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Old English Poetic Metre.

B. RAND HUTCHESON, Pp. xv + 351. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1995. [pounds]49.50 (ISBN 0-85991-435-6).

B. R. Hutcheson could not have achieved what he has achieved without the well-programmed computer sorting the material on which he operates successfully. The descriptive and analytical results are impressive and very often new. There is, however, some tendency to believe in a single chronological development of the Old English metrical system operating neatly in all parts of the country simultaneously at a uniform speed, without sufficiently allowing that sound-changes may operate over a long period or at varying speeds in the various parts of the country. As a result there may exist side by side forms not yet and already affected by some linguistic change, thus making it difficult for the modern scholar to date the composition of the Old English poems even relatively, let alone absolutely. Hutcheson, who deals with almost all Old English verse, falls into that trap to the extent to which he accepts various linguistic features as 'sound evidence for dating' (following R. D. Fulk's conclusions too readily), though he acknowledges that a poet may avail himself of traditional features, formulas often, regardless of the fact that linguistically they may be out of date. Hutcheson's conclusions about the date of composition of the various poems are, therefore, to be read with a grain of salt.

There are occasionally unacceptable or, at least, doubtful statements about individual poems in a section (ch. 1.H) that is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the methods and the results. 'A Proverb from Winfrid's time' is described as Northumbrian: Winfrid was a West Saxon and, though the poem cannot be localized linguistically, Northumbrian is unlikely. What is said of Genesis A, 'While the poem must be early on linguistic grounds, it is metrically inexact', uses 'must be' too absolutely, though many would agree that it and Exodus are earlier than Beowulf. Kaluza's important observation about resolution has been elevated by scholars of this half of the twentieth century to 'Kaluza's Law' (see Hutcheson, ch. 3.D). Adherence to 'Kaluza's Law' by the poets of Beowulf and Exodus has led Fulk and Hutcheson to believe that these two poems are early, but in the same breath Hutcheson tells us that Beowulf is exceptionally strict in that as in other metrical respects - so much so that earlier prosodic studies, concentrating on that poem alone, 'have therefore provided standards of OE versification that are at best non-representative, and at worst too exacting' - and that Exodus, which is metrically exact too, is unusual in the great use made of type E half-lines. Metrical anomalies make it unlikely that 'The Fight at Finnsburg' is as early as Beowulf, yet adherence to 'Kaluza's Law' makes him think it early, and he finds support for that view in the similarity of subject matter of the two poems, support that lacks substance. In The Dream of the Rood 'Verb forms, especially finite verbs, tend to provide the first stress in the line far more frequently than in the rest of the corpus; this may simply be a stylistic feature': how do we distinguish metrical from stylistic features, and is the frequency with which hypermetric lines are used in this poem in combination with unusual 'stylistic features' a sound criterion for dating? Cynewulf has been placed in the first half of the ninth century and The Phoenix is 'no earlier than the time of Cynewulf' by Fulk, datings accepted by Hutcheson. The metrical licences of Andreas do not seem to argue for a date later than 'other poems of the ninth century or earlier'. Wulf and Eadwacer is regarded as probably a translation from Old Norse, and that might explain some metrical features; but if it is thus sui generis how can we date it as 'probably no earlier than late tenth century', rather than, say, a composition by someone, normally resident in the Danelaw, on a visit to the court of King AEthelstan? Interestingly, 'Kaluza's Law' was adhered to in 'The Death of Edgar' no earlier than 975, but it is only 37 lines long.

Part II of the book advances 'A New Descriptive Theory', and Part I prepares us excellently for it. The footnotes are throughout a mine of valuable information. The symbols used are to be found inconspicuously at p. 7 footnote 26, at p. 109 footnote 2 and p. 110 footnote 5, and more conspicuously in the body of p. 110.

Throughout the book the statistics (often presented in excellent tables) are revealing, and show how great is the advance made possible by careful use of the computer; inevitably, it is easier to recognize the distribution than to account for it. Many of Hutcheson's conclusions are important and convincing; for example, the chapter on resolution concludes that the presence or absence of resolution is metrically significant, and that prosodic and morphological analysis that lumps half-lines with resolved stress together with those with normal long stress. The chapter on anacrusis is equally excellent and important. Seeing both first and second half-lines with disyllabic anacrusis as part of the long line, and finding that with some classes of sentence particles the other half-line is more often hypermetrical than with others is a major step forward in understanding 'Kuhn's Law', understanding anacrusis, and understanding the long line. At p. 102 and n. 18 it may be noted that Ire Battle of Maldon line 200a modelice might no longer have long o (as in mod), but conceivably at so late a date it might have short o in a multisyllabic word (see Luick [section] 353 and Anm. 4, with [section] 352 Anm. 5).

Part II of the book, pp. 109-71, gives us 'A New Descriptive Theory'. Whether this new system with a new notation is easier than Bliss's system and notation is not certain to me, though I readily grant that it is an advance on Bliss whom it often corrects. As has been clear from the work of several scholars recently (especially O. D. Macrae-Gibson, 'The Metrical Entities of Old English', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, lxxxvii (1986), 59-91), Bliss should have taken syntax into account. There is not space here to go into the many problematic verses discussed, usually excellently. For example, it is convincingly argued that the waes haten formula constitutes a metrical abnormality accepted by the poets because traditional. On the other hand, Wulf and Eadwacer has been shown to be metrically abnormal: why then suggest that its striking opening would be less 'bizarre', syntactically at least, if it read *leodum minum is. I regret that the important discussion of the principle that the first stress in each half-line must alliterate is presented in a footnote (p. 116 n. 18, and cf. p. xiv). Sentence structure and the fact that in verse sentences very often begin with the second half-line is discussed, particularly well in relation to type B lines. In the interesting discussion of wunian (he treats the scansion of the termination as a criterion for dating rather than as a traditional feature long retained in formulas) the reference is to early editions of Sievers and to Sievers-Cook rather than to Sievers-Brunner. In discussing 'Problematic D-Types' we may at times be dealing with inherited licences; thus dead is AEschere has often been compared with (metrically different) tot ist Hiltibrant: both lines are affective, and that may excuse the licence in the strict Beowulf The problem of 'accidental alliteration' on verbs arises relatively often with type D, as do breaches of both 'Kaluza's Law' and 'Kuhn's Law'. The closeness of type D with unstress after the first stress to type A has often been noted. Perhaps metrists (I am certainly among them) are too much influenced by Sievers's classification here. Whether type D is really the ancient standard pattern remains a speculation. The discussion of 'Problematic E-Types' is equally interesting. (In this excellently printed book the list at pp. 156-7 has been broken to produce some slight confusion.) Verbal prefixation before the final stress leads to the possibility that this pattern should not be accommodated within type E. The conclusions are particularly good at p. 163, and seem a striking example of literary sensibility in Hutcheson (as well as in the Beowulf poet). The 'Remnants' (pp. 169-71) are remarkably few, and they are well analysed.

Part III in this very good book is perhaps the part to which one will turn most often. Metrical abnormalities are set against the background of what is normal. A clear indication is given of how common or rare a pattern is. There are many surprises, for example, that Beowulf line 310a receda under roderum and lines 1505a and 1890a leodhosyrcan are unique; on the other hand, Hutcheson's lists confirm the well-known view that names and numbers lead to metrical rarities, and that some poems, Widsith and Genesis B prominent among them, have many rarities. The lines quoted as examples in Part III are not listed in the index of verse lines discussed, which refers to Parts I and II only. That makes Part III less easy to use than one might have wished. There are appendices: A, 'Double Alliteration Rates'; B, 'Beowulf Verses Scanned Differently from Bliss', some of them the result of Bliss's frequent refusal to acknowledge that verbs at the beginning of a half-line alliterate non-accidentally in the first half-line, others look like errors in Bliss (to line 142b, mentioned in a footnote, might have been added line 788b, the misprint for line 1824b is that its pattern should be exchanged for that of 1832b, an error overlooked by Hutcheson (but corrected by Bliss under 2C2 at p. 31 of the wordprocessed 'The Scansion of Beowulf of which he sent me a copy in 1985)); C, 'List of Types'; D, 'Statistics' of various distributions; E, 'Frequent Formulaic Types'; F, 'Hypermetric Verses'; and G, 'Using the Database'. There is an excellent bibliography and a general index.

E. G. STANLEY Pembroke College, Oxford
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Stanley, E.G.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1998
Words:1660
Previous Article:Anglo-Saxon England.
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