Hopkins and stress-timed metre

 

Hopkins also uses  a stressed time line (counting the stressed syllables) for what he called ‘sprung rhythm’,  which is basically stressed timing done in a much more dramatic way, quite the opposite of the calm tone of Waley.  Hopkins also uses rhyme, and many other fireworks,  but let’s forget about those for the moment.  It’s basically the same 5 beat line as Waley’s but used to quite opposite effects.

 

But to me,  at least in this context – versification -  the really interesting thing is the way in which he makes the metrical framework pro-active.  We are forced in some of the lines of  sort out which of the lines are to count as stressed (we are allowed only 5), and which we have to demote to unstressed status.  This is nothing to do with the natural rhythms of English, but all to do with the musical effects Hopkins wants to achieve, musical effects which are mimetic, that is,  imitation in language movement,  of the movements of the hawk he is describing.

 

 

 

 

The Windhover:

To Christ our Lord

 

 

I CAUGHT this morning morning's minion, king-

     dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Fal-

          con, in his riding

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and

     striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstacy! then off, off forth on swing,

     As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend:

          the hurl and gliding

     Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird,--the achieve of, the mastery of the

          thing!

 

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a

          billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

 

     No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down

          sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

   Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

 

 

He begins with heavy alliteration and assonance,  but the metrical shape is easy enough to sort out

 

I CAUGHT this morning morning's minion, king-

 

But in the next line we have to decide how to adapt the natural beat of the language.

 

     dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Fal-

          con, in his riding

 

It would be natural to give stress to ‘dawn’ and ‘drawn’  but if we rush through those syllables and ‘land’ on the first syllable of ‘Falcon’  we get a gliding effect, which surely Hopkins wants us to ‘see’ as the falcon’s rushing flight (raising the interesting connection poets have often noticed between the movement of objects and the movement of sentences).   And he seems to want this ‘rushing’ effect to continue into the next line, which also requires an unnatural suspension of words which would normally take stress in conversational English

 

 

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and

     striding

 

But then the rhythms become more conventional and he uses the unstressed  syllables in  to create a different sort of movement, pinned down again with alliteration,

 

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

 

And to created perhaps a sense of pause or perhaps ‘cornering’, or looping, and starting again with

 

 

In his ecstacy! then off, off forth on swing,

 

Where, by contrast, he brings three stressed syllables together, again with consonance. and then again there is a contrasting movement, as perhaps when the falcon dives and curves,  similar to the rhythm achieved with suppressed naturally stresses earlier.

 

 

     As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend:

          the hurl and gliding

 

Though I agree there are different ways in which a reader might ‘hear’ this, perhaps preferring to put stresses on  ‘sweeps’ or ‘smooth’ and not ‘heel’  and ‘bow’.

 

Hopkins is not a poet of  natural speech rhythms, perhaps, but it’s interesting to see that the way he uses the ‘given’ 5 beat line,  has a parallel in free verse poets who deliberately place a word at the end of a line, not because it is naturally stressed or prominent but because placing at the end of the line is his/her way of saying, ‘give this word /syllable special importance’.  

 

There’s a poem by Charles Tomlinson about having his hair cut where he imitates the movement of the razor going over his head and then down by putting the ‘o’ at the end of one line and the ‘ver’ at the beginning of the next .  I heard him read this way back.  I think it’s in a poem from American Scenes.  A more familiar example is the opening of The Waste Land

 

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.

 

where Eliot places ‘breed’, ‘mixing’ and ‘stirring’  at the ends of lines, although they’re beginnings of clauses because he wants to emphasis the grammatical parallelism,  and these are all verbs to do with natural processes in a poem which is about a lack of fertility.   His verse line, too, is mainly stress timed, with 5 beats to a line except for the first line unless you have a special emphasis on ‘is’, and if you do that it is in fact almost a traditional iambic pentameter with the first unstressed syllable left off (as Chaucer does in his ‘Whan that April’ beginning of Canterbury Tales).

 

This underlines the point that the end of the line is a sensitive spot and the word you put there needs to be a key word.  If you use rhyme, the rhyme helps to focus this important word.