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The Ormulum and the Lutgart: Early Germanic Iambs in Context Wim Zonneveld Wings developed as useful adaptations during several independent stages of evolutionary history. This paper discusses a similar case from medieval poetics. Itjuxtaposes the metrical histories of English and Dutch, not just as a hopefully enlightening (and novel) exercise per se, but also in order to discuss and compare the respective niches of, on the one hand, the Middle English Ormulum collection (c. 1180), and, on the other, the Middle Dutch Lutgart hagiography (c. 1270). The main aim of the exposition is to point out that these works, within their individual traditions, strikingly share the property of being odd-poems-out in that they have iambic metre well avant-la-lettre. The major English measure is the iambic pentameter ('Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?'), the favourite metre of most modern English poets in most of their work. The cliche is that it was introduced into English by Geoffrey Chaucer in the final few decades of the fourteenth century, rediscovered by Wyatt, Surrey and Sidney in the sixteenthcentury Renaissance period, and made great by Shakespeare, Milton and Donne. Before Chaucer, there simply was an insular iambic wasteland. The - less eventful 1 I am grateful to Wim P. Gerritsen for introducing me to the Lutgart; to Erw for helping m e out with some aspects of its historical context; and to Erik Kooper for encouraging m e to develop and finish this contribution. 28 Wim Zonneveld - standard Dutch picture lacks its Chaucer, and late-sixteenth-century and earlyseventeenth -century poets such as van Hout and van Marnix simply represent the Renaissance avant-garde, introducing the iamb and anticipating Hooft and Vondel, in whose work the (iambic) alexandrine started to grow and thrive ('Florence, 't schoonste dat mijn oogh ooit heeft ontmoet'). Within these schemes of things the Ormulum and the Lutgart are ill-fitting entities, in surprisingly similar ways. Yet, as will be shown, there are obvious ways in which these poems are dissimilar: as in, for instance, the assessments 'an intolerably diffuse and tedious work' vs. 'a subtle literarische Personlichkeit', and, a part of this demonstration, one additional aspect of their metrical physique will be considered, that of enjambement or run-on lines. THE ORMULUMTN CONTEXT Consider the following two fragments of English poetry: (1) Yt is wel wist how that the Grekes stronge In armes with a thousand shippes wente To Troiewardes, and the cite longe Assegeden, neigh ten yer er they stente, A n d in diverse wise and oon entente, The ravysshyng to wreken of Eleyne, B y Paris don, they wroughten al hir peyne. (2) In Troy there lies the scene. From isles of Greece The princes orgulous, their high blood chaf'd, Have to the port ofAthens sent their ships, Fraight with the ministers and instruments O f cruel war: sixty and nine, that wore Their crownets regal, from the Athenian bay Put forth toward Phrygia; and their vow is made 2 'Florence, the most beautiful thing my eye has ever met', from Pieter Co Hooft's letter from Florence, c. 1600, quoted in P. van Duyse, Verhandeling ove Nederlandschen Versbouw fs-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff, 1854), p. 46. 3 See, respectively, B. Dickins and R. M. Wilson, Early Middle English Texts, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Bowes and Bowes, 1952), p. 82; and J. van Mierlo, Willem van Afflighem en het Leven van Jesus en het Leven van Sinte Lutgart (Verslagen Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Vlaamsche Academie voor Taal- en Letterkunde, Augustus 1935), p. 778. The Ormulum and the Lutgart: Early Germanic Iambs in Context 29 To ransack Troy, within whose strong immures The ravish'd Helen, Menelaus' queen, With wanton Paris sleeps; and that's the quarrel. Fragment (1) is from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (1.57-63), written probabl between 1380 and 1385; fragment (2) constitutes the first 10 lines ofthe Prologue to Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, conceived c.l602. Both are specimens of the iambic pentameter. This modern English standard measure has a number of defining properties (five feet, iambic alternation, the possibility of feminine ending, possible trochees substituted after strong boundaries, synaloepha of immediately adjacent vowels, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 27-52
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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