An Introduction to Old English Metre.

From Rahul Gupta on Facebook:

Alan J. Bliss, ‘An Introduction to Old English Metre’, Oxford: Blackwell, 1962. Once distributed to Oxford English undergraduates, copies of this magisterial pamphlet are now scarce. Perfect to be carried in one’s greatcoat-pocket at all times. Blessedly, a complete facsimile is now currently accessible “online” here. Bliss (1921-1985), author of editions of ‘Sir Orfeo’ (1954) ‘The Seafarer’ (1960) and ‘The Wanderer’ (1969), was supervised by Tolkien 1946-8, and edited Tolkien’s papers concerning “the Finnsburh fragment and episode”, ‘Finn and Hengest’ (Allen & Unwin 1982).

I love the way it begins:

There are three good reasons for studying metre. First and most important, the study of metre increases our appreciation of the poem as a work of art; without it, we cannot read a poem adequately, even to ourselves, and all its musical qualities will be lost to us. Secondly, and understanding of the subtleties of metre adds to our aesthetic pleasure an intellectual pleasure; the skill of a great poet in handling a difficult and complicated metre can be an object of admiration in itself. Thirdly, a knowledge of metre is of the greatest use in textual criticism; the fact that a line has been corrupted in transmission may be revealed by a defect in scansion which in itself may be an invaluable guide to the true reading.

Also, there is a great deal more about the pronunciation of Old English at the page Rahul links to; the reproduction of Bliss’s book (jpeg images of each page) is at the bottom.


  1. One of my favourite books. A phonological analysis of Old English metre was the topic of my PdD thesis. Thanks to Bliss I was able to train my ear for it.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    Very interesting! Are you a musician?

  3. In this case, one has to develop an ear for the Old English quantitative metre. I got rhythm. 😉

  4. marie-lucie says:

    Not everybody has rhythm! As I mentioned here several times, my Latin teachers never even mentioned, let alone explained, the principles of Latin versification and the meaning of words like iambs, trochees etc (even if they were mentioned in a textbook). I took a course in Old English too, and rhythm was not mentioned in that context either. Alliteration, yes, but not rhythm. A French language background is not the best one for an appreciation of poetic rhythm. Music helps.

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