Beowulf 1563a and Blissian Metrics




Beowulf, Old English poetry, Metre, Syntax, Textual criticism


A. J. Bliss, in his authoritative and influential monograph on The Metre of Beowulf (1967), analysed l. 1563a, hē ġefēng þā fetelhilt, as a member of his group (4) of verses beginning with finite verbs. In verses of that group, in which the verb is the last particle before the first stressed element, alliterating finite verbs are thought to be an integral part of the alliterative scheme of the line and hence to be metrically stressed. This means that, according to Bliss, l. 1563a is a Type 1A2a with hē and ġe- in anacrusis. This analysis is compatible with Bliss’s definition of anacrusis, according to which any two unstressed syllables can be in the extrametrical prelude to a verse. As this essay shows, however, personal pronouns are not normally found in anacrustic positions in the poem, and so it appears reasonable to believe that seemingly anacrustic hē is not part of the authorial reading, but a result of scribal misapprehension of the text in the exemplar. After considering several possibilities and solutions, this article proposes cancellation of hē on the grounds that the scribe found the absence of a pronominal subject at that point confusing, and so decided to supply one to make the syntax of the passage closer to the syntax of late Old English verse. Emendation to ġefēng þā fetelhilt does not change Bliss’s analysis of l. 1563a as a Type 1A2a, but it does mean that that verse should be considered a member not of group (4), but of group (3): the verb is the only particle before the first stressed element. The essay concludes by reminding readers of Bliss’s monograph that his definition of anacrusis can be accepted as long as pronouns and linguistic elements other than verbal prefixes and proclitic ne are excluded from the definition.


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How to Cite

Pascual, Rafael. 2024. “Beowulf 1563a and Blissian Metrics”. Alicante Journal of English Studies / Revista Alicantina De Estudios Ingleses, no. 40 (January):7-22.