Menota Handbook 3.0
Guidelines for the electronic encoding of
Medieval Nordic primary sources

Ch. 13. Metrical structure

Version 3.0 (12 December 2019)

by Jon Gunnar Jørgensen, Jonna Louis-Jensen and Tarrin Wills

13.1 Encoding of metrical structures

It is recommended that passages of verse in manuscripts should be encoded as such. The basic encoding of verse is covered in ch. 3.8 above, where it is recommended that verse be encoded in line groups (i.e. stanzas) and lines.

The following section extends the basic mark-up of verse to include: (1) references to the relevant stanza within the whole poetic corpus, so that poetry can be cross-referenced between manuscript versions; and (2) markup of metrical features within verses and lines.

There are good reasons to establish a system for the encoding of metrics in the medieval manuscripts even if this structure is not generally represented graphically in the manuscripts. For many users of the established text the stanzas are of great interest and it is therefore practical to mark them in a way that makes it possible to find and delimit them from the surrounding text. A more detailed encoding of the stanzas can open up for new ways of research on different metrical variants, concerning e.g. alliteration, internal rhyme and stress.

The same rules that apply for prose are relevant also for the encoding of stanzas. In addition to these rules we suggest codes that facilitate the search for and identification of stanzas. We also give guidelines as to the encoding of the metrics. It should be pointed out, however, that these codes would have to be given a more detailed form if the stanzas should be analysed in a more detailed way.

The verse will normally be marked up only at the <me:dipl> and <me:norm> levels of the transcription. For the <me:facs> level, verse will be included as if prose, in accordance with the practice of the medieval manuscripts.

13.2 Elements and attributes

On the primary level we recommend that the stanzas are encoded with the following elements and attributes:

Elements & attributes Obl/Opt Explanation
<lg> Marks the stanza in relation to the surrounding prose text.
@n Obl Indicates the identity of the stanza within the manuscript, i.e. its number in the manuscript, using values such as ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’.
@xml:id Optional Indicates the identity of the stanza within the medieval poetic corpus. The id should refer to a standard edition of the works. Menota recommends using the sigla for verses used by the Skaldic Poetry project ( for non-Eddic verse, and the numbering in Neckel and Kuhn 1983 for Eddic verse. If no standard corpus contains the verse (e.g. rímur), it should be indicated by a separate typology.
@type Optional Indicates the general metrical form of the stanza, e.g. ‘dróttkvætt’ or ‘fornyrðislag.’
<l> Marks the line within the stanza.
@n Obl Indicates the line number within the stanza, using values such as ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’. Lines are broken according to Norse-Icelandic conventions, that is, alliterative lines are treated as two lines, with a break at the caesura.
@type Optional Indicates the type of line for formatting purposes; the implied value, ‘normal’, is not indented; use ‘b-line’ for the b-line of eddic metres which should have the caesura represented by a long space; use ‘ljod-long’ for ljóðaháttr long lines, which should have a line break and be indented.
@met Optional Indicates the metrical form of the line. The form should be according to a standard typology, e.g. types A–E of the common germanic verse form. Sub-types can also be represented, using, e.g. Gade 1995. Alternatively, the actual scansion of the line can be represented using a series of symbols (e.g. ‘/’ for a lift, ‘\’ for a secondary stress, ‘x’ for a dip and ‘|’ for a syntactic caesura; or cf. the MUFI character recommendation for metrical symbols).
<me:all> Indicates the alliteration of the line.
<me:ass> Indicates the internal rhymes of the line, where relevant.

13.3 Encoding example

The following example is from Guta saga (ed. by Peel 1999, p. 2), in which the correction of the word “reð” has been suppressed for the sake of simplicity:

Hann reþ draum þinna so:

Alt ir baugum bundit
Boland al þitta varþa
ok faum þria syni aiga

The basic encoding of a verse within a prose work is thus:

  <w>dra<lb ed="ms" n="16"/>um</w>
<lg n="1" xml:id="Guta-v1" type="germ">
  <l n="1">
    <lb ed="ms" n="17"/>
  <l n="2">
    <w>bo land</w>
  <l n="3">
    <pb ed="ms" n="1v"/>

The verse is numbered as the first in the manuscript, and the value of @xml:id is according to its own typology (this verse does not occur in most poetic corpora). The value of @type simply represents that this is in the common Germanic metre. No attempt has been made here to do more detailed metrical analysis.

The following example is of a more complex, skaldic example from Skáldskaparmál in AM 748 II 4to. The verse (from Bragi Boddason’s Ragnarsdrápa (stanza 5) is thus:

þar sua at giordu gyrdan
golfhaulkuis sa fylkis
segls naglfara siglur
saums anduanar standa
urdu snemst ok saurli
samrada þeir hamdir
halum herdi mylum
hergautz vínum bardir.

The transcription is encoded thus (long “s” is normalised to “s”; encoded at the diplomatic level):

<lg n="3" xml:id="Bragi-Rdr-5" type="dróttkvætt">
  <l n="1" met="A3-2">
    <w><me:dipl>s<ex>ua</ex> at</me:dipl></w>
  <l n="2" met="X">
    <w><me:dipl><me:all>g</me:all>olfh<me:ass>aul<lb ed="ms" n="19"/>k</me:ass>
  <l n="3" met="D2">
  <l n="4" met="D2">
    <w><me:dipl><me:ass>and</me:ass>uana<add place="supralinear">r</add>
  <l n="5" met="X">
    <w><me:dipl>urdu</me:dipl></w> <lb ed="ms" n="20"/> 
  <l n="6" met="X">
  <l n="7" met="A1-1">
  <l n="8" met="X">
    <w><me:dipl>vín<lb ed="ms" n="21"/>um</me:dipl></w>

The value of @n is 3, as this is the third verse recorded in the manuscript. The verse’s @xml:id is the siglum from the Skaldic project. The type of metre is ‘dróttkvætt’, but this categorisation is unnecessary, as the link to the skaldic project also provides information on the metrical category of each verse. Each line is encoded with the <l> element, with the line number given and the metrical categorisation (here, from Gade 1995; “X” means uncategorised).

The alliterative staves are indicated using the <me:all> element, and the internal rhymes using <me:ass>. Both elements are defined by Menota and belong to the Menota namespace (cf. ch. 2.8 above).