Here and other places they have strange spacing as seen in the picture:

enter image description here

Wondering what it means and what the purpose of it / if it's necessary or has some significance.

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The spacing divides the 'half-lines' of the poem. This is fundamental to Old English metre, where each line of the poem consists of two half-lines, connected by alliteration.


If you are interested, the Electronic Beowulf edition, that you have linked in the question, has a section describing the meter of the poem.

By clicking the Meter option, the student may choose to have tooltips for any or all of the five different prevailing metrical theories.

The meter option can be selected from the Options pane on the left of the viewer:

meter option

  • Wondering if the spacing (not the concept of the half-line) is a modern invention, because I'm looking at the tablet in the link to Beowulf and don't see any spaces there. Wondering if it could be "implemented" in other ways, such as a new indented line, or however you want. Or if it must be a larger space like that. – Lance Pollard Oct 22 at 23:47
  • 2
    The spacing is simply a modern way of representing the half-lines in a printed text as a way of preserving the Old English metre. The original bards wouldn't have required it since it would have been memorised (and the earliest surviving manuscript (Cotton Vitellius A in the British Library), which may have been written almost 300 years after the poem was composed, doesn't even have breaks at the end of full-lines). – sempaiscuba Oct 22 at 23:58
  • The surviving Old English manuscripts also don't always place word divisions in the same places modern texts place them. See Roger Lass, Historical Linguistics and Language Change. – C Monsour Oct 23 at 0:56

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