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In Appreciation of Metrical Abnormality: Headless Lines and Initial Inversion in Chaucer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-85
Number of pages21
JournalCritical Survey
Issue number3
DateAccepted/In press - 1 Dec 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Dec 2017


This article examines Chaucer’s use of headless lines and initial inversion in both his short-line verse and his long-line verse, and compares Chaucer’s use of these metrical licences with that of earlier and later English poets. It shows that in Chaucer’s short-line verse headless lines are much more common than is initial inversion, while the exact opposite is true for Chaucer’s iambic pentameter. Analysing the contexts in which these metrical licences occur, I argue that Chaucer (and his predecessors) used them very deliberately, not only for emphasis and rhetorical effect but also to clarify narrative and syntactical organization. Of particular interest is the use of these devices in the context of non-indicative moods, lists and catalogues, direct speeches and changes of addressee, transitions between narrative sections, and enjambement.

    Research areas

  • 'Book of the Duchess', 'Knight's Tale', 'Nun's Priest's Tale', Enjambement, Headless lines, Metre, Rhythm, Trochaic inversion



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