Friday, 12 July 2013

Some notes on versification
John Haynes

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,

                                   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
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Versification:   some working definitions

Some working definitions

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

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

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

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

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

    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)

(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
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

(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.

 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

In traditional forms of English verse the line is measured by number, hence the Shakespeare term of 'numbers' for verses.  A verse line is a unit of so many  one or more of the following:
·         syllables  (Matthew Francis)
·         stresses   (Arthur Waley)
·         stresses and syllables  (Shakespeare's blank           verse)
·         stresses and alliterations (Beowulf)
This form of verse is often also marked  by an rhyme to tag the end of the line    Often the line of verse corresponds to a unit of grammar, and so ends with a punctuation mark, or natural pause.
These lines are called 'end-stopped' and involve a natural pause. This pause can be counted as a further 'silent' stress between the lines.

So in this line from Shakespeare's sonnet, we can count 5 stresses, and ten syllables, and also a 'silent' stress after the end of the wording.line
       When my love[1] says that she is made of truth,  ^
I do believe her, though I know she lies   ^
that she might think me some untutored youth^
unlearned in the world’s false subtleties ^

So there are, six beats to consider here.  The poet has the option of varyiation by suppressing the line-end pause and making the line ‘run on’, or  increasing the pause by having a ‘weak’ ending, that is, adding an extra unstressed syllable at the end of the line before the pause.  Or a mix of these.

This all fits in under the general heading of ‘parallelism’ mentioned last time.  Each line is ‘the same’ in so far as it’s rhythm goes, but ‘different’ insofar as its wording goes.
Translations of the Bible introduce a further kind of parallelism which is connected to rhythm but based on grammatical rather than sound patterning, as in the Psalms.  This kind of verse can tap into the rhetorical forced that repetition has in English, as we see in speeches such as the ‘beaches’ one by Churchill, or Martin Luther King’s ‘dream’ speech.  Why repetition should have this emotive effect is an interesting question.  But it brings us back to parallelism in general, and the fact that poetry, also, is associated with emotional speech.
But on the whole, here too, there is a final pause at the ends of lines.
With the rise of free verse the idea of ‘numbers’ was dropped, as also (usually) rhyme, so all that remained was the idea of the silent stress at the end of the line, and even this could be dropped.   In practice and often, I suspect unconsciously, the Psalm like type of grammatical parallelism shapes free verse. 

The key question in free verse (as in fact in all verse) is how you manage the line-ends.   In metrical verse the last word, often the rhyme word, has to carry a marked stress.  A characteristic of bad verse is that the rhyme word seems to have been contrive only for it’s rhyme.  In good verse the last words in the lines are the most important rhythmically.
However there are forms of free verse in which line end does not seem to be important, or is important only semantically, and/or in which the line becomes a purely visual unit on the page, perhaps even just a signal meaning ‘this is poetry so read in the way you read poetry.’
Write out any short passage of speech or prose and then transform it into each of the following lines
1       Five stresses per line
2       Ten alternative unstressed and stressed syllables (iambi  pentameter)
3       Lines which show grammatical parallelism
4       Lines with the same number of syllables, different   numbers of stress
5       Any of the above plus rhyme
6       Analyse the basis of these lines.  What makes them   verse?
         And I rode.  Would
She be there when I arrived, would the world’s end keep
         its promise to me and issue up
              My love?  Would

         The sea tell me the truth, and,
Saying so, its words turn to my girl?  But no-one
         Can say as I went
             I was not glad, . . .  

 (Jon Silkin)

 T S  Eliot distinguished between free verse which is created by making variations on a metrical pattern or norm (verse libre) and verse which is has no such relation (verse liberé).  
 Free Verse as Variation
 1           Let us go, then, you and I,                                                            /x/x/x/
2          When the evening is spread out against the sky                        xx/xx/xx/x/
3          Like a patient etherised upon a table;                                          xx/x/xxx/x/x          
4          Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,                       /x/x/x/x/x/
5          The muttering retreats                                                                 x/x/x/
6          Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels                               x/x/x/x/x/
7          And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells                                x/x/x/x/x/
                                    (The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock)
 Eliot has the traditional iambic pentameter in mind, but begins off-centre, as it were.  
is not iambic, but similar in having an alternation of stress and unstress  but starting with the stress (trochaic).   And it’s a tetrameter (4 stresses) not a pentameter (5 stresses)

matches L1 in having four stresses, but is not iambic.  It’s mainly anapaestic and nearer to the pentameter in that there are 11 syllables.

also has four stresses and starts with an anapaest, but then has a few trochees.
You could possibly scan ‘etherised’ as /x

Suddenly and decisively (with the decision idea ‘let us…’) gets completely regular, every foot a trochee, and for the first time we have a pentameter.

continues with regularity, if you accept my slightly doubtful scansion, where I’ve scanned ‘muttering’ as /x/ which is influenced by the idea of iamb which emerges in this line.  A more strictly naturalistic analysis of ‘muttering’ would have to be /xx.

L6 now comes out with the – as it were – ‘held back’ norm, the iambic pentameter.

L7 reinforces this, although my scansion of ‘restaurants’  (/x/)takes up the poetic license of ‘promoting’ some syllables so as to create regularity.  A more naturalist analysis would be /xx   or even /x

This passage, then, begins with variations and finds its way to the ‘theme’ metre after a series of lines which ‘hint’ at it by each have something in common with the iambic pentameter.

One way of writing this kind of verse would be to draft something in the stricter form and then in redrafting work some improvised variations on it.

Free Verse without a base form

1          The ploughed chalk sweeping                               x///x                                    3         
2          and shelving is a shore                                          x/xxxx/                                2
3          from which the tide has just gone out.               xxx/x/x/                                   3

4          Fine, black blades                                                    ///                                    3
5          of trees stand against depths                                   x//xx/                                3
6          which the sun fills,                                                  xx//                                  2
7          white and cold.                                                         /x/                                  2

8          A big hare sits with ears up                                 x///x//                                 5
9          on the rim of the world.                                         xx/xx/                               2

10        Larks rise singing from the ocean bed.               ///xxx/x/                               5

Jeremy Hooker

The analysis on the right shows clearly enough that Hooker’s not aiming at regularity, either in the number of stresses per line or in the syllable patterning.   It’s definitely not ‘iambic’.
 The poem is shaped rhythmically by the rhythm the sentences generate.  Each stanza is a sentence, and they are parallel in meaning in that each makes an existential kind of statement about the landscape
 is -    stand -  sits   - rise
 The first two stanzas/sentences are parallel in rhythm to some extent.   Both have the quite striking /// pattern, three stresses together in a row, in their opening lines.  Putting stresses together slows down the tempo of the line and enhances the kind of stasis which often interests Hooker, who is very much into place and landscape which are fundamentally still things.  The same /// recurs in line 8, which beautifully captures the stillness of the hare set against the mystical ‘rim of the world’.   The verbs above reflect this except for ‘rise’ which is the one motion verb in the poem.
 Stanzas 1 and 2 also both end with a /x/ pattern, as does the last line of the poem. Stanzas 1 and 2 both also have ‘which’ clauses in them.
lines  9 and 10 both have place clauses -  ‘on the rim of the world’ and ‘from the ocean bed’,  which echo each other rhythmically  xx/xx/ and xx/x/.  This parallelism of sound enhances the mysterious contrast between the momentary fixed hare and the larks seeming to rise from the bottom of the sea.   [1]
 A more basic overall pattern can be seen if we look just at the number of stresses, all the lines having either 3 or 2, a two having 5 (which  have internal pauses breaking them into 2 and 3 stress ‘halves’.
 This sort of writing does not, of course, come from conscious counting of syllables, but is organic, born of hours (and years) of trying out and listening to the sound, and getting a rhythm by ear as it were.  And of course it comes from listening to a lot of other poets.   But it’s interesting to see how such free verses is yet so tight in its impact, and ‘naturally’ falls into patterns.

 We’ve looked mainly at the line as a rhythmical unit, and hence at kinds of parallelism.  But there are also more random features typical of poetry, where a sound can be repeated just once, and then move into something else.  
This can be seen in the use of alliteration, assonance, consonance.   In these examples, perhaps you’ll agree, that bits with the same colour have something in common as to sound patterning.  So in the Muldoon passage,  ‘Amazon’ picks up on sounds in ‘on a’ and then ‘an Indian’ takes them up again.   Similarly ‘Indian boy’  partly echoes ‘tributary’   But this is not done systematically. 
 On a tributary of the Amazon              
an Indian boy
steps out of the forest
and strikes up on a flute.

Paul Muldoon

 Where once the waters of your face
Spun to my screws, your dry ghost blows,
The dead turns up its eye

Dylan Thomas

 In these examples there is an intertwining of sounds which ‘pick each other up’ as echoes, but not overall structural shape.   They are ways of getting from one sound pattern to another, and each transition can be based on a different kind of patterning (rhyme, alliteration, assonance, et al).  There’s a parallel of this in ideas and images when Dylan Thomas talks of one image ‘breeding’ another in the process of composition.
 The relationships here are in some ways similar to those found in cynhannedd, but in the latter things are in fact very strictly patterned.   In free verse we often find features of metrical verse drawn on the ways we see in the extracts above.

[1] This idea is an ancient one, and I suspect of Biblical origin.  An interest ing allusion might be to D H Lawrence’s Women in Love where Ursula says

 ‘Do you think that creation depends on man!    It merely doesn’t  There are the trees and the grass and the birds.  I much prefer to think of the lark rising up in the morning upon a human-less world.  Man is a mistake, he must go.  There is the grass, the hares, the adders, and the unseen hosts . . ‘

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