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Alan Sullivan 01-24-2001 06:41 PM

Hello all,
On the "Loose Meters" thread, we had gotten round to talking about syllabic vs. accentual-syllabic vs. accentual verse. This looked like a good topic for another thread, particularly since there have been several syllabic poems posted on the Metrical Board lately. I would argue that syllabics are not metrical at all, and belong on the Other Board, as a variant of free verse.

First some simple definitions. Writing syllabic verse, we count syllables for lines of fixed length, regardless of accents. Writing accentual-syllabic verse, we count both stresses and syllables, in rough or strict accordance with pre-determined patterns. Writing accentual verse, we count stresses only, for lines of varying length.

Stressed syllables are the determinants of rhythm in English. Verse written with accentual rhythm is also known as "qualitative." In some other languages, the rhythms of speech are time-based. Verse in those languages is called "quantitative." See the discussion of duration on the "Musical Measures" thread.

I would reserve the term "metrical" for speech which has a sustained rhythm. Syllabic poetry would, by definition, become accentual-syllabic if it displayed this property. Does it not, therefore, fall outside the boundary of metrical practice? I'd be curious to hear what others think.

Alan Sullivan

Julie 01-24-2001 07:37 PM

Syllabics are the proverbial neither fish nor fowl.

I do not consider them metrical, nor do I consider them free verse, though I would argue that since our "other forum" is simply the non-metrical forum, syllabic verse belongs there.

So, in a strict definitional sense, I agree with you.

In another sense, though, I consider people working in syllabic verse to be a hell of a sight more akin to metrical people than they are to free versers. Meter and syllabics are both explorations of limitations--working within set boundaries.

So, frankly, I think they can get more help reaching their goals in the metrical forum than in the other forum.


Julie 01-24-2001 07:39 PM

And if that isn't the wishy washiest answer you've heard all day, you spend too much time with politicians.


MacArthur 01-24-2001 10:21 PM

What about Accentual verse? Does that belong on the "Other Poetry" forum? A lot of Modern Poetry ordinarily considered "free verse" could, within reason, be rationalised as accentual verse without consistent alliteration--e.g. Eliot, Pound, Auden, WCW etc.
It would seem odd to put syllabic verse, which is often so exquisite and painstaking in the "ghetto", and keep Accentual, which is a bit loose (who knows what syllables to count as Strong absent alliteration?)

Alan Sullivan 01-25-2001 06:08 AM

Julie, you make a good roundabout argument for keeping those haiku on the metrical side.

Mac, I have the impression that a lot of what gets called free verse (which I rarely read) is actually to some degree accentual. Speech abhors arhythmia just as nature abhors a vacuum. Unfortunately, most free versers are dogmatic in their rejection of meter and refuse to recognize their own rhythms. Another example of politics (religion by another name) infesting every human pursuit during the twentieth century.

Alan Sullivan

RCL 01-25-2001 06:28 AM

Given the definitions and distinctions made so far, Dylan Thomas would be required to post "Fern Hill" on the "other" forum? I agree with Julie that he would get more help on the metrical side. It is amazingly shaped, structured, and highly textured with sound and imagery, but is syllabic and without end-rhyme: the syllable count of each line in each stanza echoed in every stanza, with four or five significant variations.


Julie 01-25-2001 06:58 AM

[quote]Originally posted by Alan Sullivan:
Julie, you make a good roundabout argument for keeping those haiku on the metrical side.

See, if you waffle long enough, people start to think you believe in something!

I think I would argue for haiku on the metrical board, yes.

I tend to think of the metrical side as "metrical poetry plus formal poetry of whatever stripe."

(I do have to say that I dislike haiku, though. They always leave me saying, "Annddd??")


mandolin 01-25-2001 08:06 AM

Syllabics are just about impossible to hear in English. But they are certainly a measure, and they require more discipline in the line than does free verse -- getting the syllable count to match an effective line-break is hard. I'd vote for keeping them in the metrical section -- though I don't understand why one would write one other than as a sort of puzzle.

BTW, I agree with Julie about haiku in English. Traditional haiku are highly allusive, referring to texts and traditions of which most of us in the West have little knowledge. Western haiku generally retain only the syllable count and (sometimes) the seasonal reference, making depth of insight, image, or feeling nearly impossible in 17 syllables.

John Beaton 01-25-2001 09:08 AM

I would argue that some syllabic poetry belongs on the metrical side, but I can't explain why except to say I suspect it has something to do with a quality that I will call "cadence" for now, and some sort of regularity in line duration. It's what differentiates oratory from ordinary speech. Maybe, as Alan suggests, much free verse has this too. I'm reminded of Tim Murphy's comments on another thread:

"Alan and I learned how to write isochronous verse in Modern English. Using a substantial proportion of trisyllabic feet and heavy caesuras, we crafted lines which impose their duration on the reader."

I would argue that something happens in some syllabic poetry that amounts to more than free verse, and whatever it is, it's a quality of sound and pacing that is "metrical". I've seem "syllabic" poems posted that look like free verse chopped up into regular lengths with little regard for sound except to avoid line-endings in the middle of words. In other syllabic verse there is a definite "feel" to the sound that makes the line-breaks seem natural. "Fern Hill" is a good example. I say these poems belong on the metrical board because their success depends on whether or not the overall "cadence" of the lines works.


Tim Murphy 01-25-2001 10:48 AM

Atlantis by Wystan Auden is the great syllabic poem of the past century. But Wilbur has written three poems in Haiku stanza which are contenders. Auden's poem is fully rhymed (or slant rhymed). Wilbur's stanzas are rhymed ABA. Both poets give the hearer something to satisfy the ear. Marianne Moore defended her syllabics on the grounds that her "ear" could hear seventeen syllables. Gimme a break. It is prose lineated into precisely minced pieces, meat for the cutting board. I memorized Fern Hill when I was fifteen and never saw it was syllabic. E-Citizens, might it derive its majesty from its music? Tim

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