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Old 06-29-2018, 04:18 PM
Perry James Perry James is offline
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: Rhode Island
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Well, I'm surprised by the answers. I am not a pedant; I am simply trying to improve my own meter. That is a line from a poem I am working on. On the Metrical board, there is constant criticism of people's meter, and I was hoping to improve my meter to avoid that.

My theory is that a line of iambic pentameter has to have at least five evenly spaced syllables that can take a stress when spoken normally, and the line I posted cannot (given that the line before ends with a stressed syllable). I wanted to find out if most formalist poets would agree with that.

I used the wrong term. "DUM da DUM" is an amphimacer. If Amphimacers and amphibrachs (da DUM da) can be used in iambic pentameter, then that allows ANY line up to about 15 syllables to be scanned as iambic pentameter. In my mind, that it simply chaos. My use of the word "illegal" was appropriate here, and it disappoints me that it merely triggered a bunch of scolds. Yes, there have to be rules when writing in meter, or when scanning other people's poetry.

A dactyl is "DUM da da", and I agree that they can be used in iambic pentameter as occasional substitutions. The most common substitute is the trochee, and Frost showed us that anapests make good substitutes too.
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Old 06-29-2018, 04:49 PM
Max Goodman Max Goodman is offline
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Location: Sunnyvale, CA
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It's good of you to take the dismissive comments so good-naturedly. We can get very worked up about poetic matters, which I think you'll find is a good thing.

It's also promising that you're eager to polish your poem as well as possible before posting it for comment.

It sounds like you're uncomfortable with the line, in which case you should revise. (Julie's made some suggestions.) If you're comfortable with it, but wonder how others will react, we'll be able to tell you more easily when you've posted the poem. I look forward to it.

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Old 06-29-2018, 05:01 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I'm strictly fv, but Julie's first alternative struck me as a pretty fine example. Like everything else in poetry, context rules.
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Old 06-29-2018, 05:09 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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If I'm sensing that you are surprised to find a ten-syllable line that cannot be readily scanned as pentameter, let me just add that you shouldn't be surprised. Using ten syllables is no guarantee of pentameter, though I do know a poet or two who mistaken believe otherwise. Still, I agree that context is all and that you might be so bold as to keep the line regardless of its scansion if it sounds good to you.
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Old 06-29-2018, 05:26 PM
Perry James Perry James is offline
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: Rhode Island
Posts: 91

I should have thanked Julie for her suggestions, although neither of them work very well. I apologize for having such a defensive reaction to the comments, but I was looking for guidance, not criticism for being a pedant.

I do believe that what I said is true: A line of iambic pentameter must have at least five syllables, evenly spaced, that can either be stressed or take what I call a "theoretical" stress. If there are only four syllables which can reasonably be stressed, then that is tetrameter. The problem, of course, is that satisfying the meter in all of the lines can make a poem sound odd or stilted.

I'll be posting the poem on Saturday on the Metrical board. It will be interesting to see people's reactions.
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Old 06-29-2018, 05:47 PM
Aaron Novick's Avatar
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is online now
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Perry, I scan it as you did in the first line: a tet line with two anapests and two iambs.

Whether you feel that that's a comfortable substitution in a generally IP poem depends on (a) the context of the poem that we're not given, so I can't comment on it, and (b) your ear.

For my part, I think the two-anapests-for-three-iambs substitution can work quite well, if used judiciously. The key of meter is finding some kind of equality: there's equality of stresses and equality of syllables. The ear can hear both, so you can use both—you've just got to sound it out and see if it works.

Without knowing the rest of your poem, I of course can't say whether it's judicious in this context or not.
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Old 06-29-2018, 06:04 PM
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Jayne Osborn Jayne Osborn is offline
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Originally Posted by Aaron Novick View Post've just got to sound it out and see if it works.
In a nutshell, that's beautifully put, Aaron.

I've always used this rule of thumb:

Don't be too prescriptive about it. If it sounds OK, then it probably is, regardless of the actual construction. If it doesn't... pay another visit to that drawing board! Good luck with the poem.

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Old 06-29-2018, 06:34 PM
Perry James Perry James is offline
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: Rhode Island
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Aaron, you said what you said in a way very similar to the way I would have said it. I am glad there is a little flexibility on meter because I don't want my mostly metrical poems to be kicked over to the Free Verse board. The poem in question is 15 lines but five of those lines are not strictly IP, so I wonder how people will feel about them. I tend to count syllables while I write, and then try to hammer the poem into meter after it is substantially written.

Thank you, Aaron, Jayne, Julie, Max and everyone else.
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Old 06-29-2018, 06:55 PM
Bill Carpenter Bill Carpenter is offline
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Hi Perry,
All kinds of good responses here. I just wanted to put my two cents in in response to your comment that an IP line should have five evenly spaced stresses. That is only half true. You can think of the Platonic IP line as a sort of accompaniment that you play your instrument both with and against. Some poets hew very close to it and can achieve great charm that way, creating an atmosphere of steadiness and meditation -- at one with the invisible companion. (Sphereans will recognize the poet.) Since there are infinite degrees of stress and unstress (poets frequently use a 4-point scale instead of the binary on-off) and in syllable length, even verse close to the Platonic form can be rich and uniquely flavored if it avoids crude monotony. Some poets freely substitute. Well-recognized substitutions include initial trochees, initial headless iambs, initial or medial double iambs, medial trochees and spondees, and anapests. There are traditional rules regarding substitutions that you can read about. You generally do not want to lead the reader out of a double meter and into a triple meter by using too many triple meter substitutions, if you want to write recognizable IP. As the poets here have said, you can do what you like, but as Wallace Stevens said, It Should Give Pleasure, so the approach should be consistent for the poem as a whole.

Since you asked this question, you would surely enjoy Tim Steele's "All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing," a delightful treatise on meter in poetry. Bill

PS. I guess I should add that the accompanist is only there if you summon him/her with a sufficient invocation in the first couple of lines.
PPS. Following up on Aaron N.'s comment, we not only hear different kinds of equality but we often try to search it out or solicit it, compressing one line and stretching another to give lines approximate equality in length, isochrony.

Last edited by Bill Carpenter; 06-29-2018 at 07:14 PM.
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Old 06-29-2018, 06:58 PM
Catherine Chandler's Avatar
Catherine Chandler Catherine Chandler is offline
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You might enjoy this article. Frost "misbehaved" all the time. It's OK to loosen up. Julie has provided some fine alternatives, though.

Best of luck!

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