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Anglo-Saxon or Old English and stress

Not "oh my G-d, I left the baby on the bus" sort of stress, but accented syllables. Like in the Gorey icon to the left, "N is for Neville who died of ennui.

And for all our discussion of this form of poetry, I shall leave aside the part where they were written in actual Anglo-Saxon or Old English, and put everything in modern parlance. Agreed?

Those among you who don't like to worry about rhyme or syllable counts are going to like today's form, which dispels with both of those things in favor of other organizing principles: accentual verse and alliteration.

Accentual verse is based on the number of stressed syllables per line (something we touched on in discussing the sijo). Anglo-Saxon verse requires four stressed syllables per line, with a caesura or pause in the middle of the line. Breaking the line into two parts creates two hemistichs (a Greek word, pronounced "hemmy-stick"), each of which contains two stressed syllables. Here, let me quote Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within for you:

Each hemistich must contain two stressed syllables. It doesn't matter where they come or how many unstressed syllables surround them. For now, we will call the stressed syllables one, two, three and four. One and two are placed in the first hemistich, three and four in the second. I have left a deliberately wide gap to denote the vital caesura that marks the division into hemistichs.

One comes along with two     and three is there with four
Let old one take two's hand   while young three has a word with four
Here come one and two[;]     three is there with four

Although 'comes', 'along', 'there', 'hand', 'young' and 'word' might seem to be words which ought properly to receive some stress, it is only the numbers here that take the primary accent. Try reading the three lines aloud, deliberately hitting the numbers hard.

As Fry goes on to explain, and as any speaker of English knows, other words will have secondary stresses along the way, but those do not signify when writing Anglo-Saxon verse. It is only the four primary stresses that matter. He notes, "You could say if you love odd words as much as most poets do, that a line of Anglo-Saxon poetry is in reality a syzygy of dipodic hemistichs. A pair of yoked two-foot half-lines, in other words. But I prefer syzygy." (Is it any wonder Stephen Fry won my heart with this book? I thought not.)

Tomorrow, we delve into the other organizing principle/requirement of this form: alliteration. In the me

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 18th, 2016 03:45 pm (UTC)
Sad to say, I haven't had much time to devote to poetry month. A pity, because it is one of my favorite times of year. Next week, I'm devoting time to at least doing some of my usual April poetry celebrations, reading poetry and writing poetry. I'll be referring to your posts for inspiration.
Apr. 19th, 2016 12:33 am (UTC)
I hope the posts prove useful.
Mary Lee Hahn
Apr. 18th, 2016 11:16 pm (UTC)
Gah! This is so foreign to me that it's LITERALLY stressing me out! I'll have to play with this way of writing...another time. Next month.
Apr. 19th, 2016 12:45 am (UTC)
Hopefully tomorrow's post will make things clearer - it's not super tricky, really, just really different than what we're used to. When I first learned it, I tried writing short ones - two lines or so.

Ezra Pound's "The Seafarer" is in a version of Anglo-Saxon verse, though only some lines follow the ancient alliterative pattern. One of the great lines from it that is pure Anglo-Saxon verse is "waneth the watch, but the world holdeth", where the stresses are wane, watch, world, and hold. (Or, as we will see tomorrow, BANG BANG BANG CRASH.)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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