kellyrfineman (kellyrfineman) wrote,
kellyrfineman
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More on Anglo-Saxon verse

So, Anglo-Saxon verse seems to be throwing people for a bit of a loop. Hopefully in a good way, but I worry that I've not explained it well, so rather than moving on to kenning today, I'm going to circle back. And ahead, by millennia.

Can somebody give me a beat? Because, you see, Anglo-Saxon verse isn't that far off from hip-hop. (Did your mind just boggle? Please take a deep breath and move ahead with me.)

Most Anglo-Saxon verse was passed down orally for a long time before it was ever written. Like Norse verse (of which it is close kin), it was also sung or chanted. Those stressed syllables in each line and the caesura/break mid-line served musical purposes. The fact that the other numbers of syllables didn't line up didn't bother anyone - things didn't have to be straight iambic or trochaic or dactylic or any of those other sorts of things, because it all fit the beat. That is what accentual verse does, whether it's Anglo-Saxon or hip-hop. See, e.g.,
      If you've got a problem, yo I'll solve it
      Check out the hook while the DJ revolves it.

But perhaps I digress.

I thought to find some more contemporary Anglo-Saxon verse that appealed to me, so went in search of Lord of the Rings material, figuring I'd find some Anglo-Saxon verse there (since Tolkien was, after all, a linguist). He did not disappoint.

Here is a bit of Tolkien that is written in Anglo-Saxon verse, an elegy for Théoden, King of Rohan. Although I note that Tolkien doesn't stick with the alliteration pattern (BANG BANG BANG CRASH) in every line. He does use it in the opening line "From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning", and later in lines such as "hearth and high-seat, and the hallowed places". Here's the whole poem:

From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning
with thane and captain rode Thengel's son:
to Edoras he came, the ancient halls
of the Mark-wardens mist-enshrouded;
golden timbers were in gloom mantled.
Farewell he bade to his free people,
hearth and high-seat, and the hallowed places,
where long he had feasted ere the light faded.
Forth rode the king, fear behind him,
fate before him. Fealty kept he;
oaths he had taken, all fulfilled them.
Forth rode Théoden. Five nights and days
east and onward rode the Eorlingas
through Folde and Fenmarch and the Firienwood,
six thousand spears to Sunlending,
Mundburg the mighty under Mindolluin,
Sea-kings' city in the South-kingdom
foe-beleaguered, fire-encircled.
Doom drove them on. Darkness took them,
Horse and horseman; hoofbeats afar
sank into silence: so the songs tell us.

See how each line has a natural break in the middle, whether there is punctuation or not?

From dark Dunharrow   in the dim morning
with thane and captain   rode Thengel's son

Hopefully this post helps a bit. Also, the Tolkien is an excellent poem to use tomorrow to discuss kennings. So, yay.


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Tags: anglo saxon verse, hip hop, national poetry month, poetry, tolkien
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