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alliterative metre


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The distinctive verse form of Old Germanic poetry, including Old English. It employed a long line divided by a caesura into two balanced half‐lines, each with a given number of stressed syllables (usually two) and a variable number of unstressed syllables. These half‐lines are linked by alliteration between both (sometimes one) of the stressed syllables in the first half and the first (and sometimes the second) stressed syllable in the second half. In Old English, the lines were normally unrhymed and not organized in stanzas, although some works of the later Middle English alliterative revival used both stanzaic patterns and rhyme. This metre was the standard form of verse in English until the 11th century, and was still important in the 14th, but declined under the influence of French syllabic verse. W. H. Auden revived its use in The Age of Anxiety (1948). These lines from the 14th‐century poem Piers Plowman illustrate the alliterative metre:Al for love of oure Lord livede wel straite,In hope for to have hevene‐riche blisse.See also accentual verse.

Subjects: Literature.


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