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Old 07-16-2001, 05:21 AM
MacArthur MacArthur is offline
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If I was writing a practical manual on metrics for poets (or editing one) I’d devote an entire second chapter to the phenomena of Metrical Promotion and Demotion (or Subordination). I would hammer it home with example after example.
Most prosody texts I’ve seen give quite serviceable and correct explanations of the facts…for a few sentences or paragraphs—and Tim Steele’s “All the Fun…” goes on for a couple of (excellent) pages. Nothing wrong with the job done—except most beginning poets clearly haven’t understood it, don’t employ it systematically, and can’t control its natural occurrence. It’s apparent from comments I’ve seen (mostly on Sonnet Central) that many amateur poets consider the inclusion of promoted stress in lines as a sort of Metrical Flaw…to be avoided.

By example, Promotion:
…for lovers, a require ment is tact—
for others the require ment to act…
(from an unfinished/unpublished— and, probably, unworthy— poem of mine)

The all time master of Metrical Promotion would likely be Shakespeare— almost any complete line of blank verse in “The Tempest” contains at least one (if not two or three) elegant examples.

Demotion: My candidate for greatest is Mr. Suave-n-Smooth himself, Alfred Lord Tennyson:

The long day wanes, the slow moon climbs the deep
Moans round with many voices…

…two of the three demoted syllables are nouns, and they all take long vowels!

Recently a remarkable (good) sonnet was posted on Metrical Order by David Anthony. It’s curious to see how it works. The argument is not fresh (every capital defense attorney sums up this way), the narrative detail is minimal and imagery non-existent, the diction and rhymes are commonplace, and there are no obvious ingenuities of meter.
Yet it maintains a tone of gravity and significance without sounding preachy. How?
I believe it’s the combination of entirely regular Iambic Pentameter (no substitutions I can detect…not even a feminine ending) with the systematic and artful employment of promoted stress. There is some medial pausing and a mild degree of enjambment on some lines— but the Promotions do most of the work of relieving the rhythm. Except, appropriately, in the last line.

Out of the Night

(on the Execution of Timothy McVeigh)

We saw your death— they showed it on TV
and had revenge, if vengeance was our goal.
You thanked the gods, whatever gods may be,
and spoke of your unconquer a ble soul.
We shared a God— no, not the one whose whole
existence was compassion ate, who tried
by promis ing redemption to console
his wayward children, and was cruci fied.
We chose your sterner de i ty as guide,
with ancient tribal precepts, and a sword.
Though hope and chari ty did not abide,
faith lived when our uncompro mi sing Lord—
not often merci ful, but always just—
demanded eye for eye, and dust for dust.

The least radical promotion is TV (that's more or less how we say it), and the most radical is inconquerable (which is scarcely heard, but mostly just assumed). The rest cover the range and shift around the line.
What do you think?

[This message has been edited by MacArthur (edited July 16, 2001).]
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Old 07-16-2001, 07:04 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Mac, that's a sensitive reading of what makes David's IP so effective. Many thanks for elucidating it for all of us.
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Old 07-16-2001, 09:53 AM
graywyvern graywyvern is offline
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interesting point--although to my ear, "demotion" is
much less offensive than "pro-motion". in fact, i refuse
to read an unaccented schwa syllable as a beat; instead
(& i believe this is the intended practice of those
Late Victorian poets who practiced it; earlier, i'm not
so sure...) i hear it as a syncopation of some sort, e.g.

"...un CON-QUER/ -a-ble SOUL" with a slight rest after
the second stressed syllable (which in reading out loud
goes up in pitch a tad). some of Rosetti's IP lines i
swear have only 2 or 3 real stresses...

Demotion is simply an imitation of the contrapuntal
length/ictus music of Classical verse, & is well worth
cultivating in modern verse which otherwise tends
toward flatness because of its self-imposed limitations
of diction & tone...

[This message has been edited by graywyvern (edited July 16, 2001).]
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Old 07-16-2001, 03:34 PM
robert mezey robert mezey is offline
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Huh? Graywyvern, you can refuse all you want
to read weak or unstressed syllables as accented,
but you mangle verse in the process. And where
did you get the idea that the Victorians, any of
them, didn't promote syllables? It's not only
clear from their verse that they did, but some
of them wrote about prosody and understood very
clearly what they were doing. There is no way in
the world you can read

unCON-QUER / -a-ble SOUL

That couldn't be wronger. There is no caesura
in the line, none. It is impossible to
accent QUER. And whether you like the idea
or not, that tiny little schwa -a- gets a
tiny accent. It's an iambic line without any
substitution and that's how the ear hears it.
The end.

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Old 07-16-2001, 09:31 PM
Timothy Steele Timothy Steele is offline
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Throwing (or lariating) out my two cents on this topic, I agree with Bob, and the growing consensus, that promotion is common in all traditional iambic verse from Chaucer to the present. I even would hazard--though I haven’t made a statistical survey--that promotion is more common than demotion. This may be simply because English relies considerably on small relational words like prepositions, articles, and conjunctions, and because polysyllabic words have only one primary stress (though they may also have secondary and tertiary stresses). That is, lines like

Thus with her fader, for a certeyn space
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
For all our joys are but fantastical
Eyeless at Gaza, in the mill of slaves
The poet and the dreamer are distinct
In our competitive humility
By psychological experiment
I am no shepherd of a child’s surmises
And gravitating with it to this ground

seem to occur a little more frequently than

Full season’s come, yet filled trees keep the skies

But all kinds of lines--those with promotions, those with demotions, and those with both--are very common.

The Pound-Eliot revolution has, sadly, divorced meter and rhythm for many. We’re accustomed to fourth-generation vers-libristes who imagine that to write in meter is to forsake personal rhythm. But another tendency--one to which we who are interested in meter are perhaps sometimes prone--is to forget that there are all sorts of rhythmical potentials within meter. One does not have to write ka BOOM, ka BOOM, ka BOOM, etc. (One of the things that all of use interested in versification hope to contribute to, if we're lucky enough to live for a while into the 21st century, is to help heal the breach that occurred, in the 20th, between rhythm and meter.)
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Old 07-17-2001, 07:56 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Location: Fargo ND, USA
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Family Album

I turn a page. At once, breathtakingly,
You hold me sadly, steadily in view.
Is it because you can't return to me,
Or is it that I'm journeying to you?

--Timothy Steele

I'm putting up this little epigram because it so beautifully illustrates both promotion and demotion, but more importantly, because it illustrates what Tim is preaching here and in his scholarly works, that meter and rhythm can be induced to dance together.
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Old 07-18-2001, 05:31 AM
MacArthur MacArthur is offline
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Location: Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.
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These are good lines. Also, I'd like to point out, belatedly, that there are some artful demotions (or, I prefer Subordination..."demotion" sounds bad-- like "defective foot") working in David Anthony's piece-- especially building toward the climax:

Though hope and charity did not abide,
faith lived when our uncompromising Lord—
not of ten merciful, but always just—

[This message has been edited by MacArthur (edited July 18, 2001).]
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Old 07-18-2001, 01:15 PM
graywyvern graywyvern is offline
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Originally posted by robert mezey:

It's an iambic line without any
substitution and that's how the ear hears it.
does that mean you'd rhyme "unconquerable" with "trouble"?
or with "cable"?

[This message has been edited by graywyvern (edited July 19, 2001).]
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Old 07-18-2001, 02:32 PM
mandolin mandolin is offline
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If you HAD to rhyme "unconquerable" with either "trouble" or "cable," it would be "trouble" in the 19th C. -- but it probably wouldn't happen except in comic verse. Until recently no one would have broken a line between "unconquerable" and the noun it modifies, and if used as a predicate adjective in order to get it respectably out to the end of an iambic line, as in the made up line "You said your soul remains unconquerable," you'd have to read it as an anapest (or, less likely, an elision): You SAID | your SOUL | reMAINS | unCON | queraBLE.

And that's the point of metrical promotion and demotion -- in both lines, "quer" is stressed less "a" which is stressed less than "ble," but because of the different foot divisions, different syllables get the metrical stress. It doesn't change the way the word is pronounced in either line. This is place where Tim Steele's 4-level stress or Robert Mezey's capital/non-capital notation would clarify the meter.
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Old 07-19-2001, 06:58 PM
robert mezey robert mezey is offline
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Right on, Mr. Lariat. One theory (and one that
makes a good deal of sense to me) is that the
pentameter with four strongly stressed accents
and one weak accent, being the commonest of the
six or eight common pentameter patterns, is the
unlayable ghost of the old Anglo-Saxon line.
Take almost any passage of pentameter at random
and again and again you get four-beat lines (five
accents of course), like
.......Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair
.......And the green freedom of a cockatoo

.......Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame
.......Is lust in action and till action, lust

and so on, ad infinitum.
Larkin says somewhere that if you want to write a
poem that will really stick in people's memories,
write it in tetrameter, the strongest firmest meter
in English, and I think he may be right. Although
of course memorable diction, tone, etc. won't hurt
either---e.g, They fuck you up, your mum and dad /
They may not mean to, but they do &c &c

As for unCONquerABle, yes, it will rhyme well enough
with TROUBle---
......I'd better warn you, I'm unconquerable,
......So back off, bud, I don't want any trouble
though I'd agree that one would more often elide, accent
the last syllable and rhyme on that---
......We are the Romans, we're unconquerable;
......We love to lay waste, sack, enslave, and kill.

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