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Ringler, Dick / Beowulf: A New Translation for Oral Delivery (May 2005)

View all of VERSIFICATION

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Types of Verses

The translation contains three types of verses: normal verses, light verses, and heavy verses.

Normal Verses and Light Verses

A normal verse contains two heavily stressed syllables and a variable number of lightly stressed syllables. A light verse contains one heavily stressed syllable and a variable number of lightly stressed syllables. In the text printed in this Web site, light verses are distinguished from normal verses by indentation. Here is a string of thirteen normal and light verses:

And now, once again,
noise mounted
in the meadhall,
mirth, revelry
and proud boasting,
until presently
Hrothgar decided
to rise and take
his nightly rest;
he knew the enemy
had been waiting to raid
the wondrous hall
all the day long,

Both normal verses and light verses are found throughout the translation. (Their distribution does not reflect the way these two types of verses are distributed in the original.)

Here is the passage again, with heavy and light stresses indicated and—to the right of each verse—a notation of the subtype which this stress pattern represents.

Metrical diagram for lines: And now, once again, 2B2a / noise mounted 2C1- / in the meadhall, a1b / mirth, revelry 1D1 / and proud boasting, 2C1a / until presently d1b / Hrothgar decided 1A*1a(i) / to rise and take 2B1a / his nightly rest; 3B1a / he knew the enemy +1A1a(ii) / had been waiting to raid 3B*1b / the wondrous hall 3B1a / all the day long. 3E1
In order to read the translation, silently or aloud, with proper stressing, it is not necessary to have an analytical understanding of the many different subtypes. It is sufficient to know that a normal verse contains two heavily stressed syllables and a light verse only one. (For those who are interested, however, there is a full inventory of the various subtypes. Moreover readers of the translation can display the number and verse-type notation of every verse by using the controls provided by the interface.)

Heavy Verses

Heavy verses are comparatively rare in Beowulf. There are only twenty-three in this translation; all of them occur in exactly the same places as do the twenty-three heavy verses of the original. Heavy verses usually—but not always—occur in pairs. Odd-numbered heavy verses contain three heavily stressed syllables; even-numbered heavy verses contain two heavily stressed syllables, like normal verses, but a greater number of anacruses than are permitted in normal verses.[1*] In the text printed here, heavy verses are distinguished from normal verses by being extended to the left beyond the normal-verse margin. Here is a string of fifteen normal and heavy verses:

[T]he king of the Geats,
the heir of Hrethel,
gave Eofor and Wulf
unwonted wealth
to reward their valor:
a hundred thousand
hides of folk-land,
farmsteads of fabulous value;
nor could he be faulted for that largess,
idly censured by others,
since they had earned it in battle;
and Eofor got the king's
only daughter
as a prize for his hearth
and a pledge of favor.

Here is the passage again, with stresses and verse subtypes indicated:[2*]

Metrical diagram for lines: [T]he king of the Geats, 2B2a / the heir of Hrethel, +1A1a(i) / gave Eofor and Wulf 3B*1a / unwonted wealth 3B1a / to reward their valor: ++1A1a(i) / a hundred thousand +2A1a(i) / hides of folk-land, 1A1a(i) / farmsteads of fabulous value, 1A*1a(3A1) / nor could he be faulted for that largess, a1d(1A*1b) / idly censured by others, 2A1(1A*1a) / since they had earned it in battle; a1c(1A*1a) / and Eofor got the king's +2E1b / only daughter 2A1a(i) / as a prize for his hearth 2B2b / and a pledge of favor. ++1A1a(i)

Notes

[1*] For an analysis of heavy verses and an explanation of the notation used to represent them, see Bliss pp. 88-97 and 129-133.

[2*] Plus signs preceding subtype notations indicate anacruses.

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