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

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Distribution of Alliterants

In odd-numbered normal verses, either the first heavily stressed syllable or both heavily stressed syllables alliterate with the first heavily stressed syllable of the even-numbered verse that follows. In even-numbered normal verses, the first of the two heavily stressed syllables—and only the first—alliterates with the alliterating syllable(s) of the preceding odd-numbered verse.[1*] Thus we find both

5 how the great war-chiefs [odd-numbered normal verse]
gained their renown [following even-numbered normal verse]
and
9 mastered the meadhalls [odd-numbered normal verse]
of many peoples [following even-numbered normal verse]

In light verses, which can occur in either odd- or even-numbered position, the single heavily stressed syllable alliterates with the alliterating syllable(s) in its companion verse, e.g.,

143 the gifts God [odd-numbered normal verse]
had given him [following even-numbered light verse]
or
87 than the warriors [odd-numbered light verse]
who had once sent him [following even-numbered normal verse]

In odd-numbered heavy verses, two of the three heavily stressed syllables alliterate with each other. In even-numbered heavy verses, the first of the two heavily stressed syllables alliterates with the alliterating syllables of its companion verse.

Here is a string of normal, heavy, and light verses, showing the various alliteration patterns:

"As a king who tries
to encourage truth
among his people,
and who remembers days
sunk in darkness,
I say this warrior
was born a hero!
Beowulf, my friend,
your fame has reached out
to far peoples,
men in remotest regions!
Because you have both might and wisdom,
fierceness in fighting and judgment,
I am not afraid to support you
fully with my friendly counsels.
In the future, I reckon,
you will be your land's
blessing and hope,
unlike our late
lord Heremod,
who brought no blessing
but bloodshed, grief,
danger and death
to the Danish race,
the heirs of Ecgwela.
In his angry fits
he killed his comrades
and close associates
until forced to flee
his fatherland
and the delights of men,
a forlorn exile.

Notes

[1*] The alliteration of weakly-stressed syllables is "accidental" and metrically irrelevant.

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