Epic of Beowulf Essay - Alliteration in Beowulf

1297 Words6 Pages
Alliteration in Beowulf The diction of the Old English poem Beowulf is distinguished primarily by its heavy use of allliteration, or the repetition of the initial sounds of words. In the original manuscript version of the poem, alliteration is employed in almost every line (or two half-lines); in modern translations of the poem this is not so. Beowulf uses alliteration [my italics] and accent to achieve the poetic effect which Modern English poetry achieves through the use of poetic feet, each having the same number of syllables and the same pattern of accent (Wilkie 1271). In lines 4 and 5 of the poem we find: Oft Scyld Scefing sceapena preatum monegum…show more content…
Such stressed alliterative binding together created hundreds of pairs that are used over and over, such as halig/heofon holy/heaven, dryhten/dugud lord/troop, fyren/feond sin/enemy. The pairs need not be complementary, but rather can be contrastive, like eadig/earm happy/wretched and wearm/winter warm/winter. These dictional contrasts provide the listener additional pleasure by surprising his expectations. The alliteration also includes stressed vowels (Tharaud 34). Prof. Magoun, in examining the poem, considers it probable that a high percentage of the language in Beowulf is formulas or phrases repeated from a common bank of phraseology from which all poets drew their language (88-89). From this common bank the poets drew out what they need based on the requirements of alliteration. In his essay “The Making of an Anglo-Saxon Poem,” Robert P. Creed agrees that alliteration was the poet’s basis for making his choice of words: I shall therefore take only a very small portion of Beowulf, eight verses (four lines), and attempt, by means of references to similar verses and lines in the rest of the poem and in other surviving Anglo-Saxon poems, to illustrate the thesis that the making of any Anglo-Saxon poem was a process of choosing rapidly and largely on the basis of alliterative [italics mine] needs not between individual words but between formulas (142). The alliteration in the poem was so
Open Document