Versification (1)

         

 

 

Some Types of Verse Line

 

                             Old English Style:   Four stresses,  pause after second, alliteration

 

                                                                                                                                Time and again, foul things attacked me,

lurking and stalking, but I lashed out,

gave as good as I got with my sword.

My flesh was not for feasting on,

there would be no monsters gnawing and gloating  (Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf)

 

 

 

Mainstream/Chaucer Style: Count (ten) syllables, stress and unstress alternate

 

A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
                                                       (Chaucer)

                                             

 

                                   Hebrew Style:  Grammatical Parallelism

 

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs,
and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. 

                                                                            (Song of Solomon)

 

                               

                            Arthur Waley Style:   Five stresses per line, unstresses free.

              

                                   All that is left are a few chrysanthemum flowers

                                   That have newly opened beneath the wattled fence.

                                    I have brought wine and meant to fill my cup

                                   When the sight of these made me stay my hand

                                                                                                                                         (Arthur Waley)

 

 

 

Carlos Williams style:   Each line is a 'breath'

 

This is Just to Say

 

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Versification:   some working definitions

 

POETRY, VERSE, RHYTHM AND METRE

Some working definitions

 

Poetry

Composition which incorporates in its meaning and/or effects a sense of language  sound and/or structure as such, not necessarily verse composition.

 

Verse

Composing in ‘lines’.  A line implies other lines alongside it, and these being in some sense equivalent, usually in rhythm.

 

Rhythm

The regular pulses or pulses the language has whether in verse or prose, speech or (as imaged from) writing.  In English rhythm is marked by stressed syllables

 

Metre

A stylisation of natural rhythm to form a pattern.  Pattern implies repetition of some kind, usually of sound.

 

 

Parallelism

The pattern is based on parallelism, that is basic repetition with variations in the detail.   There are many kinds of parallelism.

 

Rhyme                      

‘bed’   and ‘fed’  the onsets are different,  the rimes are the same

 

ONSET     RIME

    b                 ed

    f                  ed

 

Grammar and/or vocabulary

(Grammatical form is the same, vocabulary is different, but vocabulary is parallel semantically is that we have types of flowers and trees,  types of offspring, and ‘love’/’beloved’

 

As the lily among thorns,
so is my love among the daughters.
As the apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among the sons. 

(Song of Solomon)

 

Syllable 

(number of syllables is the same, individual syllables different)       

           

For you must know that the world is round.  In its centre

the gold pin of Jerusalem holds down the twelve winds.

                                                (Matthew Francis: Mandeville)

 

Consonant or vowel

(e.g. alliteration, where the first sound is the same, the rest of the word different)    

       

Round the ragged rock, the ragged rascal ran

  

Stress     

There is no one among men that has not a special failing’

And my failing consists in writing verses.  (Arthur Waley)           

                                   

Consonants/vowels and stress:  

We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,

Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also           (Pound)

 

Stress and syllable:

The fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars

but in ourselves, that we are underlings     (Shakespeare)

 

 

Line-end pause (‘breath’)[1]  

(lines end with a pause, which may sometimes be used to create a stress)

     

Forgive me

They were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

 

Visual

(The line is taken as a spatial idea to do with layout on the page and used to foreground patterns of meaning)

 

  

Metrical Verse

has a predictable patterning of one or more of these kinds of parallelism. Metrical verse may have variations on a ‘norm’, and the patterning be less strict;  here it merges into free verse

 

Free verse

has either a minimal amount of parallelism (a pause at the end of a line), or in has variable types which occur unpredictably,  one kind a parallelism one minute, then another the next.

 

Speech

 Parallelism is based on repetition and occurs in other texts than poetry (as do all features of poetry).  There seems to be some connection, though, between parallelism (repetition) and the expression of emotion.  Think of Churchill’s famous speech.

 

we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields

and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender.

 

Natural Speech Rhythm

There's also a tendency in informal conversational speech for the stresses to fall at regular time intervals, something which gets stylised in  one way in the so-called 'iambic' rhythm of a lot of English poetry, in another way in Old English poetry and some folk poetry

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Versification:   examples of some types of verse line

 

         

 

Alliterative:    Four stresses,  pause after second, two/three  per line alliterations

 

                                     Time and again, foul things attacked me,

                                                lurking and stalking, but I lashed out,

gave as good as I got with my sword.

My flesh was not for feasting on,

there would be no monsters gnawing and gloating  (Seamus Heaney )[1]

                  

 

                   Sprung (Arthur Waley Style):   Five stresses per line.  Unobtrusive

                             
                                                All that is left are a few chrysanthemum-flowers

That have newly opened beneath the wattled fence.

I had brought wine and meant to fill my cup,

When the sight of these made me stay my hand. (Arthur Waley)[1]

 

 

 

                   Grammatical Parallelism:   Same sentence pattern, but with  ellipsis if you wish

 

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs,
and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.  (Old Testament)
[1]

 

Free/Breath  (Carlos Williams style):    each line takes up a 'breath'

 

I have eaten
the plums                                                                             
that were in                                                                          
the icebox                                                            

and which                                                                            
you were probably                                                             
saving                                                                                   
for breakfast                                                                       

Forgive me                                                                           
they were delicious                                                             
so sweet                                                                                  
and so cold      

 

 It’s worth noticing that often in free verse the there’s a use of ellipsis (things left unstated)  which masks a grammatical parallelism.  Williams’ lines could be expressed as

They were delicious

They were so sweet.

They were so cold

 

The parallelism is also semantic, in that all the contrastive words are adjectives about  taste

                                                                   

 

 

 

Versification:   notes on examples

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTES ON  THE HEANEY PASSAGE

 

Heaney uses a loose form the Old English line.  He has mainly four beats and alliteration watered down, no doubt to avoid the thumping heaviness it gives in modern English.

 

1          Time and again, foul things attacked me,                                      /xx            /             / xx    /x

2          lurking and stalking, but I lashed out,                                          /xx            / x xx     /         /

3          gave as good as I got with my sword.                                       x /x              /xx       / xx      /

4          My flesh was not for feasting on,                                              x/x               / x         /x        /

5          there would be no monsters gnawing and gloating       xxxx/                 /x            /xx      /x

 

Quite a few of these wouldn’t fit into the ‘classical’  OE line.   From the point of view of stress pattern, the regular OE lines are  2(a),  4, and 5a, and 1b if we count  ‘things’ as unstressed or half-stressed.  So Heaney produces a loose form of the OE line, acceptable as being near enough (and given the need to translate). 4 in fact is a bit doubtful because ‘on’ doesn’t really  take stress.    The alliterations are reduced  too, with only line 3 having 3 alliterations OE metre requires.    But line three is irregularly also in that the pause comes after the third stress, ‘got’, although it might be possible to read it as

 

gave as good      as I got with my sword

 

But Heaney is a good model because full-fledged  OE metre sounds odd.  If it is softened it can work.  You can further soften it by (for example)

 

(1)   having two alliterating sounds per line, each one occurring just once

 

                        Time and again      ghouls attacked me

 

(2)  ignoring voice/unvoice.

 

                        Again I was caught  by coughing and ghouls

 

(3)   Using either of the above or both and letting the alliterations run over onto the next line

 

                        Time and again    fiends attacked me

                         tearing at my gear   with  venomous claws, 

 

 

 

NOTES ON THE WALEY PASSAGE

 

             1        All that is left are a few chrysanthemum-flowers                                                                     /xx   /xx /x  /xx   /   ^

2              That have newly opened beneath the wattled fence.                                                xxx  /x    /xx   /x   /x    /   ^

3              I had brought wine and meant to fill my cup,                                                            xx    /x     /x    /x   /x    /   ^

4          When the sight of these made me stay my hand. (Arthur Waley)                              xx  /x     /     /x   /x   /   ^

 

 

Waley does the basic thing beautifully.  Same overall metre but variations within that.  All the lines have 5 stresses but the distribution of unstressed syllables does not fall into a neat pattern.  But he does tend to have the pattern   /x /x / at the ends of his lines, and every line ends with a single stress followed by a silent stress (^) signalled by the end-stopping (punctuation).  Because he makes the metrical stresses fall on naturally occurring stress,  the rhythm sounds ‘natural’.  You might think this was free verse.  This gives Waley’s poems their typical calmness and sense of rightness based on unconsciously perceived regularity (metre).     He also manages to make the ‘cadence’ coincide with the length of the line.

 

Waley’s metre is ‘sprung’ in the sense use by Hopkins, but Hopkins didn’t have the same interest in the conversational intonation Waley aims at, and Hopkins also drew in other thighs such as alliteration and almost a kind of Cynghanedd

 

Waley’s metre also shows how ‘natural’ the five beat line is, and the alternating pattern also (which underlines the ‘iambic’ line.   Take any text beginning ‘Today I’ve got to . . .’ and cut into ten stress lines, and then work it so that that line-ends coincide with a pause.  After the second line add some sort of comment on the significance of these tasks

 

Today I must mow the lawn if it doesn’t rain.                                          x /xx  /x    /xx   /x      /

Then  go to Morrison’s to get some mincemeat and yogurt.                 x/x    /xxx /x    /xx    /x

Day after day the same simple tasks.                                                        /xx / x    /       /x     /

 

Then consider any ways the rhythm can be used to enhance the attitudes emerging, ways that you can create variety within the 5 beat framework

 

The last line is okay because the repeated /x  /x  expresses the routine tasks.   But line 1 breaks down after ‘lawn’ which rhyme awkwardly with rain.  And the second line as the awkward jingle of ‘Morrison’s’ and ‘mincemeat’  and then ‘mincemeat’   and ‘yogourt’

 

if it doesn’t rain today,  mow the lawn

After that,  Morrison’s for yogurt and mince

  

 

 

NOTES ON THE SONG OF SOLOMON PASSAGE 

 

1              For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;                             overview: new seasons
2              The flowers appear on the earth;                                                              example:  flowers/plant
3              the time of the singing of birds is come,                                                  example:   birds
4              and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;                                      example:   type of bird                                      
5              The fig tree putteth forth her green figs,                                                 example:   type of plant
6              and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell                         example:   type of growth

 

This is based on repetition of (1) sentence pattern and (2) words of similar meaning

 

(1)   Mention of something to do with the season, and what it is ‘doing’

winter is past

rains is over

(rain is)  gone

 

flowers appear

singing…is come

voice… is heard

fig tree putteth for …figs

vines…give…good smell

 

(2)  Prepositions plus Places

on the earth

in our land

 

(3)  Phrases with ‘the’ following by a season/nature noun

 

the winter -  the rain  - the time  - the singing -  the voice  -   the turtle -  the fig tree   - the vines

 

(4)  Processes of coming, being, etc

is past – is over  -  (is) gone  - appear – is come  - is heard  - 

 

 

(5)   Nouns to do with season

 winter -  rain  - flowers –earth – time -  birds  - turtle (dove) -  land  -  fig tree   -  leaves – vines – grape

 

(6)  Sequence of lines picks out examples of types of things just mentioned

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTES ON THE W C WILLIAMS PASSAGE


I have eaten                                                                         xx            /x
the plums                                                                              x              /
that were in                                                                           xx           /
the icebox                                                                             x              /x

and which                                                                             x              /
you were probably                                                           xx           /xx
saving                                                                                    x              /
for breakfast                                                                       x              /x

Forgive me                                                                          x              /x
they were delicious                                                         xxx         /x
so sweet                                                                                                 /              /
and so cold                                                                           x             /               /

 

Another scansion (ignoring line ends)

xx/xx/xx/x/xx/xx/xx/xx/x x/x xxx/x //x //

 

It’s clear from this that although ‘free’  there’s clear symmetry with the ‘anapaestic’ type of foot dominant until end

 

It’s more clearcut  if we don’t give ‘so’ stress at the end.  Only 2 variations of xx/.  If we pushed things and read  ‘and which/ you were’ with a stress on ‘were’ and not ‘which’, the whole thing would be regular.

 

xx/xx/xx/x/xx/xx/xx/xx/x x/x xxx/x x/x x/

 

On this scansion each of William’s stanza corresponds to a 4 stressed line,  the first two with 12 syllables, the third with 13

 

xx        /xx      /xx      /x        /x

x          /xx      /xx      /xx      /x

x          /x xxx /x x     /x x     /

 

Each line has one stress except (on one reading at least)  for the last two,  but now it’s the page space that indicates there’s a pause – not even punctuation.  There’s some coincidence between sentence component and line

 

I have eaten   S V

the plums      O

that were in   S V  +in

the icebox      A – in

 

and which     S

you were probably   S A

saving             V

for breakfast   A

 

Forgive me   V O

they were delicious   S  V C

so sweet   C

and so cold   C

 

This gives some basis for line-end pause, but line-end pause is mainly intonational,  how you say it, and that’s to some extent up to the performer

 

 

 

 

 

Versification:   metre and syncopation

 

 

 

 

When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur,  a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd
of stars

 

 

Iambic

 

Yeats himself read his poems in a very ‘musical’   way, so it’s difficult to  know how far it’s worth looking at the language rhythms that come to us from the page.   The poem overall tends towards the stock ‘iambic pentameter  line, but there are continual variations on that, in which the alternation of unstress/stress is upset, a ‘syncopation’. 

 

The first line starts with syncopation and then falls into the alternating rhythm

 

When you are old and gray and full of sleep

 

and this is a pretty common kind of variation (Opening of Canterbury Tales, for example) where either you miss off the first unstress (as Chaucer does) or you repay it with two stresses coming together afterwards, as here.

 

He is then syncopated again with

 

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;

 

where he continually presses two stress up together

 

take down

soft look

glad grace

love false

 

 

He doesn’t let the full unambiguous iambic line flow out , or almost flow out until he gets to the emotional centre, the confession

 

but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you          (x/x/x/x/x\)

and loved the sorrows of your changing face     (x/x/xxx/x/)

 

and even here there’s ambiguity.  It’s tempting to put a stress on ‘you’ at the end of the first line, to make to perfectly regular.  And similarly to upgrade ‘of’ to stress to make the second line regular.  And we might read it that way. You could possible argue that ‘you’ is relatively more stressed than ‘and’ which follows,  and ‘of’ stronger than following ‘your’ – possibly.  But the greater closeness to the iambic metre seems to reinforce the great closeness the poet has to what really matters to him in the poem.  This seemed clear to me when I first read the poem, but I’m less sure now, especially as the next line is the most regular of all in the poem, which is Yeats empathising with her viewpoint

 

And bending down beside the glowing bars,    (x/x/x/x/x/)

 

.   ‘Bars’ is to rhyme with ‘stars’ at the end, and there’s a nice contrast between the domestic fire to which the old woman bends down, and the cosmic stars and mountains to which the poet looks up to see, if not himself, then love as a personified if lost figure.

 

This most regular line is followed by perhaps the least regular,  perhaps mimicking the uncertainty of the ‘murmur’


Murmur,  a little sadly, how love fled             (/xx/x/xx//)

 

 

 but the conviction of the iambic returns at the end.

 

And paced upon the mountains overhead,     (x/x\x/x\x/ )      / = stress    \ = relative stress
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars          (x/x/x\x/x/)

 

Here there is some uncertainty.  ‘upon’  requires a stress it wouldn’t have in conversation,  although it’s true that compared to ‘the’ it is relatively more stress,  same thing with ‘amid’ followed by ‘a’ .

 

  

 

 

 

A little bit outside the box:  length and pitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OUR USUAL  CONVENTIONS FOR VERSE DON’T ALLOW FOR

(1)  length and pauses     (2)  pitch and pitch movement

It's true that some free verse layouts show pauses through indendation, and there is the example of Robert Bridges who attempted a length based metre (based on Latin where metre is based on length rather than stress) 

 

 But what difference would it make if we attempted to show these?

 

Showing length

 

¦ No                               ¦                  I¦ can’t                           ¦No it would be

 

¦ wrong                         ¦ wouldn’t it         ¦                           ¦                 

 

 

 

 

¦ No                               I¦ can’t                 ¦                           ¦No  

 

¦        it would be            ¦ wrong              ¦                           ¦                          

 

¦wouldn’t it

 

 

 

Showing length and pitch movement

 

                                                 a

¦ N                                 ¦      c               n’                    ¦                           ¦N    

      o                              I                             t                                                 o

                                               

                                        w

                                            r

                                                   o                                                               it      

¦                  it would be ¦             ng             ¦                           ¦       ldn’t        ¦                                                                                                                            o

                                                                                                 w

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 


 

 

 


 

[1] It’s worth noticing that often in free verse the there’s a use of ellipsis which masks a grammatical parallelism.  Williams’ lines could be expressed as

They were delicious

They were so sweet.

They were so cold

The parallelism is also semantic, in that all the contrastive words are adjectives about  taste

 

 

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