Rum, ram, ruf, and rym: Middle English alliterative meters

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2007-12

Authors

Cole, Kristin Lynn, 1971-

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Abstract

The alliterating poems written during the Alliterative Revival have mistakenly been grouped together metrically, when in fact they represent a diversity of meters. They mainly use the same phonology, however, which was also current in Chaucer and Gower's poetic dialects. In detailing the diverse meters, this study argues that the meter is simple and learnable both in the fourteenth and twenty-first centuries. Chapter 1 establishes the current intractability of Middle English metrical studies, defines the English context in which these poems were written, and challenges the traditional bifurcation of English poetry into accentual and syllable-stress. The largest group of poems shares a common meter based on long unrhymed alliterating lines that use historical final --e and asymmetrical half-lines as structuring devices. Chapter 2 adds elision to Thomas Cable's metrical system to demonstrate that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Piers Plowman are both regular, and they belong to the same metrical tradition despite the usual move by metrists to set Piers Plowman to one side. Chapter 3 compares the meter of The Destruction of Troy with the alliterative meter described in Chapter 2 and finds that Troy uses a meter that only superficially resembles the alliterative meter because the poet does not employ half-line dissimilation. Chapter 4 compares the Gawain-poet's Pearl and the bobs and wheels from Gawain to reveal that their meters belong to neither of the two traditional schools of poetry, but is instead a medieval dolnik. Chapter 5 concludes on several of the Harley Lyrics, further problematizes the binary of native and non-native meters, and hypothesizes that the medieval audience expected a diversity of metrical experiments combining these traditions in various ways.

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