The Alliterative Poetry of Beowulf

Germanic verse is fairly homogenous in form so that although we have no texts on verse construction, it is easy to reconstruct the rules:

1) Every line is divided into two half lines of a minimum of four syllables

eg. Riddle 47 from the Exeter book...

Moððe word fræt.
  Me þæt þuhte
wrætlicu wyrd
  þa ic þæt wundor gefragen
þæt se wyrm forswealg   wera gied sumes
þeof in þystro   þrymfastne cwide
and þæs strangan staþol.   Stalgiest ne wæs
wiht þy gleawra   þe he þam wordum swealg
    Answer - a bookworm

 

2) Two syllables in each half line carry a main stress and the first main stress of the second half line must begin with the same consonant sound as one of the main stresses of the first half line.

3) All vowels alliterate,that is any vowel may be considered an alliteration with any other vowel. The followiing letters are considered as vowels: a æ e i o u y ('y' is considered a soft vowel). For example, in the Battle of Maldon (line 5) Offan alliterates with ærest

4) The second stressed syllable of the second half line should not be part of the alliterative scheme, except in rare cases of 'crossed' or 'transverse' alliteration (see later).

5) There are five basic forms of stress in a half line:

The stressed syllable contained a long volwel or ended in a consonant or if not had to resolved by having a syllable following it.

There is not always resolution in the second half of A and C type alliteration.

To be continued