetry is highly systematic, yielding the five basic types. We begin with the ‘four-syllable Principle,’ which each half-line must follow to fit into any of the legitimate types. There are apparently a number of verses which seem not to suit any of Sievers’s five types or to observe a proper syllable count. Most of these apparent exceptions can, however, be accommodated to normal verses by reference to the phonological processes of contraction, parasiting, syncopation, and resolution, each of which may add or subtract a syllable. While the metrical...

  9. 5 Metre and Word
    (pp. 63-78)

    In the preceding chapters, we have observed two important features of Old English metre, that is, alliteration and rhythm. As briefly mentioned in chapter 1, these two principles are highly relevant to the use of words in poetic texts. In what follows, we shall see in more detail how metrical factors lead Old English poets to choose between morphological variants on the one hand and avoid using certain forms of suffixes, words, compounds, and phrases on the other.¹

    Although the number of unstressed syllables varies in a half-line, Old English poets tend to employ fewer unstressed syllables than prose writers....

  10. 6 Metre and Grammar
    (pp. 79-102)

    In Old English, there are significant grammatical discrepancies between verse and prose in, for example, the concord between subjects and adjectives/participles, the declension of nouns and adjectives, the use of multiple negation, the ratio of case forms to prepositional phrases, and word order. This chapter demonstrates some peculiarities of verse grammar and explains why they might arise by reference to interaction between verse grammar and the metrical principles described in the previous chapters.

    When the subject is plural, the adjective/participle can be uninflected or inflected with the ending in

    -e(generalized for all genders). Both in prose and in poetry,...

  11. 7 Other Problems Related to Old English Metre
    (pp. 103-116)

    In the preceding chapters we have considered Old English metre and its relevance to lexical and grammatical choice in poetry. This chapter will explore other interesting questions relevant to Old English metre, concerning whether metrical evidence could provide clues to the dating of texts, authorship, and the distinction between verse and prose. Since some of these issues are still matters of great controversy, I shall try to maintain as proper a balance as possible among different views and theories, some of which are also referred to in ‘References and Suggestions for Further Reading’ at the end of the chapter.


  12. Appendix A Suggested Answers to the Exercises
    (pp. 117-126)
  13. Appendix B Some Tips for Scanning Half-lines, with Sample Scansions
    (pp. 127-130)
  14. Appendix C Glossary of Metrical Terms
    (pp. 131-134)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 135-150)
  16. Index of Verses
    (pp. 151-152)
  17. General Index
    (pp. 153-154)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 155-155)