Alberto Ríos

Anglo-Saxon Prosody

Forms of Verse, Fall 2000

Kristi Bell, Micah McCann

                                   ANGLO-SAXON PROSODY

An accentual metrical system whose unit of verse is the line itself.  Each line, consisting of an equal number of stresses, is divided into two hemstitches (half lines) by a caesura;  the hemistiches have the same number of stresses each, and are linked by alliteration.


  • Example #1 of Anglo-Saxon Prosody

The Last Survivor's Speech]

  ...and one man remained
From the host of the people, the last wanderer there,
A watchman grieving over friends, to augur
For his own life the same: brief use, brief love
Of long-prized wealth.  The barrow of the dead
Stood ready on the plain near the breaking sea,
New-made on the headland, built hard of access;
Into its interior the jewel-guardian took
That cherishable mass of the treasures of men,
Of the beaten gold, and uttered these words;
"Now earth hold fast, since heroes have failed to,
The riches of the race!  Was it not from you
That good men once won it?  Battle-death, evil
Mortal and terrible has taken every man
Of this folk of mine that has left life and time,
That has gazed its last on feast and gladness.

Scanned lines:

Of this folk of mine that has left life and time,

That has gazed its last on the feast and gladness.


  • Example #2 of Anglo-Saxon Prosody

Caedmon's Hymn

Now we must praise   heaven-kingdom's Guardian,

the Measurer's might   and his mind-plans,

the work of the Glory-Father,  when he of wonders of every one,

eternal Lord,    the beginning established.

He first   created   for men's sons

heaven as a roof,   holy Creator;

the middle-earth   mankind's  Guardian,

eternal Lord,    afterwards made -

for men earth    Master almighty.

Scanned lines:

He first created   for men's sons

heaven as a roof   holy creator.


A familiar anecdote told of King Alfred by his contemporary biographer, Asser, Bishop of Sherborne (
The Life of Alfred, ch.23), witnesses to the king's affection for the traditional poetry of his people, and celebrates his ability as a child to win an attractive book from his mother by memorizing and repeating to her the poems which it contained; for though, as Asser says (ch.22), Alfred remained illiterate until he was twelve years old or more, he was a zealous listener to the Saxon poems on those frequent occasions when he could hear them recited in the hall, and, being readily taught, he retained them in his memory with evident ease. 


Grendel's Dog

Editor's Cat,
Modern English Version

Brave Beocat,   brood-kit of Eagthmeow,
Hearth-pet of Hrothgar   in whose high halls
He mauled without mercy   many fat mice,
Night did not find napping   nor snack-feasting.
The wary war-cat,   whiskered paw-wielder,
Bearer of the burnished neck-belt,   gold-braided collarband,
Feller of fleas   fatal, too, to ticks,
The work of wonder-smiths,   woven with witches' charms,
Sat on the throne-seat   his ears like sword-points
Upraised, sharp-tipped,   listening for peril-sounds,
When he heard from the moor-hill   howls of the hell-hound,
Gruesome hunger-grunts   of Grendel's Great Dane,
Deadly doom-mutt,   dread demon-dog.
Then boasted Beocat,   noble battle-kitten,
Bane of barrow-bunnies,   bold seeker of nest-booty:
"If hand of man unhasped   the heavy hall-door
And freed me to frolic forth   to fight the fang-bearing fiend,
I would lay the whelpling low   with lethal claw-blows;
Fur would fly   and the foe would taste death-food.
But resounding snooze-noise,   stern slumber-thunder,
Nose-music of men snoring   mead-hammered in the wine-halls,
Fills me with sorrow-feeling   for Fate does not see fit
To send some fingered folk   to lift the firm fastened latch
That I might go grapple   with the grim goul-pooch."
Thus spoke the mouse-shredder,   hunter of hall-pests,
Short-haired Hrodent-slayer,   greatest of the Pussy-Geats.



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