Fritz Kemmler

title.none: Bredehoft, Early English Meter (Fritz Kemmler)

identifier.other: baj9928.0609.013 06.09.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Fritz Kemmler, University of Tuebingen,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Bredehoft, Thomas A. Early English Meter. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2005. Pp. viii, 183. $67.95 0-8020-3831-X. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.09.13

Bredehoft, Thomas A. Early English Meter. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2005. Pp. viii, 183. $67.95 0-8020-3831-X. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Fritz Kemmler
University of Tuebingen

Ever since the days of Eduard Sievers and his landmark contributions in the field of metrical and phonetic research, Old English Metre has been a hotly debated scholarly subject. Sievers, who had imbibed metrical studies with the milk of his academic training in the field of nineteenth-century classical philology with its heavy emphasis on metrical poetics, developed a rigid formalism, based on a close metrical analysis Beowulf, and his model is still in use today--not only in beginners' textbooks for Old English.

On the other hand, quite a few scholars have felt rather uneasy with Sievers's rigid formalism and have developed their own metrical system, perhaps just as rigid as the Sieversian. Personally, I have never been a supporter of a rigid formalism devised many centuries later for texts about whose underlying poetics we know very little. Only a few decades after the publication of the Sieversian model (Altgermanische Metrik, Halle, 1893) Andreas Heusler began to publish his massive study Deutsche Versgeschichte mit Einschluss; des altenglischen und altnordischen Stabreimverses (3 vols., Berlin, 1925-1929). As far as I can tell Heusler's model (developed in volume one of his study) has never received the amount of scholarly attention in the English speaking world it clearly deserves. Heusler's approach is very different from that of Sievers and allows a greater amount of flexibility.

After a brief recapitulation of the Sieversian system Bredehoft turns to describing his own formalism. He starts out by defining three principles (22-23) and next turns to what he calls foot structure rules (23-27) where he distinguishes two rules with three variations (23-27). On the basis of these definitions Bredehoft then turns to the verse, the larger metrical unit made up of feet (27-30). In this section of his model Bredehoft defines three basic "foot combinations rules" with rule three distinguishing between "normal verses" and "inverted verses." So far the model has reached the alliterative half-line. The remaining sections (30-34) deal with the alliterative long line and Bredehoft uses the term "verse combination rules" to describe three basic rules linking half-lines.

Bredehoft next turns to the problem of scanning Old English verse (35- 50). In order to account for the "irregularities"--i.e. hypermetric verses, rhyme and alliteration--a set of further rules and hypotheses is developed step by step. Having laid the foundation for the "classical model" Bredehoft widens the scope of his investigation and considers some "post classical" poems showing considerable "deviations" from the classical model. And it is in these sections that, for me, Bredehoft is most interesting to read. His thesis that for late Old English poets not only alliteration but also rhyme was a valid means to link the two half-lines is very intriguing and opens up new directions for an evaluation of these poems which, quite often, have been considered as second-rate products of ill-qualified versifiers. Some of Bredehoft's "metrical" close-readings of these late poems really offer new insight into the formal craftsmanship of their authors (63-80).

In chapter 3.2 of his study (81-90) Bredehoft analyses some of Aelfric's metrical saints' lives in the light of his model developed in the previous chapters. His findings, for me, are very convincing. I can also agree with most of what Bredehoft advances in chapter 3.3, "The Poetics of Late Old English Verse" (91-98).

In the final chapters of his fine study Bredehoft turns to the question of early Middle English metre as found in Layamon. He also develops a formalism for Layamon starting out with three principles-- e.g. "either alliteration or rhyme normally links half-lines" (102)-- and if this principle is applied to the Brut Layamon's craftsmanship appears in a new--and positive--light. Foot structure and foot combination rules provide the basis for the verse combination rules for Layamon's long line. In developing his model Bredehoft contributes a few "metrical" close readings of Layamon which offer an excellent basis for an interpretation and evaluation of the text.

Chapter 4.2, "Layamon's Old English Poetics" (110-120), re-examines the question from which sources Layamon derived his striking ars versificatoria. Bredehoft argues that Layamon derived some of his poetic craft from the late Old English poems, particularly the so- called late "Chronicle Poems" and even calls Layamon "the last Old English poet" (119).

In closing this review of a remarkable book which will surely re-open and invigorate the debate on early English metre let me add that this is a carefully printed book. I have only found a few errors: "consecuive" should read "consecutive" (53), "clustering if such types" should read "clustering of such types" (77); "the most important such scribal or manuscript evidence" should probably be "the most important of such scribal or manuscript evidence" (83); "the development such verselike pointing" should read 'the development of such verselike pointing" (84), and, finally, "Heiatt, C." should read "Hieatt, C." (181).