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CHAPTER XVII

PROSODY

A. POETRY.

Prosody deals with the rules of rhythm in poetry. But what is poetry? Many definitions and descriptions have been given; as a criticism of life, interpretation of nature, impassioned truth, etc. Probably, for our purpose, it is better to say that poetry is one of the fine arts which expresses itself in language of a definite rhythm. We must, then, have metre or verse if any composition is to be properly called poetry. But there must be something more, else it would be poetry to say:

"Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,
Saving February alone.

Twenty-eight are all its store,

But in Leap-year one day more."

Matters loathsome

Note the following additional characteristics of poetry. First, certain subjects are poetic, certain are not. by nature, details of surgery or dentistry, agricultural operations, and other such subjects are not fitted for poetical treatment. Yet unsuitable subjects are occasionally chosen, as by Thomas Tusser in his Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry.

Second, the language of poetry is not the language of prose. The meaning of this has, at certain times, been wrongly assumed to be that certain words, and these alone, are poetic. In the

eighteenth century in particular, a poetical diction was current. Swain was a favourite word for peasant, nymph for maid. Sheep are in Pope "fleecy care," and in Thomson "soft fearful people." Barndoor fowls are in Thomson "the household feathery people," and in Cowper "the feathered tribes domestic." Such artificiality led Wordsworth to fly to the other extreme and say that prose and verse require one and the same language. "There neither is," he declared, "nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition." When Wordsworth put this theory into practice, he wrote prosaic lines, as "The other, not displeased,

and

Promptly replied, 'My notion is the same"";

"These serious words

Closed the preparatory notices."

The truth is that a noble poem may be written in words that are all suitable for prose, as Cowper's Loss of the Royal George. But many words found in prose are unpoetic: unmelodious words, for example, or words suggesting unpoetic ideas. No poet writing seriously would now use blooming as an epithet. Less than a century ago it had no unpoetic associations as now, and in eighteenth century poetry it is very common: as in Burns,

"Now Nature hangs her mantle green

On every blooming tree."

Poets are fond of archaic words and forms, as kine, margent, steed, palfrey, behest, wax (grow), clomb, holp. They readily interchange parts of speech, as sudden for suddenly. They make compounds, as feather-cinctured, incense-breathing, gloomygladed. There is also in poetry freer inversion of words, and a wider and bolder use of figures of speech. It would be easy to compile many pages of examples of this special language; but it is better for the student to read a page or two of, say, Tennyson's Princess or Morte d'Arthur, and note how the diction differs from prose usage. We must always remember that the archaic word is not to be used merely because it is archaic, or

the inversion made merely because it is an inversion; as if the archaic word, or the inversion, were in itself poetic. The best poetic diction is the language that is most sincere-the words that best express the meaning, that best call up the picture to the mind's eye, and that are most melodious.

In the third place, poetry must have imagination, that touch of inspiration which makes poetry poetry.

B. ELEMENTS OF PROSODY.

The

Rhythm means a regular succession of movements. rhythm of words results in the cadences of prose and the measures of verse. In prose the rhythm is varied: otherwise it would drop into sing-song. In poetry the rhythm is definite -so definite that we feel it and find pleasure in anticipating it.

Metre is the regulated succession of certain groups of syllables. In English the metre consists in the regular recurrence of accented syllables alternating with one or two unaccented syllables. Occasionally there may be three unaccented syllables. A pause or stop may take the place of an unaccented syllable between two accented syllables.

In Latin and Greek, verse is regulated by quantity, not by accent. In English, while accent regulates, quantity—as regards the length of the vowel sounds-is employed to vary the flow of the metre. Note the difference caused in the following examples by the short vowels of the first and the long vowels of the second.

"Therefore do nimble-pinioned doves draw love,
And therefore hath the wind-swift Cupid wings."
"Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow."

The combination of the accented syllable with one unaccented (or two) is called a measure or foot. The foot is named according to the grouping and the number of syllables. For convenience,

let us denote an accented syllable by ', an unaccented by °. Then the feet are:

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A foot may be made up of two or more words, or of parts of words; as the anapaests in Byron's line,

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"The Assyrian came down | like the wolf | on the fold." |

A line, or verse, contains a certain number of feet. Names borrowed-like iambus, etc.-from Greek metrical terminology are frequently employed. A line of one foot is called monometer; of two feet, dimeter; of three, trimeter; of four, tetrameter; of five, pentameter; of six, hexameter.

Examples:

"Weep, neighbours, weep; | do you not hear it said | Pentameter. That Love is dead?” |

"Then night|ly sings | the_starling owl, |

Tu-whit; |

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Dimeter.

Tetrameter.

Monometer.

Trimeter.
Tetrameter.

Monometer.
Trimeter.
Monometer.
Trimeter.

"The things which I have seen | I now | can see no more." |

Hexameter.

A certain number of feet, as we have said, make a line. Thus, in one metre each line consists of five iambuses. The normal line, then, of that type contains ten syllables: it is decasyllabic. But, for variety, a line may have fewer than ten;

or more.

The following are five-foot lines.

The first has ten

syllables, the second eleven, the third twelve, the fourth nine.

"There would | have beén | a tíme | for súch | a word. |
To-mór row, and | to-morrow, ánd | to-morrow."

"My thought, whose múr der yét | is bút | fantástical."
"Mánly years of happy dáys | befál." |

In the last line, the first foot may be termed monosyllabic.

An extra syllable is sometimes avoided either by elision of one vowel before another, as tabide for to abide, th' abyss for the abyss; or by slurring-synæresis, synizesis—as e'er for ever, whe'er for whether.

"Cúrses, not loúd | but deép, | moúth-hon our breath." |

Here a pause (instead of an unaccented syllable) separates deep and mouth-. The accented syllable also comes first instead of second in cúrses | and | mouth-hon. This is called by some inversion of metrical accent, by others substitution of a trochee for an iambus.

Substitution frequently occurs. Lochiel's Warning by Thomas Campbell is anapaestic; but in several feet one of the unaccented syllables is dropped, and iambuses result; as in the second line below.

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"Tis the sun set of life | gives me mystical lore, |

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And coming events | cast their shadows before." |

When, as above, or in any other way, we indicate the number and kind of feet, we are said to scan.

The metrical accent should not fall on a word or syllable that would not be naturally accented.

PAUSES. The division into lines leads to a pause at the end of the line, and in some poetry we find this pause strongly marked; as

"And seeing the snail, which everywhere doth roam,
Carrying his own house still, is still at home :

Follow (for he's easy paced) this snail,

Be thine own palace, or the world's thy jail."

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