Style and Versification of Anglo-Saxon Poetry

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      Anglo-Saxon poetry in its style and versification, belongs to a type which is found in the earliest poetry or other Germanic people. The language is quite different from the English of today. lts vocabulary is for the most part native, though enriched by considerable borrowings from Latin. Its grammar shows declinable nouns, pronouns and adjectives and a more elaborate verbal system than that of today. Like Latin it is a synthetic language, while modern English is most analytical. Its syntax shows a very complex use of cases and great freedom in the arrangement of words. All these account for the difficulty of the language to modern English readers. There is a prevalence of compound words by which the poet condensed the description of his subject - a characteristic which has survived still in the language.

The style of the Old English poetry is the 'poetic diction.' There was a number of set per phrases in their stock
Anglo Saxon poetry

      The style of the Old English poetry is the 'poetic diction.' There was a number of set per phrases in their stock. Thus with them the eyes were 'jewels of the head', body is the 'fleshly clothing', the sun is the 'candle of heaven' or the 'jewel of the sky', the sea is the 'whale's road' or 'the seal's bath' and so on. The poetry abounds in abrupt metaphors, condensed in single composite words, but smilies born of imagination are rare. There was the use of Kenning, a compound word of metaphoric quality. Woman is called peace-weaver or dwelling ornament, Kenning gave a highly allusive and literary flavour. An elevated and aristocratic tone pervaded. There was no humour, but mocking word-contest. Tendency towards repetition of the same idea in different ways (called parallelism) or of the same sound in words (called alliteration) is another distinctive mark of the poetry. The style has force and vigour when necessary but little of grace. It becomes simple and direct at times.

      As regards versification, the norm is a line divided into two parts by a strong caesura (stop) in the middle and each of these parts carries two stresses (accents) and at least there must be three alliterative syllables in a verse. There are no regular numbers of syllables in a verse and rhyme is generally absent. Modifications are however introduced, subject to rules, but the verse is on the whole un-melodious and monotonous. There are no divisions in stanzas. Consonants could alliterate with other consonants of identical sound, but vowels could alliterate with any other vowel. The rigidity of the system, more difficult than end rime, resulted in wrenched lines and distorted meanings.

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