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Went she over wave-seas, windy her faring, Floater foamy-necked-
fowl was she likest.

The observant student will notice: (1) that the lines are divided by
a pause in the middle; and (2) that the two halves of each line have
words that begin with the same sound (alliteration).

In the old days verses were not read to one’s self, or even read
aloud or recited; they were sung, or half-sung, or chanted, to the
accompaniment of the harp, before a group of listeners at festivals,
feasts, or parties. So they kept time in a very marked degree. There
were four beats to each half-line. Some were very strong beats,
especially those beats that fell on the alliterating syllables. Some
were quite weak-little beats made clear by being accompanied by
little pauses.

But the time was marked just as definitely by the light beats as by
the heavy ones. There is nothing mysterious about it. When one
Sing a song of six-pence a bag full of rye, Four and twenty
blackbirds baked in a pie. He marks time by both strong and weak
beats-strong on ‘bag’ and on ‘baked,’ and weak on ‘full’ and on
‘in.’ The student will notice, again, that sometimes two accents
come next to each other without any unaccented syllable between;
that was a characteristic trick in Anglo-Saxon verse, a trick
sometimes made use of in the kind of modern English verse that
has carried on the old traditional way of verse-making.

Now in my translation of the whole poem of Beowulf I’ve used a
verse-form like that of “Sing a song of sixpence,” a form which
really developed out of this same old Anglo-Saxon verse. I am
really concerned that the reader get the music, the beats, of this
verse of mine. I think he will, by just chanting, or half-chanting, it
aloud. Let him read these lines aloud:
Then around the mound rode with cry and call [pause] Bairns of
the aethelings twelve of all [pause], To mourn for their Master their
sorrow to sing [pause], Framing a word-chant, speaking mourn
King [pause].

He will notice that there are many syllables beginning with the
same sound, as in the Anglo-Saxon, but that they are not arranged
with the same uniformity of number and position; But on the other
hand he will notice that my verses rhyme (usually, as in this
sample, in rhyme-pairs). And he will notice that, though in each
first half-line there are four beats as in the old verse, there seem to
be only three beats on each second half-line. I say “seem to be”;
because there is, as one chants the lines, a natural pause always of
the same length after each rhyme; and a boy, beating time with a
stick or his finger, would make one beat there in the air between
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