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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XIII. Prosody from Chaucer to Spenser

§ 1. The prosody of the fourteenth century

IN the short summary or survey of the progress of English prosody which was given towards the end of the first volume of this history, we reached the period of the alliterative revival, in or about the early days of Chaucer. In the second and third volumes, the actual record of poetry has been carried, approximately, to the death of Spenser; and incidental notices of the prosody of nearly three centuries have, necessarily, been included. But it has been judged proper to continue here the retrospect, in connected fashion, of the general history of English versification.

The prosody of the fourteenth century, after its very earliest periods, is a subject of very complex interest as well as of extreme importance; and its complexity is not really difficult to disentangle. It is from the neglect to study it as a whole, more, perhaps, than from any other cause, that general views of English prosody, in the not very numerous cases in which they have been taken at all, have been both haphazard and confused. Yet the facts, if only a little trouble be taken with them, offer their own explanation most obligingly, and illustrate themselves in a striking and, indeed, almost unique manner.