Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Pedestrian Prosody

Well Mike Snider has joined the prosody conversation and for some reason has gone ballistic (my guess is he’s been working too hard). And although he supports my claim (actually Steele’s and others’ claim) that you cannot have three consecutive metrically unaccented or accented syllables in English, I think his rant against Coolidge and Cureton is over the top.

At least Cureton recognizes “that poetry is more musical than painterly.” That’s always been my line of reasoning (I’d like to read Jonathan’s comparison of Cureton with Creeley who, if I understand correctly, would argue the reverse). And if Cureton believes that “the poem's selection and arrangement of linguistic forms and their temporal effects rather than the selection and arrangement of linguistic meanings and their spatial implications” is crucial, well then have at it. But musicality of poetry: we agree.

But I agree mostly with Chris: “Is all of this one of those things that theorists apply after the fact and that are relatively inconsequential to writers writing (as opposed to writers talking about writing)? I find it hard, given this discussion, to fathom that anyone who is writing a poem has but the barest outline of these metrics in mind, relying instead on a more intuitive grasp of musicality…”

Which was my original point, and again brings me to what has been my guide in writing in meter (say it one more time and with meaning): you cannot have three consecutive metrically unaccented or accented syllables in English. It helps me see that “unimpressive” will not be following “veritably” in my iambic line: “bly” needs to be stressed, being the third syllable after the strongly stressed “ver” and preceding the stronger stressed “un”. Therefore I’m wanting an iamb to follow my trochee-iamb beginning. So I would choose something like “pedestrian” instead, or maybe “pedestrian instead” and have my pentameter to boot:

veritably pedestrian instead

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

What about a line like "Of Man's first disobedience and the fruit," in which, arguably, both three consecutive accented and three consecutive unaccented syllables occur? (No one would unstress any of "Man's first dis" and most would avoid stressing "ience and the" because stressing the "and" screws up the emphasis on "fruit" and neither of the the other syllables could be stressed without being bizarrely stilted.) Sure, it's not a true iambic line, but it's sure a powerful and a famous one. I guess the old saying that there are exceptions to every rule holds true.

Greg said...

I don't see this as an exception whatesoever: "Of Man's first disobedience and the fruit." I hear Man stressed slightly more than Of, and dis slightly more than first. I think I'd scan it: iamb-iamb-iamb-anapest-iamb, unless maybe eliding "ience", and then it's perfect iambic pentameter. But again this proves the point, or at least helps scan the meter.

Geof Huth said...

Strangely, I've agreed with all your readings/hearings so far--except of the line I proposed. At least we have one disagreement to keep it interesting.

Geof

Anonymous said...

You're on crack if you'd scan Milton's first line as perfect iambic pentameter. Of MAN's first DIS o BED ience AND the FRUIT? Pshaw. I guess it depends on whether you're stretching things to make it sound like capital-P poetry for the sake of trying to come off as erudite or whether you read things as the authors wrote them and admire how they do roughly conform to metrical conventions without making the language and stress so stilted as to be absurd. I tend to go the latter route myself. How about another example? That IS no COUN try FOR old MEN / The YOUNG in ONE anOTHer's ARMS. I think the stress on these lines is clearly more like THAT is NO COUN try for OLD MEN / The YOUNG in one another's ARMS. It's fine to have guidelines -- templates of sort -- we use to classify the measure of lines of poetry, but it's silly to insist on them to the point of mangling the variations these poets give us.

Greg said...

Pshaw. No crack. Maybe a Heineken or 2. But I'll stick with the reading. It's a template only though. And if you scan it with a 4-level notation (1 -4: weakest to strongest) I'd say it was:
Of Man's | first dis | obed | ience and | the fruit,"
1-4 2-3 2-4 1-2 1-3
Of course each beat isn't equal in stress. It's not sing-song; it's speech.

And please. Erudite? Me?

PS I suppose you could stress "first" in your reading. I'm not. If that was the case, then I'd see a trochee 2nd foot. But that's all I can see different. But, if the pattern that the poet chooses is iambic pentameter in the poem itself, then any reading of a particular line should err in that direction. My reading does exactly that. But it does not mangle the line to do so. It's a perfectly natural reading.