The first important characteristic of Anglo-Saxon poetry is rhythm.

There is a four-beat line caesura marked by a space dividing each line into two parts (hemistiches). Each hemistich contains two stressed syllables. Each line contains four heavily stressed syllables. There is no fixed number or placement of the unaccented ones. Only the stressed syllables are measured. Although the number of unstressed syllables in a line seems accidental, it is not. In reality, there is a complicated set of patterns used. Alliteration binds the lines together. The essential syllable is the third stress. Usually the first and second stress contain the same alliterative sound. The fourth stress is rarely alliterative with the others. Consonantal alliterations must be identical and all vowels must alliterate with all other vowels. The second characteristic is the repetition of synonymous words and phrases. Examples of this are the passage above and Biblical poetry, which gives a sense of ritual and incantation. Third is specialized poetic diction (words uncommon in everyday speech and writing). These are known as kennings, or compound word metaphors, such as ring-giver for the king or whale's road for the sea. Many kennings, such as swan's road, fishes' way, and beaker of waves (all refer to the sea) translate awkwardly into modern English and lose some of their poetic effect. Fourth is a suggestiveness and allusiveness of the poetry; this is a harder characteristic to recreate. Since the poetry was oral, the poet learned a special poetic vocabulary full of synonyms and kennings for frequently occurring items such as sword, ship, warrior, and battle. This made it easy to patch in material when his memory was not right on target. The fifth characteristic is use of irony, especially understatement. This characteristic is still common in English poetry today. For example, someone says about Grendel, when he knows Beowulf will best him, "That was not his luckiest day." Sixth is the use of flyting, which is a mocking word contest between two warriors.

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