It is time for another booklist! To the first book list I posted in January, I have a few more gems to add, highly recommended to the modern would-be Asatru alliterative poet, with a short commentary on each.
1. Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fall of Arthur. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
Tolkien’s unfinished retelling of some of the King Arthur legend. Of course, this is not due to be released until May 23, so I don’t know what’s in it. What I’m hoping to see is Tolkien writing in the Old English style in which the lines ran continuously and were not broken into stanzas. It would then make a wonderful companion to the stanzaic orientation of his retelling of the Sigurd legend. Furthermore, in the Sigurd and Gudrun book (page 48), Tolkien is quoted as saying, “In Old English breadth, fullness, reflection, elegiac effect, were aimed at. Old Norse poetry aims at seizing a situation, striking a blow that will be remembered, illuminating a moment with a flash of lightning — and tends to concision, weighty packing of the language in sense and form, and gradually to greater regularity of form of verse.” I’m hoping that comparing The Fall of Arthur to The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún will indeed show how he thought those particular contrasting effects might be implemented in modern English alliterative poetry.
2. Russom, Geoffrey. Old English Meter and Linguistic Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.
In this book, Russom analyzes Old English verse (mainly Beowulf) from the premise that the half line generally had two feet whose possible rhythmic structures corresponded to native Old English words, thus it is called a word foot theory. A good discussion of alliteration patterns, rhythms, etc. It also puts forward explanations for why the Beowulf poet seems to scrupulously avoid certain rhythmical patterns and combinations.
3. Cable, Thomas. The English Alliterative Tradition. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1991.
Despite the title, the book doesn’t say much about alliteration. Instead, it is a diachronic look at poetic meter through the history of the English language, starting from the Beowulf-era alliterative meter, going through the Middle English meters of Chaucer, Layamon, and others, and finally into more recent iambic pentameter. Aspects of poetry such as stress, rhythm, syllable counts, and feet in these meters are explored. His discussion of Old English meter, of course, would be of the most interest to my readers.
4. Bredehoft, Thomas A. Early English Metre. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2005.
He talks about Old English and Middle English meter, and presents a new system of scansion to use on the poetry to replace the Five Types system originally formulated by Eduard Sievers. He includes discussion of hypermetric verse, alliteration rules, and the occasional use of rhyme. In particular, his treatment of most finite verbs through “s-feet” suggests much of value to the modern poet. I tested his scansion system on the Old English Rune Poem, and it helped me make sense of things that were previously confusing.
Copyright © 2013 Eirik Westcoat.
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