Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER IX.

PROSODY.

§ 51. PROSODY is the doctrine of the form of discourse as form. As poetry differs from prose in this, that the form rules in it, prosody is correctly defined as the doctrine of poetical form. See " Art of Discourse,” §§ 24–27.

Poetic form may respect the thought or the verbal body of the thought. We have accordingly such a poetic form as the Hebrew Parallelism where the recurring form of the thought is the proper poetic element; as well as also those more familiar kinds in which the poetic form lies in the verbal element of discourse.

The verbal form of poetry may lie in the quality of the sound, in mere assonance, or in the time and force of the sound, that is, in the accentuation.

Of assonance we have two leading varieties: 1. Alliteration, or recurrence of the same alphabetic element at the beginning of a syllable or word — initial assonance; 2. Rhyme, or recurrence of the same sound at the end of a syllable or word - terminal assonance.

32

The poetic form lying in accentuation is Rhythm.

But poetic form may lie in the poem considered as a whole, as well as in the two elements of discourse the idea and the verbal body. The poem may be viewed as a single whole, and may have a certain form as such, or as consisting of parts having a like form. We recognize, accordingly, such poetic forms as the sonnet and the like, kinds of poems which have a law presiding over the form of the construction; and, also, parts of poems of a like form called stanzas, strophes, and antistrophes, etc.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Such is the relationship between the different generic kinds of poetic forms, giving the logical ground of classifi cation and enumeration. These generic forms, so far as occurring prominently in English poetic literature, are presented in order in the following sections with their respective subdivisions.

§ 52. ALLITERATION is the poetic form of initial assonance. It was a prominent characteristic of Anglo-Saxon poetry and gave law to the verse; it abounds in Spenser and in all our poets, so far as they excel in the oral properties of style.

§ 53. RHYME is the poetic form of terminal assonance. It generally appears only at the end of a verse, or of a leading part of a verse.

Rhyme is called perfect when like vowel sounds in the last accented syllables are followed by like alphabetic sounds, and preceded by unlike consonant sounds.

It is said to be imperfect when the vowel sounds in the last accented syllables are unlike, or are followed by unlike alphabetic sounds, or are preceded by like consonant sounds.

Rhymes, further, are successive, when they occur on successive verses; alternate, when they occur on alternate verses; or interrupted, when more than one verse intervenes between the rhyming verses.

Rhymes, moreover, are single, double, or triple, according as the assonance is confined to one syllable, or is extended to two or to three syllables.

In the following stanza from Coleridge's "Ode on Dejection," the first and second verses exemplify a perfect and also successive rhyme; the third and fifth are imperfect and also alternate rhyme; the ninth taken with the last two, perfect and interrupted rhyme:

""Tis midnight, but small thoughts have I of sleep:
Full seldom may my friends such vigils keep!
Visit her, gentle Sleep! with wings of healing,

And may this storm be but a mountain-birth;
May all the stars hang bright above her dwelling,
Silent as though they watched the sleeping earth!
With light heart may she rise,
Gay fancy, cheerful eyes,

Joy lift her spirit, joy attune her voice:
To her may all things live, from Pole to Pole,
Their life the eddying of her living soul!
O simple spirit guided from above,

Dear Lady! friend devoutest of my choice,
Thus mayest thou ever, evermore rejoice."

§ 54. RHYTHM is the poetic form lying in accentuation. It consists essentially in the regular recurrence of accented syllables.

An accented syllable, with the unaccented syllables either preceding or following that are associated with it, make up a poetic measure. The regular recurrence of a certain number of poetic measures forms a poetic verse. Verses are distinguished accordingly from one another by the number of measures of which they are constituted. Verses of one measure each are called monometers; of two measures, dimeters; of three, trimeters; of four, tetrameters; of five, pentameters; of six, hexameters, etc.

Moreover, a verse that drops off the unaccented syllable or syllables at the end is said to be Catalectic incomplete; while one that adds on an unaccented syllable or syllables is called Hypercatalectic. A verse regularly constituted in this respect is called Acatalectic.

A poetic measure may have an indeterminate number of unaccented syllables associated with the accented syllable. Anglo-Saxon verse thus was composed of measures of varying number of unaccented syllables. A poetic measure of a determinate number of unaccented syllables is a poetic foot.

There are various kinds of poetic feet distinguished from one another: 1, in respect of the number of unaccented syllables joined with the accented syllable; and 2, in respect of the position of the unaccented syllables, whether

before or after the accented syllable. The following are the leading varieties occurring in English poetry.

1. The Iambus, consisting of one unaccented and one accented syllable; as contain, repose.

2. The Trochee, consisting of one accented and one unaccented syllable; as gentle, taper.

3. The Dactyl, consisting of one accented and two unaccented syllables; as mariner, wandering.

4. The Anapest, consisting of two unaccented and one accented syllable; as overlook, disregard.

5. The Amphibrach, consisting of one unaccented, one accented, and one unaccented syllable; as remember, immortal.

6. The Paon, consisting of four syllables, one of which is accented. It is of course of four forms, according as the accented syllable is the first, second, third, or fourth; as consequently, embarrassing, comprehension, overabound.

There are other kinds of poetic feet to be found, chiefly imitations of classical feet, the constituent syllables in which differed in quantity as long and short, not as English poetical feet, the constituent syllables in which differ in accentuation.

The various combinations of these poetical feet constitute so many varieties of verse. We have, accordingly, verses that are iambic monometers, iambic dimeters, etc., as also trochaic monometers, dimeters, etc., and so of the other feet.

The iambic pentameter, that is, the verse made up of five iambic feet, has been the chosen verse in our great poems, and has been known under the name of the Heroic verse. The iambic hexameter verse is called Alexandrine.

§ 55. A STANZA is a part of a poem consisting of a like number of like verses.

As the possible combinations of feet and verses are well nigh unlimited, there can be no enumeration of the different kinds of stanzas. Our literature is growing ever richer

Several forms of the stanza, however,

in these varieties.

have gained special denominations.

Rhymes Royal, is the name of the stanza of the "Clerkes Tale" in Chaucer. It is composed of seven heroics, the first and third, the second, fourth, and fifth, and the last two verses rhyming.

Ottava Rima is a stanza of eight heroic verses, with alternate rhymes, except the last two verses, which are successive.

The Spenserian Stanza consists of eight heroics and one Alexandrine verse. The first and third verses rhyme; the second, fourth, fifth, and seventh; and the sixth, eighth, and ninth.

Gay's Stanza is composed of four iambic trimeters, with alternate rhymes, the odd ones being in double rhymes. The Elegiac Stanza consists of four heroics in alternate rhymes.

The Ballad Stanza consists of four iambic verses in alternate rhymes, the odd verses being tetrameters, the even verses trimeters. It is the Common Meter of sacred lyrics.

§ 56. The Sonnet is the only regular form of a poem as a whole, which requires notice. It consists of fourteen heroics with interrupted rhymes.

Sonnets appeared early in Provençal literature. They were much cultivated in Italy, Petrarch having left over three hundred, and Tasso over one thousand. They were also found in the earlier literature of Spain and Germany, as well as of England. In France the bouts rimés seem to have hindered the introduction of them.

The Italian sonnet consisted of two quatrains and two tercets, or two parts of four verses each, and two of three verses each. The earlier English sonnet consisted of three quatrains and one couplet. The later English sonnet varies greatly in the law of the rhyme, which is the element that connects the parts. Sometimes the law of the rhyme extends through the sonnet, except the last two

« PreviousContinue »