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Old 10-07-2001, 05:59 AM
Solan Solan is offline
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First: Did I get the name right? I was thinking Edda and Beowulf type poetry.

I am interested in this type of poetry, since it has a special kind of forcefulness to it that seems unique in comparison with (non-alliterative) accentual-syllabic meter or free verse. But I am unsure of the "rules" - what the poets experienced in this kind of poetry have figured out to work best. Specifically:
  1. Is there any rule to how the number of accents per line may vary?
  2. Will every accented word in a line have to be a consonantal rhyme with the other accented words in the line?
  3. Are there any guidelines about which basic stressed sounds should or shouldn't be in consecutive lines?
Other advice is of course also welcomed.

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Svein Olav

.. another life
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Old 10-07-2001, 09:55 PM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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Svein, I would refer you to a Californian and sometime visitor to this site, Paul Deane. He runs a site of his own called Forgotten Ground Regained. It features alliterative poetry, old and new. The site includes several excerpts from the alliterative tetrameter Beowulf translation I've done with Tim Murphy. (BTW, our Wulf will be out in the U.S. and England next summer.)

Regarding your questions: in English, alliterative tetrameter may sometimes have as many as six or seven stresses in a line, as long as more weakly stressed syllables (monosyllabic adjectives, for example) are paired with strong alliterating syllables. When bracketed by unstressed syllables, such paired stresses merge to form a single peak in the rhythm.

I don't know what you mean by "consonantal rhyme," but if you mean alliteration, then the usual pattern in the OE of Beowulf is xxxy, with an occasional variation like xyxy or xxyy. In our translation we varied the pattern more freely and also bridged alliteration across lines.

I don't understand your final question. You'll have to clarify your terms.

A.S.
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Old 10-08-2001, 03:22 AM
Solan Solan is offline
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Thank you, Alan. Do you have the URL for Deane's site?

1: Thank you. In my Norwegian translation of the Edda, the number of alliterative stresses varies between the lines. Is this in line with how it's supposed to sound? I am a bit wary of using modern translations as poetic guidelines.

2: Yes, I meant alliteration - within the line. My terminology is still a bit shaky. Example:
Grim was Greybeard when Gimli gandered
All stressed words starting on 'g'.
So I wondered, then, which stressed consonants would be permissible in the next lines. Do I understand your xxxy right when I say (example just for the sake of sound)
Grim was Greybeard when Gimli gandered.
Gimli grinned
at gleeful Greybeard.
Norns were never nigh.


3: In the example above, I use gggn for the stressed alliterations. G and n are quite different-sounding letters. But I might have used dddt - which may or may not be good, since d and t are so close. Or I might try "th" and s. My intuition is that some combinations like that just don't go. But I am not sure.

---

Svein Olav

.. another life

[This message has been edited by Solan (edited October 08, 2001).]
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Old 10-08-2001, 07:36 AM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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The first letter of a stressed syllable alliterates. Identical sound on any letter other than the first is assonance, not alliteration.

Your example, therefore, is xxxx, an effect to avoid, except in light verse or parody.

Here is a proper line, suggested by events.

the terrible toll of titanic bombs

The address is http://www.jps.net/pdeane/fgr/
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Old 10-08-2001, 08:33 AM
Solan Solan is offline
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Thank you, Alan. Then I see: The xxxy is within the line, and not a description of the respective alliterations for 4 consecutive lines. I remember from the Norwegian translation of Edda

Betre bør du ber'kje i bakken
enn mannevit mykje

Would this fall outside the accentual-alliterative tradition, or be in a different school of it? Maybe purely accentual? I ask because I am never sure how faithful translation are to the original.

I'll also have a look at Deane's website.

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Svein Olav

.. another life
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Old 10-08-2001, 08:36 AM
Solan Solan is offline
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When I click on the link for Deane's website, I get this website instead: http://start.earthlink.net/

What's happening?
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Old 10-08-2001, 12:08 PM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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That's weird. I just tried it and got the same result. I'll email Paul and ask him what gives.

Alliteration patterns occur within the individual lines.

Your Norwegian quote appears to be a line followed by a half-line. Lacking a context, I cannot say what's going on with it, but alliterating all stresses certainly produces a giddy effect in English.

Of the 3182 lines in the OE Beowulf, all but a handful follow the xxxy pattern. Alliteration highlights stresses and propels the rhythm of the verse.

A.S.
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Old 10-09-2001, 07:35 AM
Solan Solan is offline
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Alan,

for xxxy you give tttb as an example. I'll rephrase my questions in the light of the new understanding:

A. Are there any combinations x/y that an alliterative poet ought to shun? Maybe tttb or other cases where the x is too close to the y?

B. Are there any rules of how the xxxy may vary from line to line? May, for instance
the terrible toll of titanic bombs
be followed by
talents torn from towers dropped
?

C. Will alliterative poetry always be an n-meter. That is: If one line is alliterative pentameter, will all other lines also be alliterative pentameter? This plays back on the Edda (Håvamål) question again. I'll try to find the original.

------------------

Svein Olav

.. another life
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Old 10-09-2001, 08:05 AM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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As far as I know, most verse of the heroic alliterative tradition was written in a four beat line. Alliteration propelled the rhythm.

Our current notions of meter are not really relevant to scansion of OE or Old Norse. Quite a few scholars specialize in the arcana of OE meter, but they must work largely from inference, and they argue fiercely about their guesses. I feel that many of them are too keen to apply modern ideas of meter and semantics to an inappropriate context.

In the equation xxxy, both x and y may have any value (i.e. be any consonant, or even, sometimes, a vowel). It is not desirable to repeat values in adjacent lines, although, as I mentioned earlier, Tim and I sometimes did so in the Beowulf. Occasionally we let the y consonant in one line take the x value in the next. That's what I meant when I referred to "bridging across lines." In such cases, the succeeding line would usually be an xxyy or xyxy, in order to avoid too many consecutive alliterations.

The scops of antiquity were much stricter. OE was an inflected language, with more unstressed syllables than modern English. Three or even four unstressed or weakly stressed syllables might separate alliterating stresses. In the tighter format of Modern English, it is easy for alliteration to sound silly. That may be the principal reason why it fell from favor.

I am unaware of any rules or even general principles either favoring or restricting proximity of plosives or other subtypes of sound. OE did have markedly high frequency of certain initial consonants in its vocabulary. The pattern is different in modern English, which ingested a lot of new sounds with Norman French. Obviously such built-in biases have some effect on alliterative verse.

I have a more thorough discussion of these matters in the essays I wrote to accompany the Beowulf translation. If you'd like to PM me your mailing address, I'll send you hard copy.

A.S.
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Old 10-09-2001, 02:05 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Solan, there are three poems you can easily check out. The first is The Age of Anxiety, Auden's book-length poem in alliterative tetrameter. By Auden's standards, it's a failure, because the characters are unable to engage the reader. But keep in mind that A. knew Icelandic, OE, and in fact translated the Elder Edda in collaboration with Paul Taylor. Wilbur has two poems, "Lilacs" and "Junk."
Both in alliterative tets which follow the rule of the scop.

Finally here is a tiny poem of mine which does not follow the alliterative rule but rather uses assonance, internal rhyme, etc., to give the sonic framework which the ear demands to accentual tetrameter. The text is being printed in its dimeter half lines rather than its offset tets:

The Wanderer

There is no end
to a wanderer’s sorrow.
The wisdom of Erda
queried by Wotan,
the counsel of Ragna
sung in a saga
I’ll follow tomorrow—
tomorrow if ever—
for I am no friend
of Volsung or Vala.

To view Paul Deane's site, just type in "Forgotten Ground Regained." --Tim

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