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Grass-Bed: A Poetic Compound in the Alliterative Tradition

Eric Weiskott EMAIL logo
From the journal Anglia

Abstract

The compound word grass-bed occurs four times in Old and Middle English texts. In each case, grass-bed occurs in an alliterative poem; in each case, the word is used as a kenning for a site of bodily death (a battlefield or a grave). The chronologically and metrically uneven distribution of poetic words like grass-bed in the corpus of medieval English texts raises questions about the reliability of the extant written record, the historical resources of individual writers, and the cultural meanings of poetic traditions. Meanwhile, research in alliterative metrics has begun to suggest that the division of medieval English literary history into Old and Middle subperiods masks fundamental continuities between pre- and post-Conquest alliterative verse. Progress in alliterative metrics refocuses the historical problems attendant upon rare poetic words like grass-bed. Conversely, against the backdrop of technical argumentation in the field of metrics, the study of words offers a second way of understanding the continuity of the alliterative tradition. This article explores connections between metrical history and lexical history via a case study of one especially long-lived and metrically marked poetic word.

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Published Online: 2016-11-5
Published in Print: 2016-11-1

© 2016 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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