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Author Topic: Old English alliterative style poetry  (Read 7961 times)

bencaile

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Old English alliterative style poetry
« on: September 29, 2017, 06:06:59 PM »
I curious how many other members have tried their hand at poetry in the Old English alliterative style. I've spent all day scribbling and the trickiness of the format and the challenges it poses are quite striking. I feel that this would have been appreciated by an Anglo-Saxon audience who clearly enjoyed 'clever' verse such as riddles. I also wonder whether these poems were chiefly composed orally (surely the alliteration is a mnemonic style to aid memory) within an oral tradition and only written down at a later date. I'm sure this must be a question already posed and will research accordingly. However, this makes me wonder if I should be composing my alliterative poem differently, without recourse to paper and pen until I have orally constructed each verse.

Interested if anyone has any ideas on this!

Eanflaed

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Re: Old English alliterative style poetry
« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2017, 08:52:06 PM »
Hi Bencaile! I've not tried composing poetry in Old English style, but I'm sure it was an oral tradition. As you say, the alliterative style would have been an aide memoire.

Phyllis

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Re: Old English alliterative style poetry
« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2017, 10:44:46 AM »
The style certainly helps with memorising the lines!

I don't really know about composing it, but the reference to "unlocking the word hoard," and the little I know about Old English and Icelandic forms, implies that there were stock phrases and so on, including the kennings, which would have been put together by expert scops.

The weaker stuff may have been "Lego Poetry" - just stuck together to build whatever wobbly wonder you wished. I wonder if it's a bit like making up limericks. You have a format, and some examples to adapt. Better example may be haiku.

I'm looking for guidance here!




Phyllis

Eanflaed

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Re: Old English alliterative style poetry
« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2017, 09:55:19 PM »
I think you're giving it Phyllis! It's certainly impressed me :)

Phyllis

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Re: Old English alliterative style poetry
« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2017, 04:58:45 PM »
I think you're giving it Phyllis! It's certainly impressed me :)

 :-[

I dread to think what scholars would make of my efforts! But them I come from Middlesex ...
Phyllis

bencaile

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Re: Old English alliterative style poetry
« Reply #5 on: October 01, 2017, 09:29:38 PM »
I've been reading through 'The Earliest English Poems' (Penguin, Michael Alexander) and it does mention the stock phrases and kennings, though it is difficult to build up a comprehensive list due to the scarcity of surviving material! Even with stock phrasing though, the alliteration is very difficult and I have great admiration for the scops (which, for my money, is a far better word than 'poets'!).  :D

Thanks for your replies - very interesting to hear what everyone thinks!

Phyllis

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Re: Old English alliterative style poetry
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2017, 07:33:02 PM »
I have been meanign to read Michael Alexander so I am interested ot hear about it.

One book I did find interesting and helpful was "Beowulf and Other Stories: A New Introduction to Old English, Old Icelandic and Anglo-Norman Literatures" (Joe Allard and Richard North). I found it very accessible and because it covered a range of literatures, it gave me some context.

In terms of translations I like Kevin Crossley-Holland (as well as his Norse Myths!) and Richard Hamer's "Anglo Saxon Poetry"

Enjoy your reading!


Phyllis

Horsa

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Re: Old English alliterative style poetry
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2017, 09:50:26 PM »
I used to write poetry fairly often in (my attempt at) the Old English alliterative metrical form. I read quite a lot about Sievers verses, and the rules for alliteration, the half stresses in the D and E verse types were for a long time a total swine, but I started to get the hang of it after a while

I wrote a poem in OE verse metre in actual honest-to-goodness Old English (probably replete with grammatical errors, alliterative errors, metrical errors and other sundry infelicities)

A few poets have dabbled with the Germanic metres. Tolkein of course, did his Lay of Sigurd in the metre. That came out a few years back. C.S lewis has a couple. W.H. Auden wrote Autumn in the Age of Anxiety, a long poem, entirely in germanic-esque verse forms.

And then there was George Johnston who occasionally did a poem in a Norse or OE metre.

I initially started writing poetry in OE verse metre because there are a thousand barriers to reading OE, one of them is, of course, the weird language, but the other is the metre. You read Dr. Seuss, or Byron and you know exactly how to read it and to slightly stress the rhyming word, but I, like any OE enthusiast have no prior experience, have not been brought up with rhythm so it's alien unlike a limerick. After a while I started to really get to like it, I would find myself watching telly and saying - hah! that was a D verse. In the end I found that though I really liked OE metre, I especially liked the Norse metres Drottkvaett and Hrynhenda. I wrote a couple of poems in Drottkvaett (fiendishly difficult).

RE mnemonic, I believe that AS England, along with much of the literate world was a transitional culture between oral and literate. Books back then were a little more expensive than they are today. It has been estimated that they would have cost the equivalent of what it would cost a modern european to buy a house. If you had a library, you were one of the vertiginously rich. When the printing press came along, the cost of books plummeted. Now you could own a book for a cost approximately equivalent to what we would shell out on a car.

I had read that The Venerable Bede was considered a prodigy because he could read silently without moving his lips !!!!!!!!



Phyllis

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Re: Old English alliterative style poetry
« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2017, 10:07:10 PM »
I believe Gerard Manley Hopkins is another example of a modern twist on Old English style verse, or at least modern verse influenced by that style. He referred to the rhythm as "sprung rhythm"

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.
Phyllis