Forgotten Ground Regained

Classics
A Classic Sampler
Beowulf / Viking Poetry
Sir Gawain & the
Green Knight and Pearl

Poetry 'zine
Featured Poems
Miscellany
Editor's Notes
Submissions

Resources
Other Translations
Medieval Texts
Modern Poetry
Fantasy Poetry
Poetic Techniques / Essays

Site Info
Masthead / Awards
New Changes & Old
Site References

Linking Letters:
A Poet's Guide to Alliterative Verse


Part XII: The meter of Beowulf: Variants of the Five Types

    While there are five basic types in Sievers' description of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse, that is not the end of the story. There are quite a few variations allowed. We will talk about the principles which allow (or disallow) the variation later; first we need to know what patterns are possible. I will provide both modern English and Old English examples (using bolding to represent lifts and acute accents to represent syllable length, since HTML does not yet support the normal representation of long vowels.)

    Sievers numbers the types, as follows:

    • Type A (lift-dip-lift-dip)

      • A1 (PROUD and PASSIONate, SUDDENly SINGing, PROUDer than a PEAcock etc.)
          This is the standard A type of half-line. The lifts can be single long stressed syllables, or they can be resolved, as in most of the half-line types listed here. The first dip can be strong; the second dip must be a single unaccented syllable.

          Old English examples:
          gomban gylden
          wéox under wolcnum
          wonsceaft wera
          sceaþena þréatum
          fréowine folca


      • A2 (neither AGE nor WISdom, if HEARTS are HARDened, nor SEEK after FORtune, etc.)
          This is an extended type. The presence of an extra one or two syllables before the first lift is termed anacrusis, so this is "type A with anacrusis". In Anglo-Saxon, type A2 is very limited -- most of the extra syllables are grammatically required prefixes like ge- or be- or enclitics like negative ne. In a modern imitation of Anglo-Saxon verse, type A2 should be avoided like the plague, as too many A2 lines fundamentally change the meter, and make it sound like iambic verse. In general, anacrusis works best in the first half line, where the extra syllables start the line.

          Old English examples:
          gede under heofenum
          gewát þá ofer wæ'gholm
          ongeat þá se da
          ne gewéox hé him tó willan


      • A3 ( SO that he will SEE us, BUT not in WINTer, etc.)
          This variant is a source of controversy. The modern consensus is that type A3 only has one lift, preceded by a long string of weak syllables, typically grammatical function words. Sievers treated the initial word as stressed: SO that he will SEE us, BUT not in WINTer. But alliteration falls on the strong stress; the initial weak syllable need not alliterate.

          Old English examples:
          þæt hé þone bréostwylm
          ðá wæs on burgum
          ðý æ'r hé þone healsbéah


    • Type B (dip-lift-dip-lift)

      • (brought PAIN and LOSS, was GIVEN much GRACE, neither TIME nor TIDE etc.)
          Standard type B, with or without resolution. The first dip can be strong; the second must be a single unaccented syllable.

          Old English examples:
          on sídne sæ'
          thurh sídne sefan
          siþðan grimne gripe
          þenden wordum wéold


    • Type C (dip-lift-lift-dip)

      • C1 (they were FAINT-HEARTed, were MADE CAPTive, this SUDDEN IMpulse, after HARD LABOR, etc.)
          Standard type C, with or without resolution. The first dip can be strong; the second must be a single unaccented syllable.

          Old English examples:
          þá wiþ Gode wunnon
          mid scip-herge
          over hron-de
          gyf him ed-wenden


      • C2 ( a DARK PREsence, his HEART BItter, what they SEEK EVer, etc.)
          This variant involves what is technically called suspension of resolution. Normally, a word like presence or bitter would be resolved and treated as a lift. But in this case, the short stressed syllable counts as the lift, the syllable after it, as the final dip. As before, the first dip may be either weak or strong.

          Old English examples:
          druncon wín weras
          in gear-dagum
          þæt wæs gód cyning


    • Type D (lift-lift-dip)

      • D1 ( SAD SONGwriters, HALF-SKILLfully etc.)
          This is standard type D. The dip must contain a secondary stress; in this variant, it is the first element in the dip.

          Old English examples:
          wís wélþungen
          heall heorudréore
          betst beadorinca
          lindhæbbende
          gúðfremmendra
          andswarode

      • D2 ( BOLD BREADwinners, etc.)
          The secondary stress in the dip is a single short accented syllable, with suspension of resolution.

          Old English examples:
          stéap stánhliðo
          léof landfruma

      • D3 ( HALF-WIllingly, etc.)
          As in C2, the second lift is a single short accented syllable, with suspension of resolution.

          Old English examples:
          þéodcyninga
          eorðcyninges

      • D4 ( DARK DREARiness, SAVAGE SENTiments, FAINTHEARTedness, etc.)
          This is the second common variant of type D, along with D1. The dip must contain a secondary stress; in this variant, it is the last element in the dip.

          Old English examples:
          bád bolgenmód
          eal inneweard
          micel morgenswég
          hár hilderinc
          bát bánlocan

      • D* ( EVil ELements, SOOTHing CERTainties, ANGry ATtitudes etc.)
          Like types D1 or D4, with the addition of an extra syllable between the two lifts.

          Old English Examples:
          réþe renweardas
          burston bánlocan
          de sæ'næssas

  • Type E (lift-dip-lift)

    • E1 ( SONGwriters SING, HARD-hearted MEN, etc.)
        This is standard type E, with a secondary stress in the dip.

        Old English Examples:
        féascaftum men
        folcwaldan sunu
        wlitebeorhtne wang
        mancynne fram
        heteníðas wæg

    • E2 ( LEARN ever LESS, THOUGHTfully SANG, etc.)
        The secondary stress is a single short accented syllable, with suspension of resolution.

        Old English examples:
        Súð-Dena folc
        láðlicu lác


As this list illustrates, Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse allows a very wide range of rhythms indeed. But not just any rhythm. To write a modern analog of Anglo-Saxon verse, it's important to understand the principles that govern it. And so that is what we will look at next.

Back: Being like Beowulf: the Sievers Types
Next: A Framework

Copyright ©2000, Paul Deane