A Medieval Mystery: The Old English Alliterative Verse
The second Liberal Arts Faculty Colloquium of the Spring 2021 semester.
Join us for a virtual presentation: A Medieval Mystery, The Old English Alliterative Verse
Friday, Febuary 26 3 p.m. CST
Presenter: Dr. David O'Neil, Assistant Professor of English
With the exception of modern free verse, most of the world’s poetry has been composed in meter. A poetic meter may require a particular number of syllables per line, particular sequences of light and heavy syllables, particular tonal sequences, or end-line patterns such as rhyme. Traditionally, these rules have determined what counts as poetry, and what doesn’t. In the early Middle Ages, all poetry, including well-known poems such as Beowulf, had to be written in a metrical form known as the Old English alliterative meter. As the name suggests, the most obvious quality of the meter was mandatory alliteration in every line.
However, there were also apparent patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables, the exact nature of which remains controversial. In this talk, Dr. O’Neil will delve into the mystery of the Old English alliterative verse, exploring some of the competing theories from the last 150 years. He also proposes an explanation for the decline and ultimate demise of the alliterative tradition, which was superseded in the late Middle Ages by a class of poetic meters that has dominated English language verse ever since.