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Sunday, September 20, 2009

English Poetry Versification - Part II

4. Measurement: meter, scansion
















The English Poetry Versification - Part I dealt with such versifier tools as content, form and style. This current blog goes further in the discourse by paying attention to yet another versifier tool that has to do with measurement. No discourse on measurement can take place without addressing the matter of meter and scansion and that is where it is going.

Measurement is the process whereby the length of verses in poetry is determined. In English poetry, measurement places emphasis on stressed and unstressed syllables and this type of measurement is described as accentual-syllabic meter, in which every syllable counts to create the proper rhythm and flow of the meter. Geoffrey Chaucer and his contemporary of poets are credited for the fusion of the accentual of English and the syllabic of French into modern English accentual-syllabic forms. Meter means measurement of the verse length. Foot is the unit of such measurement; hence the measuring instrument is known as the metric foot. In ancient Greece during poetry chants, chanters danced to the rhythmic flow of the poetry verses with their feet so this tradition of using feet as the measurement tool in poetry came about. Metrical verses are named according to the constituent foot and for the number of feet in the verse. So what we have got is this listing where a:

Monometer is one-foot
Dimeter is two-foot
Trimeter is three-foot
Tetrameter is four-foot
Pentameter is five-foot
Hexameter is six-foot
Heptameter is seven-foot
Octameter is eight-foot
Nonameter is nine-foot
Decameter is ten-foot

It is the norm regardless of the metric number to use foot instead of feet.

Iamb is the most common metrical foot in English and other languages as well, and from it iambic is derived. It is made up of a short (u) or unstressed (unaccented) syllable followed by a long (/) or stressed (accented) syllable. Take these two examples: attack; the mind.

There are two syllables in attack. The first syllable (at-) is short and the second syllable (tack) is long. Hence attack measures one iambic foot or what is known precisely as an iambic monometer as we recall the rule that a metrical verse is named according to the constituent foot and for the number of feet in the verse. If the verse had measured five iambic feet then it would be called an iambic pentameter which is very common in English language poetry.

In the phrase, the mind there is one syllable in the word, the; one syllable in the word, mind. The first word in the phrase is short and the second word in the phrase is long therefore the phrase measurement is described as an iambic monometer.

A phrase is a group of words that does not have both a subject and a predicate and therefore cannot stand as a clause or sentence.

A sentence is a group of words that make complete sense, contains a main verb, and begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop; or the equivalent such as a question mark(?) or an exclamation mark(!)

In metered poetry a stanza is made up of verses. A stanza of four verses is called a quatrain. The quatrain is most popular in English poetry. In unmetered poetry, unit is used instead of stanza, and a unit is made up of lines not verses. A unit can have one line or more lines.

The iamb, anapest, trochee, dactyl and spondee are the most common poetic foot used in English verse. Their profiles look like this

Iamb: one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable
Anapest: two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable
Trochee: one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable
Dactyl: one stressed syllable followed two unstressed syllables

Scansion in the broadest sense is to examine carefully; it is applied to animate and inanimate entities. However, when used in poetry it refers to the process of analysis of the rhythmic flow and metrical structure of poems.

When the scansion process is applied to poetry the stressed syllable is shown with a symbol that looks like this / and the unstressed syllable is shown with this symbol u, so the symbolic representation of the English poetic foot is listed as follows:

Iamb u /
Anapest u u /
Trochee / u
Dactyl / u u
Spondee / /
Pyrrhic u u

The iambic and anapestic meters are called ‘rising meters’ because their sound rises from light sound to heavy. Trochee and dactylic meters are called the ‘falling meters’ and this is so because their sound falls from heavy to light. The anapest and the dactyl are bouncing meters and in the twentieth century they were very popular in comic verses than for serious poetry.

The spondee still measures a foot even thought it has one sound that is heavy, and so is the pyrrhic with one sound that is light. They are never used as the sole meter of a poem. Wherever the spondee and the pyrrhic are found in the verse, they provide the complementary role of lending emphasis and variety to a meter especially the iambic rhythmic verses.

The application of the graphic scanning in poetry requires that the heavy sounding syllables and light sounding syllables, feet and rhythmic breaks be identified with their appropriate scanning symbols such as these shown below.

u (unstressed)
/ stressed syllable)
(counter)
││ (caesura)

The counter │ marks the location of where every foot ends in the verse. The first step in this graphic scanning is to mark off the stressed and unstressed syllables in the verses as shown in Versification poem in Exhibit 1. Bear in mind that English stress content words which are nouns, principal verbs, adjectives and adverbs; and then quickly glides over function words which are pronouns, articles, auxiliary verbs, prepositions, conjunctions are unstressed. These principles are applied as well in accentual-syllabic meter. This quality of quickly gliding over less important words is also known as connected speech. In my cursory analysis of English words with two syllables the stressed syllable seems to fall on the first syllable.

Exhibit 1

Value and measure verses as you would,
/ u u / u / u u u /each word or sound that has fallen from lips;
/ / u / u u / u u /
run as you like under the old stave wood;
/ u u / / u u / / /
stressed and unstressed feet, this way the voice dips;
/ u u / / u / u / /
in musing, rhyme as you please on the verse;
u / u / u u / u u /
for feet brake sharply, leaving strong road mark;
u / / / u / u / / /
in time, those pentameter lines will rhyme;
u / u / u / u / u /
catalectic scanning is not a crime;
u u / u / u / / u /
acatalectic gives foot a stretch mark;
/u u / u / / u / /
take time to sway with cadence every time;
/ / u / u / u / u /
inside rhymes and caesura solve conflicts;
/ / / u u / u / / /
omitted vowels make lines roll with terse;
u / u / u / / / u /
now, those omissions are metrical tricks.
/ u u / u / u / u /

Exhibit 2 shows the second step in poetic graphic scanning where each foot is marked with the counter (│)
.
Exhibit 2

Value│ and mea│sure ver│ses as│ you would,
/ u │u / │ u /│u u│ u / (5 feet)
each word or sound that has fallen from lips;
/ /│ u /│ u u│ / u│u / (5 feet)
run as│ you likeunder│ the oldstave wood;
/ u│u /│ / u│ u /│ / / (5 feet)
stressed and unstressed feet, this way the voice dips;
/ u│ u /│ / u│ / u│ / / (5 feet)
in mus│ing, rhyme│ as you│ please on│ the verse;
u /│ u /│ u u│ / u│u / (5 feet)
for feetbrake sharp│ly, leav│ing strongroad mark;
u /│ / /│ u /│ u / │ / / (5 feet)
in time,│ those pen│tame│ter lines│ will rhyme;
u / │ u /│ u /│u /│ u / (5 feet)
cata│lectic│ scanning│ is not│ a crime;
u u│/ u│ / u│/ /│u / (5 feet)
aca│talec│tic givesfoot a│ stretch mark;
/ u│u /│u /│ / u│ / / (5 feet)
take time│ to sway │with ca│dence ev│ery time;
/ /│ u /│ u /│ u /│u /
inside rhymes and│ caesu│ra solve conflicts;
/ / │ / u│ u /│u /│ / / (5 feet)
omit│ted vow│els makelines roll│ with terse;
u /│u /│u /│ / /│ u / (5 feet)
now, those│ omi│ssions are│ metri│cal tricks.
/ u│ u /│u /│ u /│u / (5 feet)

The “double-pipe”││in Exhibit 3 in Stanza 1, Verses 1-4 of the modern English poem, "Trapped" shows the location of the caesura in the verses. In modern English poetry the caesura is used more often than not for rhetorical effect. In meter, the caesura denotes an audible pause that occurs in the verse. It is often indicated by punctuation marks which cause a pause in speech. You see such punctuation marks: comma, semicolon, full stop, dash, exclamation, etc being used in poems. It is worth noting though that punctuation is not necessary for a caesura to occur. When a caesura follows a stressed syllable it is known as a masculine caesura; and when it follows an unstressed syllable it is a feminine caesura. The caesura’s position on the verse is worth noting too. When the caesura describes a break close to the beginning of a verse it is an initial caesura, in the center of a verse, it is a medial caesura, and at the end it is a terminal caesura. Caesurae are featured prominently in Greek and Latin versification, especially in heroic verse form, dactylic hexameter. However, in Exhibit 3 the stress meter is used instead of quantitative meter. Quantitative meter is extremely difficult to construct in English, but is common in Latin, Greek, Sanskirt, and Arabic poetry.

Exhibit 3

Gladly the│ girl took│ soft, white│ silk-based│ sheets from the│ big bed;
/ u u│/ / │ / /││ / / │ / u u │/ / (six feet)
(masculine caesura)

Gladly the │girl fixed│ old green│ trampoline;│bug in the│ tool case
/ u u│ / / │ / /│ / u u││ / u u│/ / (six feet)
(feminine caesura)

Falling from│ panel, a │spider on│ top of the│ clean new│ bedspread
/ u u│ / u u│/ u u│/ u u│ / / │ / / (six feet)
Moving, so │deadly with│ weird look;│ web pestmorphed in her│ sad face.
/ u u│/ u u│/ / ││ / /│ / u u│ / / (six feet)
(masculine caesura)


With respect to the Alexandrine which is a line of verse composed in iambic hexameter, the caesura is often placed after the third foot. See Exhibit 4 for examples taken from the Idyll poem, Blissful Countryside.

Exhibit 4

I hate the rapid life in suburbia;
u / │ u u│ / /││u /│u /│ u
masculine caesura
The strife in foreign lands including Serbia;
u / u / u /││ u / u / / u
caesuraI long to hear the sounds of animals and birds;
u / u / u / ││u u u / u /
caesura

The whispering of the wind, and the barking of curs.
u / / u u u ││/ u u / u u /
feminine caesura


What is there to conclude about the scansion process? Scansion provides a diagrammatic representation of the metrical effect of the poem, any poem when applied for that matter. Scanning in English poetry is not to reproduce sound of the persona’s voice. Its purpose is to make a diagram of the heavy sounds and the light sounds found in the poem. Scansion is a way to see where the stresses are the poet wishes to put the emphasis. When you scan a poem don’t be surprised to find that the exercise helps in understanding the poem. Scansion has the propensity to unlock those techniques poets use to create rhythmic effects, and can sometimes help readers to see layers of meaning in poems that only scansion can provide. Scansion is a way to indicate how to read a poem aloud.

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