Reasoning the rhyme: The encoding of complex early Irish Poetry.
Mavis H. Cournane
Donnchadh Ó Corráin
The European Foundation
Poetry was the most significant literary genre in early medieval Ireland. Medieval Irish verse is composed in accordance with strict metrical rules laid down by influential schools of poetry. These rules are prescribed in medieval handbooks of metrics that were used in the schools to train poets
in the intricate rules of Irish metrics. Detailed rules in normative text were prescribed for metre, alliteration, and rhyme. The encoding of the metrical features of Irish verse will serve a variety of the following ends:
- it occasions detailed and rigorous metrical analysis of a kind not usually done to this level of consciousness;
- it enables the generation of textual statistics in regard to metrical features and it enables the testing of the prescriptions of the handbooks against the poetic corpus;
- since the application of metrical features changes over time and between poets, it is an aid to establishing dating, authorship and milieu of texts;
- pedagogically, it enables the construction of multi-faceted teaching tools for training students in the intricacies of metre (they usually find it difficult). For example, with appropriate software, different views of metre can be presented clearly and unambiguously.
The encoding mechanism chosen has to satisfy a number of intellectual requirements:
- it has to aid a comprehensive analysis of the poems to check if they obey the rules set out in the handbooks of metrics;
- as these metrical rules change over time the encoding mechanism has to have the flexibility to reflect this;
- it has to facilitate the testing of the normative prescription against the actual performance of metrical rules either within an individual poem or across an entire corpus.
The metrical features covered in this discussion are:
- rhyme (final and internal);
- formal closure.
To satisfy encoding requirements a the single element (<seg>) with carefully arranged attributes is used to encode all the necessary features. However, this is laborious and time consuming and a
question about this method is--is the end result commensurate with the effort? This is difficult to answer but non-computer analysis is at least as time consuming, probably less productive in results and, further, the data so generated are not readily exchangeable.
An encoding scheme such as that offered by the TEI currently allows for the encoding of the complexities of Irish poetry in a very generic way using the <seg> element and the refining attributes of type and subtype. However, markup for markup's sake is not an end in itself---the encoding must serve some useful purpose. As demonstrated above, encoding in TEI is useful for
making the workings of early Irish metrics more transparent for the student and serves as a useful pedagogical tool for the teacher of this subject. Ongoing research on this paper will attempt to identify the depth of markup needed to do a more complete statistical analysis of metrics in early Irish verse and will suggests ways in which the TEI may be extended to meet the
demands of such analysis.
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