contributor.author: M. Jane Toswell

title.none: Suzuki, The Metre of Old Saxon Poetry (M. Jane Toswell)

identifier.other: baj9928.0510.008 05.10.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: M. Jane Toswell, University of Western Ontario, mjtoswel@uwo.ca

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Suzuki, Seiichi. The Metre of Old Saxon Poetry: The Remaking of Alliterative Tradition. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004. Pp. xx, 505. $85.00 1-84384-014-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.10.08

Suzuki, Seiichi. The Metre of Old Saxon Poetry: The Remaking of Alliterative Tradition. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004. Pp. xx, 505. $85.00 1-84384-014-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

M. Jane Toswell
University of Western Ontario
mjtoswel@uwo.ca

Suzuki produces here a significant contribution to metrical scholarship and a reminder for the rest of us that Old Saxon poetry includes The Heliand, a major poem of 5983 lines and the focus of this book. The five chapters of the book are ferociously metrical, starting with phonological and practical matters of scansion; a detailed reconsideration of the metrical types and positions of Old Saxon (based on Sievers) including a long discussion of anacrusis; extended study of resolution and alliteration; analysis of hypermetric verses synchronically and diachronically; and, in conclusion, a short set of new arguments about the text and its tradition. The apparatus is also extensive: an appendix on foreign names and one on the meter of the Old Saxon Genesis, complete indexes to the scansion of The Heliand and of Genesis, and three useful indexes to authors, subjects, and verses cited in the text. To close the opening enumeration, I note that there are fully 181 tables in the text, with a low of four in the first chapter and a high of 106 in the second. This is serious metrical scholarship, save for one point--the book uses parenthetical references, not footnotes, and the full list of references takes up only four pages, which suggests correctly the paucity of previous work on Old Saxon meter, but raises questions about how much Suzuki consulted all the other cognate meters and texts. This is a very focused and detailed study, which may lack in breadth of approach. Perhaps a sign of the intensive nature of Suzuki's focus here is the almost-complete absence of Genesis from the main text; even the other major Old Saxon poem barely garners mention; the light shines only on The Heliand and its greater comparator text, for Suzuki, Beowulf. To that end, I note that the title is misleading: this book exclusively considers the meter of The Heliand.

Suzuki's opening premise is that The Heliand is a book epic, a written composition, making great use of Bogenstil (where the sentence break is often in the middle of the metrical line) and having a highly symmetrical thematic and stylistic organization. It uses what he characterizes as the traditional Germanic meter but with a more colloquial, prose-like style. Written during the reign of Louis the Pious (Emperor from 814-40), this rendition of a gospel harmony (Tatian's Diatessaron) survives in two relatively complete copies, and three extended fragments or sets of fragments in other manuscripts. Suzuki's principal comparisons throughout the analysis are to the Old English poem Beowulf, working from the premise that this indispensable dataset represents a pagan heroic epic from a pagan oral tradition, in contrast to the written composition of a Christian tradition which is transplanted into a Germanic mode that is The Heliand. The argument therefore suffers from the disadvantages of this premise, while benefiting from its advantages. Suzuki also depends heavily on his own previous book on the meter of Beowulf ( The Metrical Organization of Beowulf: Prototype and Isomorphism [Berlin: de Gruyter, 1996]). Prototype theory describes a marked or stressed syllable as derived, and an unmarked one as basic; where Suzuki really starts to differ in more than terminology with other metrists of Germanic literatures is with the argument that the distinct metrical practice of The Heliand owes itself not to a weakening of stress in the language or to a different literary tradition. The first chapter makes the phonological argument that OE and OS reacted differently to the phonological problem of liquid reduction, such that where vowel epenthesis is a minor effect in OE, it is a primary reaction in its own right in OS as liquids became more sonorous in the latter language. The chapter also establishes Suzuki's terminology, attempts to set the vexed question of foreign names aside (to the appendix, although given that this is a bible translation redolent with foreign names this may not be a workable solution), and rejects the common quaðe he phrase as extra-metrical. The critical issues, well explicated by Suzuki, are the weakening of stress which leveled stressed and unstressed syllables and the resulting blurred distinction between the normal and the heavy drop in a verse and between the normal drop and the lift in a verse.

Chapter 2 tackles the largest job, working in detail through the Sievers' types and subtypes, accepting and rejecting Sievers' proposed taxonomy of OS verse after careful analysis of the verses and verse structures falling into each category. The results of the phonological changes are a move from the periphery to the center of metrical practice of some verse patterns, and the acceptance of metrical structures not allowed in other meters. Thus, for example, a fully graded patterning of the first drop of type A1 in The Heliand signals a systematic reorganization of the Beowulf meter to allow for a wide, even a complete, range of options in a metrical climate with two kinds of drop, a general weakening of primary stress, and additional foot patterns in word-final positions. Generally, Suzuki concludes that where Beowulf either has a verse structure or doesn't, The Heliand will have intermediate verses, a gradient of options which are context-sensitive and which are predicated primarily upon the number of unstressed syllables. To work through one example in more detail, Suzuki's analysis of Type A3, famous among metrical scholars for its replacement of a lift by a drop in the initial position (xx/x), begins with a list of the verses with that structure preceded by three samples. He then investigates the distribution pattern, comparing related metrical types as necessary (here B1 and C), in order to conclude that of the 397 such verses, the highest number of unstressed syllables before the first lift is 4 (134 times), 5 (108) and 6 (75) with a falling off before and after these numbers--including the total absence of one syllable before the first lift, which Suzuki correctly identifies as too confusing a pattern and thereby unacceptable. He then compares the distribution pattern to that in Beowulf, and concludes with a detailed analysis of the patterns that can occur in the last drop. Suzuki's concern here and throughout is to read the text as it appeared in the manuscripts (though it has to be admitted that the manuscripts disappear rapidly from the picture since Suzuki clearly uses Otto Behaghel's edition as the basis for his work) in order to analyze what was there, not to alter it or reinterpret it based on preconceptions about the meter. This is the metrical equivalent of a diplomatic edition. As a result, Suzuki opposes any attempts to reconfigure The Heliand in ways that would bring it closer to the meter of other Germanic texts, and lauds its greater range of sequences and options. That this also makes the verse structures of The Heliand dangerously difficult to differentiate he seems to acknowledge, but he evades the problem by engaging with every option and structuring each verse type to demonstrate how The Heliand integrates, as for Type D, "the whole array of variants into a single hierarchy of gradation through their balanced and harmonious rearrangement along the entire scale" (136). Similarly, anacrusis in The Heliand is a full metrical position almost appearing freely before the verse-initial lift in the metrical types which begin with that lift--even Type E. Suzuki summarizes his conclusions on the paradigmatic and syntagmatic organization of the meter on pages 175-93; these include: a reorganization of the verses into five metrical classes; six as the maximal number of metrical positions in a normal verse (in types D* and E* extended by anacrusis); some operation of Kuhn's first law; and a lesser distinction between the a-verse and the b-verse than in Beowulf, with the a-verse having a quantitative rather than qualitative difference (i.e. an extra weak position rather than a heavier syllable).

Chapter 3 addresses resolution and alliteration, described by Suzuki as the two major metrical devices for adding prominence to the lift. He determines that Kaluza's Law does not function in The Heliand (after stating that it is a feature of traditional Germanic verse and not simply an innovation for Beowulf), develops three subrules, or preferences, which govern suspension of resolution in The Heliand, and elucidates a reconfigured and convincing structure of resolution in the poem. In its essentials, alliteration in The Heliand "is no different from that of Beowulf" (235). However, Suzuki finds fifty-nine more pages of discrepancies worthy of discussion. First, where Beowulf has 75% single alliteration and 25% double alliteration, The Heliand has 69% and 31%. Suzuki also analyzes alliteration by verse type, connections to resolution, connections to lexical categories (substantives, finite verbs and adverbs, and function words), the unusual usage of man and its implications, and Lehmann's notion of "extended alliteration" (consonant + vowel alliteration). Chapter 4 considers hypermetric verses (as always, consigned to the last and least chapter); there are 158 definite examples and perhaps the same number again of possibles. Suzuki rightly chooses to define as hypermetric only those verses that defy scansion as one of the normal verse types, but works through the ambivalent verses and exceptional examples. Suzuki's final total is 305 definite hypermetric verses, 162 a-verses and 143 b-verses, in total less than 3% of the corpus. Having completed the synchronic analysis, he turns to a diachronic study, which for Suzuki means simply comparison to Beowulf.

A short final chapter draws together the conclusions. The effects in the language of the weakening of stress result in many changes to metrical practice. At one extreme it is difficult to identify a heavy verse; at the other, anacrusis becomes a common feature. The danger of disintegrating structures is extreme; Suzuki's argument, implicit for most of the text and only really clear at the beginning and end of the book, is that the poet of The Heliand responded spectacularly well to these challenges by engaging in a metrical reorganization of the verse-types, establishing a gradation pattern conforming as closely as possible to tradition but refining and remaking it with variant configurations, and by including previously unacceptable configurations. The poet's aesthetic sensibility and balance with respect to the meter are reflected by the symmetrical structure with multiple embedding of the whole poem. Suzuki proposes that this poet made "innovative use of traditional sources in highly controlled and imaginative ways" (344). This may well be true, but making such claims for an individual poet requires, perhaps, a stronger and clearer context than is provided here.

The copy-editing for this book was an immense task, ably fulfilled. Occasional misspelling of references (Behaghel sometimes loses the second "h" as on p. 89) seems to be the greatest flaw remaining. I suspect the editor is responsible for the simple but very helpful opening sentences for each section, which give some sense of the argument that is to come.

Suzuki embraces here the metrical diversity of The Heliand, perhaps an over-enthusiastic endorsement of the poet and the work. He inevitably concludes that metrical range is evidence of excellence and subtlety rather than mediocrity and inability to achieve a sophisticated and more restrictive usage. (The closest parallel that I have seen to this incredibly detailed approach, verse by verse and syllable by syllable, is the work of James Keddie on OE meter. Rand Hutcheson and Geoffrey Russom also focus very tightly on the verse itself, but with a greater sense of context.) Suzuki's technique, with its real scrutiny of phonological and contextual issues, occasions new hypotheses and provides an exhaustive study of the practice of a poet. Whether that practice leads inexorably to the generalizations posited is less certain.