Layers of Versification in Beowulf

Patrizia Aziz Hanna Noel 1
  • 1 München


Beowulf is thought to preserve the oldest Germanic principles of versification and to therefore be an archetype of Germanic metrics. However, it deviates in systematic ways from the metrical patterns expected, a fact which is not only reflected in numerous publications in this field of research but also by irreconcilable results concerning the organisation of the meter. On the basis of epic formulae, different layers of versification in Beowulf are identified. The data are interpreted in terms of both an Old English productive and an older Germanic no-longer-productive linguistic basis. The conservative preservation of an older Germanic pattern in combination with contemporary language led to incongruent principles of versification and thus to the complex metrical organisation of Beowulf. It is claimed on the basis of a corpus that the metrical pattern is tetrametric, with measures and prosodic feet being identical at the oldest Germanic stage. Tetrametricity is kept in Beowulf, which results in positional metrical licences, because of morphonological change from Germanic to Old English. Sievers', Heusler's and Kaluza's approaches are classified with regard to natural versification and how they could have been implemented in practice, i. e. in actual performance. The final section offers a way of reconciling metrical licenses with respect to principles of performance.

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A renowned journal of English philology, Anglia was founded in 1878 by Moritz Trautmann and Richard P. Wülker. It is thus the oldest journal of English Studies in existence. Anglia publishes essays on the English language and linguistic history, on English literature of the Middle Ages and the modern period, on American literature, on new literatures in English, as well as on general and comparative literary studies.