A Comparative Study of Old English Metre

By Stanley, E. G. | Medium Aevum, January 1, 1995 | Go to article overview

A Comparative Study of Old English Metre


Stanley, E. G., Medium Aevum


Frank H. Whitman, A Comparative Study of Old English Metre (Toronto, Buffalo and London: Toronto University Press, 1993; UK date of publication 1994). ix + 170 pp. ISBN 0-8020-0540-3. £35.75.

Insufficiency characterizes this book, and the result is a reader's disappointment. 'Comparative' in the tide means that Old English metre is compared with the metres of Greek, Latin, Celtic, and Germanic languages other than Old English. All that in about 150 pages of discussion. This is a technical subject which for each language requires long study and a great amount of detailed analysis of the extant Old English verse if an original contribution is to be made. Throughout this century, North American scholars - one thinks of metrists such as J. C. Pope, G. Russom, C. B. Kendall, and R. D. Fulk - have made contributions to the study of Old English from which every reader has much to learn: the author of this book is not to be counted among them.

The charge of insufficiency must be substantiated. A touchstone comes at p. 1x4, where Beowulf 9 is discussed; in the manuscript the wording is: 'oö £>íet him oeghwylc / |?ara ymbsittendra'. It matters that Eduard Sievers advocated the deletion ofpara in his 'Zur Rhythmik des germanischen Alliterationsverses', Beiträge %ur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, 10 (1885), 256, and again in 'Beowulf und Saxo', Berichte der Königlich Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, 1895, p. 190; and that not only so wild an emender as M. Trautmann in 'Berichtigungen, Vermutungen und Erklärungen zum Beowulf: Erste Hälfte', Bonner Beiträge %ur Anglistik, 2 (1899), 125, but also such conservative editors as R. W. Chambers and F. Klaeber followed him, and that Klaeber persisted in that emendation in spite of J. Hoops's advocacy in Beowulf Studien, Anglistische Forschungen 74 (1932), 11, that, even though it is not unlikely that para is a scribal addition, a sound editor should not omit it. After discussion, Whitman could have used line 9b either with or without the word; but silent omission merely demonstrates that he does not know how to handle Old English metre so as to persuade his readers. Similarly, that the problem of whether or not to stress od pat is passed over in silence, though Pope alerts us to it (The Rhythm of Beowulf, 2nd edn (New Haven and London, 1966), 265 under A67), does not inspire confidence either. …

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