Anglo-Saxon poetry is composed in a kind of blank-verse, in long unrimed (but alliterative) and ungrouped (i.e. stichic) lines.
A. GENERAL PRINCIPLES.
1. Every line consists of two parts, the first half-line and the second half-line; these half-lines are separated by a caesura and united by alliteration (i.e. initial rime; end-rime occurs occasionally, but merely as an incidental ornament).
2. Every half-line has two rhythmic stresses, or accents, and consequently two rhythmic measures, or “feet”; it is a structural unit and has a scansion of its own, independent of that of its complementary half-line. In contrast to the second half-line, the first half-line is more favorable to the expanded and heavier forms of the foot.
3. The “foot” (or measure) in its simplest form consists of two parts, an accented and an unaccented part (arsis and thesis). However, two additional forms are employed: a foot of one part only (an arsis), which is employed in combination with a foot of three parts, of which one is an arsis (having the chief rhythmic stress), another has a secondary stress, and the third is unaccented, being the true thesis.
4. The arsis (or rhythmic stress) requires a long syllable (the vowel must be long in quantity, or, if short, the syllable must be closed with a consonant) or the equivalent of a long syllable. This equivalent is called a resolved stress and consists of two syllables, of which the first (with one of the word-accents) is short in quantity and the second is light enough in accent to combine with the first to produce with it the metric equivalent of a long syllable. But there are special conditions under which the arsis consists of a short syllable.
5. The thesis (or unstressed part of the foot) consists of a varying number of syllables, which are either unaccented or subordinate in
- For the wider relations of this system of versification, see Eduard Sievers, Altgermanische Metrik, Halle, 1893.