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  1. Athelas_H's Avatar
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    Alliterative Revival

    I know this has been discussed before: http://lotrplaza.com/showthread.php?...rative-revival but I feel it's time to reopen the discussion. As has been discussed, there was an attempt at an alliterative revival in the 14th century with 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' and 'Morte Arthure' (which I have just received a copy of in the mail), but it failed. Tolkien tried to make his own attempt at a 20th century revival along with a handful of other poets. Do you think Tolkien was successful? If so, is the revival still alive and well? I know of myself that I'm trying to re-popularise alliterative verse by writing solely in that metre for I think it's an important metre that should not fall into disuse. Have any of you written your own alliterative verse? Shall we attempt a revival? I feel it's a metre that is organic and raw and rather beautiful and simple to write. But it can be complex at the same time.
    Check out some of my own alliterative verse in the following thread: http://lotrplaza.com/showthread.php?...thelas-Writing
    What do you think? Is it true to the ancient form, as much as Modern English can be? Please share your thoughts and other examples from the 20th century revival, even your own if you have attempted the metre. I would love to discuss this further.
    A book that helped me immensely in understanding, reading, and writing alliterative verse is Jun Terasawa's 'Old English Metre: An Introduction': https://www.bookdepository.com/Old-E...?ref=grid-view I hope it can be of use to you if you would like to learn more.
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

  2. Great topic!

    As far as the medieval alliterative 'revival' goes, I think it's hard to talk about it in terms like success and failure. Those terms imply specific goals, which we don't really have any evidence for. There's debate, but it probably wasn't actually a 'revival' as such -- more and more scholars in recent years have become convinced by the evidence that alliterative verse was in constant use in (parts of) England from the earliest Germanic settlement straight through the Middle Ages (the last alliterative poems are attested from the 16th century). The evidence of metrics, and especially of poetic vocabulary really do point this way.

    The apparent 'revival' of alliterative verse in the 14th century is probably not a revival of the art form as such, but an increase in how many such poems were written down (or composed with the pen). And it's not like there weren't alliterative poems from the intervening years. Nikolay Yakovlev has made a compelling case that Laᵹamon/Lawman's Brut should be seen as part of the alliterative tradition, and being composed c. 1200, it's nicely spaced about midway between later OE verse and the more classical Middle English alliterative poems.

    The modern revival, on the other hand, is probably more properly a revival. It's a really conscious resuscitation of a metrical form that had been unused for centuries. I think it's fair to talk about 'success' and 'failure' in this sphere, insofar as it's very much a poetic experiment whose ability to result in interesting poetry is not guaranteed at the start. And in those terms, I'd call it a success. Certainly there are interesting modern English alliterative poems out there, now written over the course of a couple of generations (so it shows a certain amount of traction). Among the ones I've read, I tend to find Tolkien's the most successful -- though he worked hard on developing an effective style over the course of around a decade before he was able to achieve really compelling results. (Tom Shippey talks about Tolkien's 'steep learning curve' in his essay in Tolkien's Poetry, and I've elaborated a little on the middle portion of Shippey's timeline in a review in The Journal of Inkling Studies.)

    One issue I think is really interesting with modern English verse is how nearly everyone seems to look to Old English (as is implied by your reference to Terasawa's book -- a recommendation which I highly second, by the way). This makes a certain amount of sense, since scholars have generally made better progress in understanding Old English verse than Middle. Not to say that even Old English verse has traditionally been well understood, but at least a lot of the basic work on what forms were possible, and what excluded, were identified by Sievers in the 1880's, and his 'five types' description has proven a handy and digestible rule of thumb for what to use and what to avoid. Not that many people have followed Sievers precisely in modern English -- one of the things I tried to do in my Inklings Studies piece was to outline how Tolkien had to adjust things to accommodate the very different phonological and syntactic facts of modern English.

    In a way, though, it would might be interesting to see more people look to Middle English AV for inspiration. As Tolkien and others have proven, you can adapt OE verse, and end up with something that will make good modern poetry. But with Middle English the starting point is much closer: it's very similar to modern English in its relative paucity of poetic compounds, its many required unstressed words (OE could drop prepositions and 'articles' easily in a way the later stages of the languages just can't, which makes many of its rhythms hard to replicate nearly as easily), and also in the larger-scale area of how syntax relates to the metre. At least a few of the adjustments Tolkien (and others) have made to OE style have moved it to become at least a little more like ME verse.

    Obviously there's a good reason why Middle English poetry hasn't been a traditional point of reference: it's been much more poorly understood. In Tolkien's day, the metre was regarded as virtually unregulated (rules had been proposed at various times, but none won wide acceptance). Most of the work on really discovering and understanding some of the detailed rules that make the metre work has been done since 1990, and a lot of the most important discoveries came within the last decade. There may well be more such discoveries to come. Even the metrical system as we understand it so far isn't very accessible to most people, since the recent research is, for the most part, published in specialist theses and journal articles: there are no general handbooks of Middle English metre.

    Still, that would be an area of experimentation I'd love to see more of. I think there's a lot of potential for creating a verse style really suited to longer poems there, and it would side-step some of the awkwardness met with by many modern poets when they try to apply Old English rules (as understood by the poet) too strictly to the modern language.
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  3. Athelas_H's Avatar
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    Ok, I guess we'll probably never know, but at least some of those poems survived so that we can enjoy them today and add to scholarship as much as we can do so with what little we have. There may have been many more examples from the 14th century but they have not survived to our time.

    Yes, I'd definitely call the 20th century a revival because there were a few poets who started writing in the style and their poetry is still being read today. the revival has also influenced budding poets such as myself to test out the metre. Without Tolkien dabbling in alliterative verse I wouldn't be writing it today. His alliterative verse has had a major impact on mine stylistically. To hear that he took ten years to perfect it for Mod English is astonishing! I have singled out the following lift types as being used by Tolkien and myself:

    A A: A X
    A X: A X - this type appears to have been developed by Tolkien for writing verse in Mod English; I have also taken on this type.
    A X: A Y

    I don't know if other alliterative poets use this or not but sometimes I ignore the rule of caesura (pause between on-verse and off-verse lines). Sometimes my lines run in together eg:

    ‘My love for Lancelot is madness!

    where the two l sounds are in the same word, thus causing a follow on rather than division. I know this is against the 'rules' but I rather like it.

    I was inspired by the original OE alliterative verse and by Tolkien's modern interpretation so mine's a mix of old and traditional and new and ground-breaking. The one poem of Tolkien's that I used in studying his style was 'The Flight of the Noldoli from Valinor' in 'HoMe: vol 3'. Christopher includes a scan of the poem and I used this to teach myself and improve. I don't want to be seen as 'copying' Tolkien, call it rather 'inspiration'. I'm sure that my poetry is not perfect and that I have developed my own little quirks over the years, be they correct or incorrect.

    I never got to study much Mid English verse at uni (only 'The Miller's Tale') and am much saddened by it. There used to be a Medieval Lit course at my uni, but it got cut because not many students wanted to study it. Less than 20 students means they'll cut it. It's rather sad that the past is being lost and that very few people are taking up past scholarship. I would definitely like to teach myself more about Mid English alliterative verse, but unfortunately (as you said) there are little resources unless you have journal subscriptions.
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

  4. When I say 'mastered', I don't mean strictly formally. I'm sure he had a pretty good idea of the permitted patterns of alliteration and of the possible and prohibited rhythms (at least as far as those had been described by Sievers) before he ever tried writing modern English AV of his own, just from his very extensive study of OE poetry. Rather, what it took him some time to do ᴡas figure out a) which rules to adhere to and which to break to make satisfying modern verse; b) how to incorporate more rhythmic variety in his longer poems (earlier on he had a tendency to slide into runs of iambic or trochaic lines, without many of the 'clashing' types -- D & E, and to an extent C -- which give OE verse much of its distinctive feel); and c) how to write sentences composed on half-line units that were enhanced rather than restricted by the rhythms he was using.

    As far as the alliterative pattern you mention as A X: A X, that's called crossed alliteration. It does occur in Old English -- in fact, the first line of Beowulf, hwt wē Gār-dena / in geār-dagum, employs crossed alliteration -- but you're very much right to notice how much more Tolkien uses that kind of alliteration. For The Fall of Arthur specifically, I counted that Tolkien used crossed alliteration in about 7% of lines, which is really a strikingly high frequency. That's twice as often as Beowulf, which itself has some stretches of very artful, dense crossed alliteration compared to the norm in OE verse. (Interestingly, for his more Norse-influenced poems in Sigurd and Gudrún, Tolkien used a lot less crossed alliteration, basically at the same rates as medieval poets.)

    Eliding over the caesura is interesting. It's very strictly held to in medieval verse, probably because having it there was a really essential tool for oral composition, letting poets work with half-line units and formulae. It's an interesting, and potentially very innovative idea to not use the caesura. I think for Old English it would have been a bad idea, but it might work well for modern English, with its very different rhythms, longer words, and different syntactic conventions.

    In any case, I wouldn't think looking to Tolkien, who employed modern English AV very well, would be a bad thing! If you want another sample of scansion from him, you could look in the appendix to The Fall of Arthur, where Tolkien scans more of his own poetry. Also, his essay On Translating Beowulf contains a really very excellent and in-depth discussion of OE metre, including samples of modern English to demonstrate his points.
    Last edited by Lord of the Rings; 30/Jan/2017 at 10:44 AM.
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  5. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    #5
    Sign of the times: when I glimpse this thread my first reaction is "Alternative revival".
    The incarnate mind, the tongue and the tale are in our world coeval.

  6. Athelas_H's Avatar
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    #6
    I didn't realise crossed alliteration was in OE AV; thanks for pointing that out. I guess I probably never noticed it because I haven't read the original OE version of Beowulf, only modern translations.

    I guess with leaving out the caesura I feel as if the line flows better, is less ridged. It seems to work well for me. I realise that -lot in Lancelot is not a full stress/lift but if feels like a part-lift often represented by \ Does that make sense?

    I forgot about the scan in 'TFoA', thanks for bringing it up, I'll check it out. I'm yet to read 'On Translating Beowulf' but I know I've got it somewhere on my bookshelf, will def check it out too.

    Dorwiniondil: lol :)
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

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