Academic journal article Medium Aevum

'Beowulf' and Old Germanic Metre

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

'Beowulf' and Old Germanic Metre

Article excerpt

Geoffrey Russom, 'Beowulf' and Old Germanic Metre, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 23 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). xii + 2 35 pp. ISBN 0- 521- 5 93 40-9. L40.00.

Geoffrey Russom here applies his word-foot theory of Old English metre to the metres of Old Norse fornyroislag, the Old Saxon Heliand, and the Old figh German Hildebrandslied and explains their varying divergence from Old English metre as a consequence of the linguistic differences between these various Germanic languages, Old Norse losing unstressed vowels retained in Old, English and, conversely, Old Saxon restoring unstressed vowels lost in Old English. There is, unfortunately, no reconsideration of the theory as it applies to Old English. Central to this theory is the proposition that the stress patterns of Old English words provide the range of metrical foot patterns available to the poets. Part of his definition of word states that 'unstressed prefixes count as function words' (p. 13), i.e. as separate words from those to which they are bound as prefixes, so precluding from the available range of feet all iambic patterns. The evidence adduced for this startling claim is slight, both here and in his earlier Old English Metre and Linguistic Theory: these prefixes 'still took like prepositions in most cases and behave exactly like prepositions from a phonological point of view' (p. 13), and Gothic ga (OE ge-), being occasionally separable from the root of the word, is not certainly a prefix in that language (Old English Metre and Linguistic Theory, p. 8). However, the commonest OE prefix ge- does not look like any OE preposition, is always inseparable from the root, and does not function phonologically exactly like prepositions (such words being capable of receiving stress in the metre of Beowulf when they are displaced from their normal position - as in verse 19b Scedelandum in - whilst the undisplaccable prefix is always proclitic and unstressed). …

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