Heavy Hypermetrical Foregrounding in the Old Saxon Heliand and Genesis Poems

Heavy Hypermetrical Foregrounding in the Old Saxon Heliand and Genesis Poems

Simms, Douglas

The Heroic Age, Issue 12 (May 2009)


The Old Saxon Heliand and Vatican Genesis and the Old English Genesis B contain a number of metrically aberrant verses known generally as heavy hypermetrical verses. This paper argues that these verses serve to highlight portions of the text for the audience.

In comparison to the relatively wealthy poetic remains of Old English, the continental Germanic alliterative traditions have left us few examples. Most significant among these is the Old Saxon Heliand of the early ninth century which, with 5,983 lines, is the longest single poem in an early Germanic alliterative verse (Cathey 2002, 20–22). Beyond that, however, the only significant texts are the Vatican Genesis, at approximately 334 lines, and a partial Anglo-Saxon translation of the same Genesis poem, Genesis B. Though some aspects of Old Saxon meter may indicate a “tradition in decline” (Russom 1998, 170; see also Lehmann 1956, 105–113), the Heliand poet and the poet of Vatican Genesis did not lack verbal, and as will be argued here, metrical artistry. Of interest to us here is the use of extraordinarily long metrical constructions, with which the poets were able to catch the audiences’ ears and redirect their attention to passages of particular import. As the Heliand poet has affectively used the variation and placement of alliteration (Jeep 2002), fitt structure (Murphy 1992, 221–230; Haferland 2002, 243–45), as well as markers in other linguistic components (Rauch 2002), it is natural that poets who bestowed this much attention to rhetorical devices should likewise vary the metrical structure of the work.


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