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No field of literary study has produced so many widely different theories and schools as that of versification. There
are stress theories, syllabic theories, quantitative theories,
Betwixt Damiata and Mount Casius old,
Metrists hold to their prosodic prejudices with the tenacity of old-time theologians, and scholars will die at the stake for a definition.
The reason for these puzzling differences in point of view is the extreme subtlety and complexity of the phenomena of poetry. The elements involved are the meanings and the connotations of words; the accents and the movement of speech phrases; the number and the quality of syllables; their differences in intensity, duration, and pitch; the patterns and pauses of rhythm and meter; and finally, the personal equation of different readers of verse. These numerous elements now combine their forces and produce one effect, and now struggle together and create another, in ways apparently so inconsistent that rational principles are hard to discover. Each metrist finds one of these elements the basic principle upon which verse depends, and all the others subordinate in varying degrees; and like the philosopher and the theologian, each theorist makes his partial truth the whole. So the ordinary reader of poetry, perplexed by prosodic wars, asserts with a fine air of distinction that he does not find any principles of metrics
necessary to an appreciation of poetry, but that he does know what he likes!
Now I wish I might claim that my book is superior to any of its predecessors in that it presents all the elements of poetry in their true relation, and that in the future the world may set its mind to rest on metrical matters; but, unfortunately, I do not feel this way about it. I merely claim that it presents a possible, and I hope not too complicated, explanation of the more important phenomena of verse, and that the plan has a few practical advantages over other systems.
The point of view is an application of the theory, widely accepted since the publication of Sidney Lanier's Science of English Verse, that the rhythm of both music and verse depends upon an equality of time divisions. This principle is very commonly stated at the beginning of books on meter, but there have been very few attempts to develop a consistent prosody from it. The advantages of this approach to the subject are that it brings the analysis of verse into some relation to the way in which verse is written, and helps one to gain a greater pleasure in reading it by training one's ear to appreciate subtleties of rhythm. The emphasis through the book is placed upon the appeal of verse to the ear.
A consideration of verse as fundamentally composed of anapests, pyrrhics, amphibrachs, etc., may be adequate and convenient for a metrist, but complicated and troublesome for a student. For example, he feels puzzled by an explanation of Shelley's line,
When night makes a weird sound of its own stillness,
as a succession of feet, the first of which is the normal iambus, and the rest all substitutions-pyrrhic, spondee, anapest, trochee, i. e.
When night makes a weird sound of its own stillness.
Aside from the fact that he does not see why this explains how the line can be rhythmical, he may wonder why this particular scansion should be better than,
When night makes a weird sound of its
When night makes a weird sound of its own stillness.
College students show a pardonable repugnance to elaborate technicalities; it is hard to make them feel a vital interest in a distinction between the acephalous iambic heptasyllable and the trochaic tetrameter catalectic.
An analysis of verse which cultivates an ear for rhythm rather than a sense of ingenuity is not only more simple and more logical, but also more helpful in the practice of verse writing. The student poet commonly goes through three stages. First he finds that poetic rhythm seems to be an arrangement of words with an emphasis on every other syllable or every third syllable. He writes on this principle until someone tells him to stop, or until he discovers for himself that there is such a thing as monotony. In his next stage (if he ever gets beyond the first) he finds that rhythms may be varied in innumerable ways. His reaction against the Mary-had-a-little-lamb kind of verse leads him to harsh and uncouth effects, and he scorns all curbs that may restrain the flight of Pegasus. Then, finally, unless he stops here as a vers librist," he steers a middle course that avoids both the monotony of his first manner and the formless freedom of his second. Now the advantage which the young versifier gains from thinking in terms of musical equivalence is that he may skip the stage of rigidly monotonous composition. He begins to compose with too free a rhythm; but by studying his own efforts in comparison with the work of accepted poets, he may develop an ear for the finer variations, and may then achieve an
interesting verse technique of his own. It is obviously easier to smooth out verse that is too rough than to introduce pleasing variety into a dull and unvaried rhythm. This is the practical advantage which may be claimed for an analysis of verse on the principle of a time equivalence like that recognized in music.
Part One of the book deals, in a general way, with the theory of verse, the principles of meter, rhythm, movement, phrasing, etc. The first four or five chapters will give the general student sufficient introduction to the elements of versification, without his considering the chapters on rime and melody. He may refer to the rest of the book merely for the definitions of special types of verse. Part Two is intended as a help to the more advanced student of composition who is interested in trying the technique of the different verse forms, or for the student who wishes to become a more capable critic of poetry.
I wish to acknowledge special indebtedness to three previous studies in verse which, more than others, have helped me in forming my own point of view-Professor T. S. Omond's Study of Meter, Professor C. M. Lewis' English Versification, and M. Verrier's Principes de la Métrique Anglaise. To Mr. Brian Hooker, whose three volumes of poetry show that he can not only analyze verse but can also write it, I am grateful for the privilege of reading in manuscript his forthcoming book on meter. My colleague, Professor Milton Percival, and my brother, Mr. F. Sturgis Andrews, have given me valuable assistance by their encouragement and criticism. But more than to anyone else I owe a debt to my friend, Professor Charles W. Cobb of Amherst, before whose hospitable fire I have smoked many a pipe and discussed for hours at a time, his theories, my own theories, and everybody else's theories of rhythm-and, in fact, theories of most things in the world. C. E. ANDREWS