Word Order and Poetic Style: Auxiliary and Verbal in The Metres of Boethius
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CitationDonoghue, Daniel. 1986. Word order and poetic style: Auxiliary and verbal in The Metres of Boethius. Anglo-Saxon England 15: 167-196.
AbstractThe Metres of Boethius offer a unique opportunity to study the complex subject of Old English verse syntax. They enjoy this distinction because of the unusual way in which they were composed. The versifier did not work directly from the original Latin metra of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy but from an Old English prose intermediary, freely translated from the Latin originals. King Alfred was the author of the prose translation and was probably also responsible for turning the parts of the prose corresponding to the Latin metra into Old English verse. Since a copy of the prose model survives, it affords us an opportunity to compare the two versions in order to judge the versifier's debt to the prose. He apparently followed it quite faithfully and without referring back to the Latin originals. In many verse passages one can find words and half-lines which are direct transcriptions from the prose. Consequently the Old English Metres are generally considered nothing more than prose expanded into verse, adding only ‘poetic’ embellishments (like repetition and variation) and obvious morals drawn from the passage. The fruit of the versifier's labours may be uninspired poetry, but the way that he rearranged the words of the prose offers a rare glimpse into the more elusive conventions of verse-making. Since the many similarities make the differences quite pronounced, the poetical shortcomings of the Metres may be a blessing. A mediocre versifier is more likely to compose mechanically and to imitate established patterns than a good poet, whose virtuosity often conceals the rudiments of his craft.
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