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A) Compositional Patterns of Rhythmical Arrangement

Metre and Line

It is customary to begin the exposition of the theory of English versification with the statement that "...there is no established principle of English versification/'Eut this statement may apply to almost any branch of linguistic science. Science in general can live and develop only provided that there are constant disputes on the most crucial issues of the giver; science.

English versification is no exception. We have already discussed some of the most general points of rhythm. This was a necessary introduction to English versification, inasmuch as English verse is mostly based on rhythmical arrangement and rhyme. Both rhythm and rhyme are objective qualities of language and exist outside verse. x But in verse

1 This is the reason that both rhythm and rhyme have been treated in Part III outside the^ chapter on versification.

both have assumed their compositional patterns and, perhaps, due to this, they are commonly associated with verse. The most observable and widely recognized compositional patterns of rhythm making up classical verse are based, on:

1) alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, x

2) equilinearity, that is, an equal number of syllables in the lines,

3) a natural pause at the end of the line, the line being a more or less complete semantic unit,

4) identity of stanza pattern,

5) established patterns of rhyming.

Less observable, although very apparent in modern versification, are all kinds of deviations from these rules, some of them going so far that classical poetry ceases to be strictly classical and becomes what is called free verse, which in extreme cases borders on prose.

English verse, like all verse, emanated from song. Verse assumes an independent existence only when it tears itself away from song. Then only does it acquire the status of a genuine poetic system, and rhythm, being the substitute for music, assumes a new significance. The unit of measure of poetic rhythm in English versification is not so much of a quantitative as of a qualitative character. The unit of measure in musical rhythm is the time allotted to its reproduction, whereas the unit of measure in English verse rhythm is the quality of the alternating element (stressed or, unstressed). Therefore English versification, like Russian, is called qualitative, in contradistinction to the old Greek verse which, being sung, was essentially quantitative. In classic English verse, quanti-,ty is taken into consideration only when it is a matter of the number of feet in a line. Hence classic English verse is called syl I a bo-tonic. Two parameters are taken into account in defining the measure: the number of syllables (syllabo) and the distribution of stresses (tonic). The nature of the English language with its specific phonetic laws, however, is incompatible with the demand for strict regularity in the alternation of similar units, and hence there are a number of accepted deviations from established metrical schemes which we shall discuss in detail after pointing out the most recognizable English metrical pa ft e r n-s.

There are five of them:

1. Iambic metre, in which the unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed one. It is graphically represented thus: (w-).

2. Trochaic metre, where the order is reversed, i.e.. a stressed syllable is followed by one unstressed (-^).

3. Dactylic me t r eone stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed (-w).

4. Amphibrach i metreone stressed syllable is framed by two unstressed ^~w.

1 Many linguists hold that verse rhythm is based on alternation between stronger and weaker stresses. They maintain that four degrees of stresses are easily recognizable. But for the sake of abstractionan indispensable process in scientific investigation the opposition of stressedunstressed syllables is the only authentic way of presenting tne problem of verse rhythm.

5. Anapaestic me tr eiwo unstressed syllables are followed by one stressed (w-).

These arrangements of qualitatively different syllables are the units of the metre, the repetition of which makes verse. One unit is called a foot. The number of feet in a line varies, but it has its limit; it rarely exceeds eight.

If the line consists of only one foot it is called a monometerA a line consisting of two feet is a dimeter; threet r i t e /*; four-tetrameter\ fivep entdmeter\ sixh e x a m e t e r\ seveni septameter\ eight t a m e t e r. In defining the measure, that! is the kind of ideal metrical scheme of a verse, it is necessary to point out both the type of metre and the length of the line. Thus, a line that consists of four iambic feet is called iambic tetrameter, correspondingly a line consisting of eight trochaic feet will be called trochaic octameter, and so on.

English verse is predominantly iambic. This is sometimes explained by the iambic tendency of the English language in general. Most of the English words have a trochaic tendency, that is the stress falls on the first syllable of two-syllabic words. But in actual speech these words are preceded by non-stressed articles, prepositions, conjunctions or by unstressed syllables of preceding words thus imparting an iambic character to English speech. As a result iambic metre is more common in English verse than any other metre.

Here are a few examples illustrating various metrical arrangements of English verse. ,

1. Iambic pentameter

Oh let me true in love but truly write

2. Trochaic tetrameter

*.-, Would you ask-me whence these stories

3. Dactylic dimeter

Cannon to right of them

Cannon to' left of them

4. Amphibrachic tetrameter

O, where are you going to all you Big Steamers

5. Anapaestic tetrameter Do you ask what the birds say? The sparrow, the dove

If we make a careful study of almost any poem, we will fmd what 1 are called irregularities or modifications of its normal metrical pattern. These modifications generally have some special significance,

usually connected with the sense, though in some cases they may be due to the nature of the language material itself. This is particularly the case with the first modification when the stress is lifted from a syllable on which the language will not allow stress, and we have what is called a pyrrhicfoot instead of an iambic or a trochaic foot, for example:

So, that now to still the beating of my heart I stood repeating ()

But makes surrender to some thoughtless boy (Keats)

In both examples the stress is lifted from prepositions on which the stress seldom falls, therefore pyrrhics are very common and quite natural modifications in English verse.

The second modification of the rhythm is the inverted order of stressed and unstressed syllables in one of the feet of the iambic or trochaic pattern. For example, in the sonnet by Roy Campbell "The Serf" which,'like all sonnets, is written in iambic pentameter, there creeps in a foot wjiere the order, unstressedstressed, is inverted:

His naked skin clothed in the torrid mist

That puffs in smoke around the patient hooves

Here the third foot of the first line violates the rhythmic pattern. Such modifications are called rhythmic inversions and are used to add emphasis.

The third modification is the insertion of a foot of two stressed syllables, called a spondee. It is used instead of an iambus or a trochee. In Shakespeare's iambic pentameter these two modifications are frequently to be found, for example:

The morn in russet mantle clad

Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill

Here the first foot of the second line is rhythmic inversion, and the fourth is a spondee.

Rhythmic inversion and the use of the spondee may be considered deliberate devices to reinforce the semantic significance of the word-combinations. Here are other examples:

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll.

Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain.

The spondee as,a rhythmic modification, unlike the pyrrhic, is always used to give added emphasis. This may be explained by the fact that two successive syllables both under heavy stress produce a kind of clash as a result of which the juncture between the syllables becomes wider' thus making each of them conspicuous. A pyrrhic smooths and quickens the pace of the rhythm; a spondee slows it down and makes it jerky.

Pyrrhics may appear in almost any foot in a line, though they are rarely found in the last foot. This is natural as the last foot generally has a rhyming word and rhyming words are always stressed. Spondees generally appear in the first or the last foot.

These three modifications of the rhythm are the result of the clash between the requirements of the metrical scheme and the natural tendency of the language material to conform to its own phonetic laws. The more verse seeks to reflect the lively norms of colloquial English, the more frequently are modifications such as those described,to be found.

The fourth modification has to do with the number of syllables in the line. There may be either a syllable missing or there may be an extra syllable. Thus, the last syllable of a trochaic octameter is often missing, as in this line from Poe's "The Raven":

Thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before

This is called ahypometric line. Other lines in the poem fiave the full sixteen syllables.

In iambic metre there may be an extra syllable at the end of the line. In the line from the Shakespeare sonnet:

"Then in these thoughts myself almost despising"

there are eleven syllables, whereas there should have been ten, the line being iambic pentameter, as are all the lines of a sonnet. A line with an extra syllable is called h y^p e r m e t r i c.

Such departures from the established measure also break to some extent the rhythmical structure of the verse, and are therefore to be considered modifications of the rhythm.

The fifth departure from the norms of classic verse is e n j a m b -meat, or ihe run-on line. This term is used to denote the transfer of a part of a syntagrtijrom one line to the following one, as in the following lines from Byron's "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage":

1. Fair is proud Seville; let her country boast

2. Her strength, her wealth, her site of ancient days;

6. While boyish blood is mantling, who can 'scape

7. The fascination of the magic gaze?

It will be observed that here again is a violation of the requirements of the classical verse according to which the line must be a more or less complete unit in itself. Here we have the overflowing of the sense to the next line due to the break of the syntagm in the first and sixth lines-

close predicate-object groups. The lines seem to be torn into two lalves, the second half flowing structurally into the first half of the next [line. The first impression is that this is some kind of prose, and not verse,

this impression is immediately contradicted by the feeling that there |is a definite metrical scheme and pattern of rhyming.

The rhythmic pattern of the verse leads us to anticipate a certain smantic structure; but when the device of enjambment is used, what

anticipate is brought into conflict with what we actually find, that [is, what is actually materialized.

This is still more acutely felt in the case of s t a n z a e n j a m b -\tn e n t. Here the sense of a larger rhythmic unit, the stanza, which is [generally self-contained and complete, is made to flow over to the next [stanza.

Here is an example from Byron's "Childe Harold", Canto 1, stanzas ILI and LII.


8. The holster'd steed beneath the shed of thatch,

9. The ball-piled pyramid, the ever-blazing match,


1. Portend the deeds to come:but he whose nod

2. Has tumbled feebler despots from their sway.

The essence of enjambment is the violation of the concordance between the rhythmical and the syntactical unity in a line of verse. At the end of each rhythmical line in classical verse there must be a pause of an appreciable size-between the lines which ensures the relative independence of each. The juncture between the lines is wide. Enjambment throws a part of the syntagm over to the second line, thus causing the pause to grow smaller and the juncture closer. This leads to a break in the rhyth-mico-syntactical unity of the lines; they lose their relative independence.

Stanza enjambment is the same in nature, but it affects larger rhyth-mico-syntactical units, the stanzas. Here we seldom witness the break of a syntagm, but the final part of the utterance is thrown over to the next stanza, thus uniting the two stanzas, breaking -the self-sufficiency of each and causing the juncture between the stanzas to become closer.

It is important to remind the reader that modifications in English metre, no matter how frequent, remain modifications, for the given metrical scheme is not affected to any appreciable extent. As a matter of fact these irregularities may be said to have become regular. They add much variety and charm to the verse. Indeed, if the metre is perfectly regular without any of the five modifications described above, the verse may sound mechanical and lifeless, artificial and monotonous.

The Stanza

We have defined rhythm as more or less regular alternations of similar units. Of the units of verse rhythm the following have been named: the syllable, the foot, the line and finally the stanza.

The stanza is the largest unit in verse. It is composed of a number of lines having a definite measure and rhyming system which is repeated throughout the poem.

The stanza is generally built up on definite principles with regard to the number of lines, the character of the metre and the rhyming pattern.

There are many widely recognized stanza patterns in English poetry, but we shall name only the following.

1) The heroic couple t a stanza that consists of two iambic pentameters with the rhyming pattern aa.

Specialists in versification divide the history of the development of this stanza into two periods: the first is the period of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" and the second the period of Marlowe, Chapman and other Elizabethan poets, The first period is characterized by the marked flexibility of the verse, the relative freedom of its rhythmic arrangement in which there are all kinds of modifications. The second period is characterized by rigid demands for the purity of its rhythmical structure. The heroic couplet, beginning with the 16th century and particularly in the poetry of Spencer, was enchained by strict rules of versification, and lost its flexibility and freedom of arrangement.

The heroic couplet was later mostly used in elevated forms of poetry, in epics and odes. Alexander Pope used the heroic couplet in his "The Rape of the Lock" with a satirical purpose, that of parodying the epic. Here are two couplets from this poem:

"Then flashed^ the living lightning from her eyes, And screams ol horror rent the affrighted skies. Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast, When husbands or when lap dogs breathe their

2) The next model of stanza which once enjoyed popularity was the Spenceria-n stanza, named after Edmund Spencer, the 16th century poet who first used this type of stanza in his "Faerie Queene." It consists of nine liftes, the first eight of which are iambic pentameters and the ninth is one foot longer, that is, an iambic hexameter. The rhyming scheme is ababbcbcc. Byron's "Childe Harold" is written in this stanza: ' .

1. "Awake, ye sons of Spain! Awake! Advance! (a)

2. Lo! Chivalry, your ancient goddess, cries, (b)

3. But wields not, as of old, her thirsty lance, (a)

4. Nor shakes her crimson plumage in the skies: (b)

5. Now on the smoke of blazing bolts she flies, (b)

6. And speaks in thunder through yon engine's roar: (c)

7. In every peal she calls "Awake! Arise!" (b)

8. Say, is her voice more feeble than of .yore, (c)

9. When her war-song was heard on Andalusia's shore? (c)

3) The stanza named'ottava rima has also been popular in English poetry. It is composed of eight iambic pentameters, the rhyming scheme being abababcc. This type of stanza was borrowed from Italian poetry and was widely used by Philip Sidney and other poets of the 16th century. Then it fell into disuse but was revived at the end of the 18th century. Byron used it in his poem "Beppo" and in "Don Juan." Here it is:

1. "With all its sinful doings, I must say, (a)

2. That Italy's a pleasant place to me, (b)

3. Who love to see the Sun shine every day, (a)

4. And vines (not nail'd to walls) from tree to tree (b) '

5. Festoon'd much like the back scene of a play (a)

6. Or melodrame, which people flock to see, (b)

, 7. When the first act is ended by a dance (c)

8. In vineyards copied from the South of France." (c)

4) A looser form of stanza is the ballad stanza. This is generally an alternation of iambic tetrameters with iambic dimeters (or trimeters), and the rhyming scheme is abcb\ that is, the tetrameters are not rhymed the trimeters are. True, there are variants of the ballad stanza, particularly in the length of the stanza.

The ballad, which is a very old, perhaps the oldest form gf English verse, is a short story in rhyme, sometimes with dialogue and direct speech. In the poem of Beowulf there are constant suggestions that the poem was made up from a collection of much earlier ballads. Modern ballads in form are imitations of the old English ballad. Here is a sample of the ballad stanza:

"They took a plough and plough'd him down (a)

Put clods upon his head; (b)

And they had sworn a solemn oath (c)

John Barleycorn was dead." (b) (Robert Burns)

In some of the variants of the ballad stanza the rhyming scheme is abab, that is the stanza becomes a typical quatrain.

5) One of the most popular stanzas, which bears the name of stanza x only conventionally, is the s n n e t. This is not a part of a larger unit, it is a complete independent work of a definite literary genre. However, by tradition and also due to its strict structural design this literary genre is called a stanza.

The English sonnet is composed of fourteen iambic pentameters with the following rhyming scheme: ababcdcdefefgg, that is, three quatrains with cross rhymes and a couplet at the end. The English sonnet was borrowed from Italian poetry, but on English soil it underwent structural and sometimes certain semantic changes.

The Italian sonnet was composed of two quatrains with a framing rhyme abba. These two quatrains formed the octave. It was followed by asestette, i.e. six lines divided into two tercets, i.e. three

units with cde rhyming in each, or variants, namely, cdcdcd or cdedce and others.

The semantic aspect of the Italian sonnet was also strictly regularized. The first quatrain of the octave was to lay the main idea before the reader; the second quatrain was to expand the idea of the first quatrain by giving details or illustrations or proofs. So the octave had not only a structural but also a semantic pattern: the eight lines were to express one idea, a thesis.

The same applies to the sestette. The first three lines were to give an idea opposite to the one expressed in the octave, a kind of antithesis, and the last three lines to be a synthesis of the ideas expressed in the octave and the first tercet. This synthesis was often expressed in the last two lines of the sonnet and these two lines therefore were called epigrammatic lines.

The English, often called the Shakespearean sonnet has retained many of the features of its Italian parent. The division into octave and sestette is observed in many sonnets, although th.e sestette is not always divided into two tercets. The rhyming scheme is simplified and is now expressed by the formula ababcdcdefefgg given above.

The most clearly observable characteristic feature of the sonnet on the content plane is the epigram-like last line (or last two lines).

Sonnets were very popular in England during the sixteenth century. Wyatt, Surrey, Sidney and many other English poets of this period indulged in writing sonnets, and it is significant that during this period an enormous number were written. Wyatt adhered strictly to the Italian model. Surrey modified it and it was this modification that Shakespeare used.

The Shakespearean sonnets, which are known all over the world, are a masterpiece of sonnet composition. All 154 sonnets express the feelings of the poet towards his beloved, his friend and his patron. Even those sonn^s, the mairTidea of^which is by no means limited to the lyrical laying out of the feelings Of the poet (as Sonnets Nos. 66, 21 and others), still pay tribute to the conventional form of the sonnet by mentioning the object of the poet's feelings.1

The types of English stanzas enumerated in no way exhaust the variety of this macro-unit in the rhythmical arrangement of the utterance. The number of types of stanzas is practically unlimited. We have chosen only those which have wort"wvide recognition and are taken up by many poets as a convenient mould into which new content may be poured. But there are many interesting models which still remain unique and therefore cannot yet be systematized.

An interesting survey of stanza models in the English poetry of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has been made by Y. Vorobyov in his thesis on "Some Stanza Peculiarities in 18th and 19th Century English Verse."

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