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alliterative verse

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The native Germanic tradition of English poetry and the standard form in Old English up to the 11th cent., recurring in Middle English as a formal alternative to the syllable‐counting, rhymed verse borrowed from French (see Alliterative Revival). The Old English line was (normally) unrhymed, and made up of two distinct half‐lines each of which contained two stressed syllables. The alliteration was always on the first stress of the second half‐line, which alliterated with either, or both, of the stresses in the first half‐line; e.g.

x  x    x

Nāp nihtscūa, norpan snīwde

(Seafarer, 31)

(The shade of night grew dark, it snowed from the north).

In Middle English, the alliterative rules were much less strict:

‘I have lyved in londe’, quod I, ‘My name is  Longe Wille’ (Piers Plowman B. xv 152).

Nothing after Middle English could categorically be said to be ‘alliterative verse’, despite its recurrent use as a device throughout English poetry, except perhaps for the rather selfconscious revival of the form in the 20th cent. by such poets as Auden and Day‐Lewis.

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