43 Pages

UNIT 5: OE metrics

In Units 3 and 4 we did some work on the behaviour of nouns and verbs in the earliest phases of English. It’s time now to turn to a different topic, that of metrics. We do so for two reasons. First, this topic is interesting in its own right, and significant – sometimes in unexpected ways – for the evolution of English poetic culture. Second, when we begin to work with OE metrics we must also engage with features of the OE sound system such as the nature of ‘long’ vs. ‘short’ vowel shapes, and with the form of syllables. We’ve not yet considered such matters in any detail, since in Unit 2 we concentrated on consonant systems, particularly as those manifested themselves in OE. Thus far in our text we have had only a cursory look at vowel shapes. First, though, some quite general remarks on the nature of OE verse.