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9&60 Ways - Alliterative Verse

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Old 02-01-2009, 05:01 AM
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Default 9&60 Ways - Alliterative Verse


English had a fine tradition of alliterative verse. Also known as Anglo-Saxon Prosody, this form of poetry has simple rules:
  1. Each line has four stressed syllables. Only the stressed syllables carry relevant alliteration, so dont worry about the unstressed ones. (A stressed syllable can be represented with this: / )
  2. Each line can be cut in half, with two phrases separated by a pause. (The pause can be marked like this: || )
  3. The two halves of each line are linked by alliteration.
    • In earliest Anglo-Saxon poetry, the first stresses on each side alliterate. Any vowel alliterates with any other.
    • In later forms, three of the four syllables alliterate. Vowel sounds alliterate if they sound the same.
So the line would look like this: / / || / /

Let's look at the first lines of Beowulf, written around 1000 AD (it's Old English, so don't expect to understand it). I added the pauses:

Hwt! We Gardena || in geardagum, _____ Lo, praise of the prowess of people-kings
eodcyninga, || rym gefrunon, _________ of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
hu a elingas || ellen fremedon. _______ we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!

The medieval poem "Piers Plowman", written by William Langland in the 1300's, shows the alliteration of at least three syllables:

In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,
I shoop me into shroudes as I a sheep were,
In habite as an heremite unholy of werkes,
Wente wide in this world wondres to here.

A more modern example would be Richard Wilbur's stately poem "Junk" (1961):

An axe angles from my neighbor's ashcan;
It is hell's handiwork, the wood not hickory,
The flow of the grain not faithfully followed.

So your challenge this time: try your hand at alliterative verse! Questions and comments about this lesson go in this thread. Your work can be posted as a separate thread with the "Alliterative Verse" in the title.


(If you're very interested in this, a much more thorough explanation can be found here: http://alliteration.net/fieldgd.htm . I'd like to thank Mr. Paul Deane, of that site, for answering my questions. Any mistakes, as usual, are my own.)

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