Defining Appendix Metrical Terms

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      Poetry is generally couched in verse form. That is to say verse is its body. What does ‘verse’ literally mean? That which turns upon itself. Poetry has a pattern of stresses which repeats itself through line after line. The run of verse displays such a repetition of pattern, it is called rhythm. Rhythm, in other words, is the regular rise and fall of the speaking voice in poetry, it is the measured tonal movement of verse. This rhythm can be either of rising type or falling type. If for example, through a line, an unstressed (weak) syllable occurs first and is followed by a stressed (strong) syllable, and so on (more or less) through the whole line, it is said to be rising rhythm. If, say, in a line of 8 syllables, the syllables come in this order — weak strong weak strong weak strong weak strong —the line then is in rising rhythm. At the same time, you will notice that the line divides itself into 4 feet of 2 syllables each. In the line, for example:

      When spring with dewy fingers cold you will see the regular recurrence of the pattern (x/x/x/x/).

      Now, you will agree that not every line of verse may be strictly regular in this fashion. For example, in a line like. I wander’d lonely as a cloud we have this order: weak strong / weak strong weak weak, weak strong.

      Still, it is the weak strong pattern that predominates. And if the same pattern is repeated through the other lines of the poem / stanza, then we can say the base rhythm is a rising one, and the base foot iambic (an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one).

      Now, whatever departures there are in a line — departures from the norm, deviations from the expected base rhythm — are called substitutions. They are generally referred to as modulations, though substitutions are not the only kind of Modulation in verse. The norm is the warp, and the modulations the woof so to say. The norm is the background against which the modulations are worked into the verse. The norm or base rhythm is what the poet has at the back of his mind while composing.

      Now, you will grant that no language can possibly be so structured as to lend itself to the pattern weak strong weak strong weak strong weak strong, or vice versa, in every line, with unfailing regularity, through a whole poem or a sustained passage of verse.

      We have quite often a weak syllabic occurring in place of a strong one. Or we find both the syllables in the foot being strong. Or yet it may be that the final iambic foot is extended by a weak syllable. Not infrequently, a foot of the reverse pattern may take the place of the first foot, or, exceptionally, any other foot, in iambic verse.

      So substitutions are natural; they are even necessary, and a welcome change, because they relieve the monotony that might result otherwise from the rhythm of the verse being too regular. Only they should not be so many or so frequent as to throw the base rhythm out of gear or such as to altogether obscure it. The foot that reflects the base rhythm, which the poet hears in his mind’s ear, and which forms the ground on which he works his changes, is called the base foot.

      Verse that has a rising rhythm and can be seen to be divided into disyllabic feet of the pattern weak strong is called iambic verse and the foot the iamb. If a line with rising rhythm throws up trisyllabic feet, it is anapaestic verse, and the trisyllabic foot with the pattern weak weak strong is called an anapaest. Note the two anapaests in the line

And I would / that my tongue / could utter.

      Verse that has a falling rhythm, with the pattern of syllables ordered as strong weak, is said to have trochaic rhythm, and the foot is known as troches. The syllables ‘nu’ and ‘‘ous’ merge together as they were (to become something like news) — and the syllable 'nu’ gets slurred. So the scansion would be x / (x) x x x / x /. (For purposes of division of the line into feet we will have to look to the lines above and below, and determine the pattern. But if Enid Flamer, author of The Metres of ‘English Poetry is to be our authority, no amphibrach is to be admitted at the beginning of a line.)

      Two other types of modulation need to be explained: they are pause and overflow (the French words for these are caesura and enjambment respectively).

      Generally, lines of verse — more so the heroic verse (verse written in five-foot couplets) of the Neo - Classicists — are end-stopped (that is, each line forms a sense unit, and neither the sense nor the grammar overflows into the next line.) Especially, the verse of the Neo-Classicists, of Pope, in particular, shows a tendency towards bisection (the pause coming about the middle of the line.)

      In Romantic poetry, the pause occurring in the middle of a line (not always exactly in the middle) is compensated by an overflow from that line to the next. (It is not strictly necessary that there be a pause for the overflow to occur. It may occur independently.) So, overflow is the running on of sense (and grammar, too) from one line to the next. Such a line is known as a run-on line.

      Observe the overflow in the second line of the following verse: A couplet is a pair of lines bound by rhyme, and distinguished from other couplets. If three lines rhyme together, they are called a triplet, which is an occasional phenomenon. No sustained verse has been written in triplets. But tercets are a set of three lines hound together by some rhyme-scheme such as aba bcb, and forming a section of stanzaic verse like Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’, composed in Terza lima meter, notes to weary bands - Of Travellers in some shady haunt Among Arabian sands.

      The grammar of the second line you will agree, flows over into the next line — you can’t speak ‘to very bands’ and ‘of travelers” apart. It will have to be ‘to weary bands of travellers’ — the grouping of the words to be uttered in a single breath will have to be a ‘sense grouping’. The overflow is shown by an arrow mark.

      Rhyme: Two words are said to rhyme when their stressed syllables have the same vowel sound. But, for rhyme to be perfect, two conditions will have to be fulfilled: one, that the consonants preceding the rhyming vowel be different; two, that the following consonant and vowel sounds be identical. For example, ‘rhyme’ rhymes with ‘thyme’. ‘Ride’ and Side’ are a rhyming pair of words. But ‘side’ and ‘sighed’ do not make a rhyme, not because the spellings differ (the consonant sound following is the same, though), but because the consonants preceding the rhyming vowel sound are not different.

      Assonance is similarity of sounds, but not making a perfect rhyme. For example, ‘dog’ and ‘god’ make for assonance. The vowel sounds are the same, but the consonants (or consonant sounds) following are not identical.

      When the accented syllable in two rhyming words is followed by a weak syllable, it is called double rhyme or feminine rhyme (e. g. ‘morrow’, ‘sorrow’).

      An example of triple rhyme is ‘slenderly’, “tenderly’ — that too is feminine. Blank verse is continuous unrhymed iambic pentameters i.e. five - foot fines.

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