Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Poetic Art of Aldhelm

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Poetic Art of Aldhelm

Article excerpt

Aldhelm, as he himself proudly claims, was the first poet to write Latin metrical poetry who did not have some version of Latin as his mothertongue. It is an index of the extent to which he has been overshadowed as he has been by his somewhat younger contemporary Bede that this book is the first critical monograph to be devoted to any aspect of his work. His poetic praxis is interesting as the first harbinger of medieval Latin, a created, scholars' language, and also because (as Michael Lapidge pointed out in 1979, in a seminal article in Comparative Literature), his way of writing Latin poetry is demonstrably linked with Old English verse composition.

Andy Orchard's monograph is a study of how Aldhelm's poetry (both metrical and rhythmic) was achieved. He highlights, among other features, its extreme metrical monotony, its use of verbal texturing such as half-rhyme and alliteration. Given his meticulousness, I was somewhat surprised to see that he did not at any point raise, even to deny, the possibility that Aldhelm's verse composition might have a mathematical element in the ways that David Howlett has taught us to look for.

The first main section of the book, after a brief discussion of Aldhelm's life and verse, deals with octosyllabic poetry. Perhaps the most interesting of the conclusions is that Aldhelm's pupil AEthilwald revised his master's technique in the direction of Old English, and that it was 'AEthilwaldian', not Aldhelmian, octosyllables that held the field until the Conquest. The second main section is on hexameters and emphasizes the extreme constraints under which Aldhelm composed Not only is nearly every line end-stopped but a caesura is fixed after two-and-a-half feet, and the line as a whole consists of three cola (the second of which is very often a finite verb). …

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