The Form and Style of Gnomic Hypermetrics

  • Megan E. Hartman University of Nebraska at Kearney
Keywords: hypermetrics, Maxims I, Maxims II, Old English meter, oral formulaic theory, Solomon and Saturn, wisdom poetry


Gnomic poems have often been noted for their unusual metrical style. One aspect of their style that stands out is the hypermetric usage, both because these poems contain a notably high incidence of hypermetric verses and because the verses are frequently categorized as irregular. This paper analyses hypermetric composition in Maxims I, Maxims II, and Solomon and Saturn in detail to illustrate the major stylistic features of gnomic composition. It demonstrates that, contrary to the conclusions of some previous scholars, the hypermetric verses basically follow the form for hypermetric composition that can be found in most conservative poems, but with the inherent flexibility of hypermetric metre pushed to a greater extent than in most narrative poems, making for lines that are longer, heavier, and more complex. This alternate style highlights the importance of each individual aphorism and characterizes the solemnity of the poems as a whole. By composing their poems in accordance with the trends of this specialized style, poets may have been marking their composition as separate from narrative poems and encouraging their audience to consider each individual poem in the larger context of Old English wisdom poetry.


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