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  #11  
Old 01-25-2001, 12:09 PM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Tim, I wholeheartedly agree, "Fern Hill" derives its majesty and magic from the music.

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  #12  
Old 01-26-2001, 03:53 AM
Caleb Murdock Caleb Murdock is offline
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Metrical just means "measured", and counting syllables is one way of measuring language. Any verse which is measured in any way, be it by beats or syllables or whatever, is metrical poetry.

I've said often that I count syllables and then allow my ear to determine the beats and rhythms, and I resent it when people tell me that I'm a free-verse poet, which I certainly am not.

As I've said before, the ear hears everything:

* beats
* number of syllables
* the relationship of beats to syllables
* duration of time

As long as the poet is imposing some limitation on the line, it isn't free verse.
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Old 01-26-2001, 07:23 AM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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Varied responses, but clearly everyone wants to be catholic regarding Metrical Board inclusiveness. I guess the next time someone posts a sonnet with ten-syllable lines and no rhythm, I shall have to call it syllabic. Usually, of course, that sort of sonnet has a couple of nines and elevens, with maybe a twelve as well. Hypersyllabic?

Caleb, I know you have remarked before that "the ear" hears everything. Since we don't have earlids, that is certainly true. But the issue isn't what the ear hears. It's whether the brain discerns any sensible pattern. If there is no cue in the voice or manner of a speaker to indicate line breaks, how is the hearer of a lengthy syllabic poem going to distinguish the form? Though it may seem paradoxical to say so, I think syllabics are more a visual than an auditory form---a way of organizing poetry on the page. And Fern Hill's music does not derive from the form, but from the poet's rich language.

Alan Sullivan

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Old 01-26-2001, 08:07 AM
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Alan, when I mentioned "form" in "Fern Hill," above, I not only meant the regular number of lines per stanza and their matching syllable counts, but their visual appearance as hour-glasses measuring off time, punctuated in the first two stanzas by a reference to time at, roughly, their midpoint lines. So it might be considered a "concrete" or "shaped" poem attempting to organize and visualize for the eye as much as for the ear. (Like your "earlids"!)

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Old 01-26-2001, 09:20 AM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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Good point, and relevant to what Caleb said above. A shape poem has a limitation on the line, but it is a visual limitation, not an aural one. Such a poem may or may not be metrical.

Alan
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Old 01-26-2001, 12:14 PM
Caleb Murdock Caleb Murdock is offline
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I don't, in fact, think that syllabic poetry really exists in English -- English cannot escape its nature as a stress language. However, when a poet such as myself counts syllables as a means of measure, I do believe that the listener, consciously or unconsciously, hears the regularity of syllables as a kind of form, especially if the poet closes many of those lines. Like most poets, I close many of my lines (with the end of a sentence, a comma, a distinct phrase, etc.), so the listener does indeed hear the regularity of the syllable count. I also tend to close my stanzas, using cross-stanza enjambments only occasionally.

Now, if a poet were to use my method but did not close at least half of his lines, then yes, there is no way for a listener to distinguish what he's hearing from free verse. That is, in fact, what a few faux-formalists (I like to call them) are doing. But I'm not a faux-formalist -- I WANT the listener to hear form in my poems.

I compared the kind of poetry that I like to jazz improvisation in another thread. What I like to do is to play with different elements -- play them against each other, you might say. Thus, in a poem in which I am limiting myself to ten syllables per line, I will also regularly insert lines of iambic pentameter (although other lines may have 4 beats). Thus, the listener hears different patterns coming and going -- patterns of syllables, patterns of beats. A poem which is based on one pattern only -- say, five beats per line -- doesn't sound nearly as interesting to me.

I am not saying that I successfully achieve my aims, but I try.

I hate to dredge up the spectre of a poem that we have discussed before, but it is appropriate here. In "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child", Hopkins adheres very closely to a syllable count of 7-8 (which is what I do -- I give myself a narrow range). The lines, however, can be read with as few as 2 stresses and as many as 5 stresses, depending on the line. However, the regularity of the syllable count is where the poem gets its "measure", and certainly the listener hears that regularity (especially since most of the lines are closed). Towards the end of the poem, Hopkins inserts two lines of 6 syllables each, but that is, I believe, a purposeful variation -- short lines are more dramatic, and he inserts them at the point where he is revealing the moral of the poem.

When I read that poem, I do not hear chaos or any kind of free-verse quality -- I hear form. I hear the blues, I hear a melancholy jazz improvisation, I hear the regular/irregular rhythms of sex. I hear things that excite me. As I've said before, that poem is the epitomy of how I want to write. It is acknowledged by history and by virtually every authority as being a great poem, and I wish that you, Alan, would try to appreciate it. If you could learn to appreciate it, you would understand my own sensibilities much better.

Now, in "Nocture" by Auden, there are also multiple patterns. There is the regularity of the syllable count, and the regularity of the beats (which, together, form the meter, of course), but Auden also uses a recurrent device of two beats in a row throughout the poem. I haven't analyzed that poem completely, but there's more to it than just the meter.


[This message has been edited by Caleb Murdock (edited January 26, 2001).]
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  #17  
Old 01-26-2001, 12:45 PM
MacArthur MacArthur is offline
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Maybe what Alan proposes is that what is now described as the Metrical Poetry Forum should be confined to poems written in Accentual-syllabic practice (or Stress-Syllable) and every thing else including all alternative metrical systems referred to the Other Poetry category.
He's probably right. The "reformed", or refined, Forum could be called Traditional Poetry, since accentual-syllabic is the tradition in English for most of four or five centuries.
It doesn't denigrate other approaches to Form to place them together in some Other Poetry category-- in my opinion, it doesn't damn a poem to call it Free Verse.
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  #18  
Old 01-26-2001, 12:56 PM
Caleb Murdock Caleb Murdock is offline
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What you are suggesting, MacArthur, is that all us poets who write in less conventional ways get pushed out of the Metrical board. No thanks! Aside from the fact that I don't like being kicked out of a party, the last thing the metrical board needs is more rigidity.
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  #19  
Old 01-26-2001, 02:06 PM
MacArthur MacArthur is offline
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All of us includes me. I've written a lot more free-verse than anything else, and as I said I don't disparage free-verse as a form of poetry. It's just that categories are justified by their usefulness.
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  #20  
Old 01-26-2001, 02:42 PM
robert mezey robert mezey is offline
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I think that technically you'd have to say
that syllabics is a meter, but one which
is usually inaudible in English. Unlike
accentual-syllabics, it can sound like just
about anything, from song to prose. Thomas'
"In My Craft or Sullen Art" is a highly
melodic example of syllabics. Tim admires
Auden's "Atlantis" (which I like well enough)
but I'd say that his most ravishing sound in
syllabics is the elegy for Freud, in alcaic
stanzas. There's probably one exception to
the assertion that we don't hear syllabics
per se in English, and that would be short
rhymed lines. For example, Elizabeth Daryush
who was the great pioneer in syllabics. Here
is one of her poems in which I think the meter
can be clearly heard:

Above the grey down
gather, wan, the glows;
relieved by leaden
gleams a star-gang goes;

in the dark valley
here and there enters
a spark, laggardly,
for the faint watchers

that were there all night--
factory, station
and hospital light...
Tired of lamp, star, sun,

bound to my strait bed
uncurtained, I see
heaven itself law-led,
earth in slavery.

Another beautiful example of the meter, by
J. V. Cunningham:

I write only to say this,
In a syllabic dryness
As inglorious as I feel:
Sometime before drinking time
For the first time in some weeks
I heard of you, the casual
News of a new life, silence
Of unconfronted feeling
And maples in the slant sun
The gay color of decay.
Was it unforgivable,
My darling, that you loved me?

And many more, including the syllabic stanzas
of Henri Coulette's "War of the Secret Agents"
But I would certainly agree that the re-
sources of syllabics are very meager, com-
pared to what can be done with accentual or
accentual-syllabic.

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