Notes on the Metre of Piers Plowman: Twenty Years On
Duggan’s retractions. Revisiting his essay in YLS 1, which argued that L followed the same basic metrical rules that govern other alliterative poems, Duggan now says ‘there is very little evidence that [L] felt constrained by (or perhaps was more than generally aware of) the metrical constraints that bound other poets’ (p. 169). For instance, in PPl and only there, ‘a word in the first or second dip of a b-verse from a closed class may carry alliteration without bearing linguistic or metrical stress’ (p. 162). L is also prone to writing b-verses that are ‘both semantically and syllabically heavier than is the norm with other poets’ (p. 169). Similarly, a significant number of lines end with two or more unstressed syllables. ‘Perhaps the most striking difference between L’s metrical practice and that of the other alliterative poets is that he did not steadily make alliteration coincide with metrical stress’ (p. 172). This immensely increases the number of lines acceptable under the definition of ‘metrical’. Passages that editors have long taken to record draft material that L died before he could revise, such as C.Prol.114-24, would in fact have seemed to him unremarkable.
In Approaches to the Metres of Alliterative Verse, ed. by Judith Jefferson and Ad Putter (Leeds: Leeds Texts and Monographs, 2009), pp. 159-86.
Duggan, Hoyt N.