Metrical Positions and their Linguistic Realisations in Old Germanic Metres: A Typological Overview

Seiichi Suzuki


This paper provides a typological account of Old Germanic metre by investigating its parametric variations that largely determine the metrical identities of the Old English Beowulf, the Old Saxon Heliand, and Old Norse eddic poetry (composed in fornyrðislag, málaháttr, or ljóðaháttr). The primary parameters to be explored here are the principle of four metrical positions per verse and the differing ways in which these constituent positions are aligned to linguistic material. On the one hand, the four-position principle works with a maximal strictness in Beowulf, and to a slightly lesser extent in fornyrðislag, whereas it allows for a wider range of deviations in verse size in the Heliand and ljóðaháttr. In málaháttr, however, the principle in itself gives way to the five-position counterpart. On the other hand, the variation in the metrical– linguistic alignment in the three close cognate metres may be generalised by positing the common scale, Heliand > Beowulf > fornyrðislag, for the decreasing likelihood of resolution, the increasing likelihood of suspending resolution, and the decreasing size of the drop.


Old Germanic metre; metrical positions; typology; Beowulf; Heliand; fornyrðislag; málaháttr; ljóðaháttr

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