The Principles of English Versification
by Paull Franklin Baum
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Third printing


Transcriber's note The following symbols have been used in the text: [~] a musical rest [U] an unstressed syllable [#] stressed syllable ['] grave accent over the preceding unstressed syllable x x with breve x x with macron ^{x} superscript x [OE] Latin capital ligature OE

TO C. H. N. B.


Most of the older discussions of English versification labored under two difficulties: an undue adherence to the traditions of Greek and Latin prosody more or less perfectly understood, and an exaggerated formalism. But recently the interest and excitement (now happily abated) over free-verse have reopened the old questions and let in upon them not a little light. Even today, however, a great deal of metrical analysis has wrecked itself on the visible rocks of a false accuracy, and it is therefore not only out of caution but also out of mere common sense that we should eschew the arbitrary, even at the risk of vagueness and an 'unscientific' admission of uncertainty. For the only great and annihilating danger of writing on versification is dogmatism. Our theorists, both old and new, are first tempted and then possessed with their theories—all else becoming wrong and intolerable. In the following pages I have perhaps erred in a too frequent insistence on doubts and perplexities; perhaps also, on occasion, in a too plain statement of opinion where judgments are bound to differ—sic se res habent.

Now it is plain that rhythm is one of the ultimate facts of nature and one of the universal principles of art; and thus versification, which is the study of the rhythms of verse, is both a science and an art. But it differs from the other sciences in that its phenomena are not 'regular' and reducible to law, but varying and subject to the dictates, even the whims, of genius; inasmuch as every poem involves a fresh fiat of creation. Of course, no poet when he is composing, either in the traditional "fine frenzy" or in the more sober process of revision, thinks of prosody as a science, or perhaps thinks of it at all. If he did he would go mad, and produce nothing. But the phenomena remain, nevertheless, and the analysis of them becomes for us a science.

This analysis has what Bacon would call two inconveniences. The first is complexity. The various ways in which the formal rhythms of verse combine with the infinitely modulated rhythms of natural prose produce a resultant which is complicated to the last degree and which almost precludes orderly exposition. No system has been devised to express it. The simpler ones fail through omission of important difficulties, the more elaborate totter under their own weight. And thus the Gentle Reader is either beguiled by false prophets—looks up and is not fed—or loses heart and saves himself by flight. There is, to be sure, an arcanum of prosodic theory which is the province of specialists. It has its place in the scheme of things; but it is no more necessary for the genuine enjoyment of Milton (or the 'moderns') than a knowledge of the formulae for calculating the parallax of Alpha Leonis is necessary for enjoying the pillared firmament. We must then compromise with a system which reveals the existence of all the phenomena and tries to suggest their interrelated workings.

The other inconvenience is that of seeming to deny the real poetry by our preoccupation with its metrical expression. "Under pretence that we want to study it more in detail, we pulverize the statue." This is an old charge, and our answer is easy. For, however it may be with the statue, a poem is never pulverized; it is still there on the page! No amount of analyzing can injure the poem. If we think it has injured us, even then we err, and need only recall our natural aversion to hard labor. In nearly every instance it was the work and not the analysis that bothered us.

This is a small book and therefore not exhaustive. And since it is as elementary, especially in the treatment of the principles of rhythm, as is consistent with a measure of thoroughness, the apparatus of mere learning has been suppressed, even where it might perhaps seem needed, as in footnote references to the scientific investigations on which part of the text is based. I have consulted and used, of course, all the books and articles I could find that had anything of value to offer; but I have rarely cited them, not because I wish to conceal my indebtedness, but because there is no room for elaborate documentation in such a book as this. On the other hand, I owe a very great deal, both directly and indirectly, to Professor Bliss Perry—although my manuscript was finished before I saw his Study of Poetry; and this debt I wish to acknowledge most fully and gratefully.

In lieu of a formal bibliography, I think it sufficient (in addition to the footnotes that occur in their proper place) to refer the reader to the larger works of Schipper and Saintsbury, to the smaller volumes of Professor Perry and Professor R. M. Alden, and particularly to Mr. T. S. Omond's English Metrists, 1921.

P. F. B.





Rhythm, in its simplest sense, is measured motion; but by various natural extensions of meaning the word has come to be used almost as a synonym of regularity of variation. Whatever changes or alternates according to a recognizable system is said to be rhythmic, to possess rhythm. In this sense, rhythm is one of the universal principles of nature. We find it in the stripes of the zebra, the indentation of leaves, the series of teeth or of crystals, the curves of the horizon; in the tides, the phases of the moon, the rising and setting of the sun, the recurrence of seasons, the revolutions of planets; in the vibrations of color, sound, and heat; in breathing, the throbbing of the pulse, the stride of walking. All action and reaction whatever is rhythmic, both in nature and in man. "Rhythm is the rule with Nature," said Tyndall; "she abhors uniformity more than she does a vacuum." So deep-rooted, in truth, is this principle, that we imagine it and feel it where it does not exist, as in the clicking of a typewriter. Thus there is both an objective rhythm, which actually exists as rhythm, and a subjective rhythm, which is only the feeling of regularity resulting from a natural tendency of the mind to 'organize' any irregularity that we meet.

There are two fundamental forms of rhythm, though these are not altogether mutually exclusive, (1) spatial, and (2) temporal.

* * * * *

Spatial Rhythms. The simplest spatial rhythm is a series of equidistant points—

. . . . . . . . . .

More complex forms are the succession of repeated designs in mouldings and wainscotings (for example, the alternation of egg and dart), the series of windows in a wall, or of the columns of a Greek temple, or of the black and white keys of a piano. Still more complex is the balanced arrangement of straight lines and curves in a geometrical design, as in certain Oriental rugs or the Gothic rose windows. And probably the most complex spatial rhythms are those of the facades of great buildings like the Gothic cathedrals or St. Mark's of Venice, where only the trained eye perceives the subtleties of alternation and balance.

* * * * *

Temporal Rhythms. Temporal rhythms, apart from those of planetary motion, the alternation of seasons, and the like (which are called rhythmic by a metaphorical extension of the term), manifest themselves to us as phenomena of sound; hence the two concepts time-rhythm and sound-rhythm are commonly thought of as one and the same.

The simplest form is the tick-tick-tick of a watch or metronome. But such mechanical regularity is comparatively rare, and in general the temporal rhythms are all highly complex composites of sounds and silences. Their highest manifestations are music and language. The rhythm of language, and a fortiori that of verse, is therefore primarily a temporal or sound rhythm, and as such is the particular subject of the following pages.

* * * * *

Combinations. Language, however, when addressed to the eye rather than to the ear, that is, when written or printed rather than spoken, is partly a spatial phenomenon; and, as will appear presently, the arrangement of words and sentences on the formal page is a real factor in the rhythm of verse. Moreover, most of the rhythms of motion, such as walking, the ebb and flow of tides, the breaking of waves on the beach, are composites of temporal and spatial.[1]

[1] One hears sometimes of 'rhythmic thought' and 'rhythmic feeling.' This is merely a further extension or metaphorical usage of the term. In Othello, for instance, there is a more or less regular alternation of the feelings of purity and jealousy, and of tragedy and comedy. In some of the Dialogues of Plato there is a certain rhythm of thought. This usage is fairly included in the Oxford Dictionary's definition: "movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions."

* * * * *

Sound Rhythm. These elementary generalizations must be narrowed now to the special phenomena of sound, and then still more particularly to the sounds of language.

All musical tones, including the phonetic sounds of words, have four characteristics: pitch, loudness or intensity, quality or tone-color, and duration. The last, of course, needs no definition.

* * * * *

Pitch is dependent on the number of vibrations per second. The greater the number of vibrations, the higher the pitch and the more 'acute' the tone. The lowest pitch recognizable as a tone (as distinguished from noise) is 8 vibrations a second; the highest pitch the ear can hear is between 20,000 and 30,000 a second. In normal English speech among adults the voice ranges from about 100 to 300 vibrations, but in animated speaking this range is greatly increased.

* * * * *

Loudness is a comparative term for the strength of the sensation of sound in the ear. It is determined by the energy or intensity of the vibrations and varies (technically speaking) as the product of the square of the frequency and the square of the amplitude(I=n^{2}A^{2}). But for ordinary purposes it is sufficient to regard loudness and intensity as the same. The distinction, however, is clear in common practice; for whether one says "father" loudly or quietly, there is a relatively greater intensity of sound in the first syllable than in the second. In speech this intensity is called accent or stress.

The third characteristic, variously called quality, timbre, tone-quality, tone-color, is that which distinguishes sounds of the same loudness and pitch produced by different instruments or voices. It is the result of the combination of the partial tones of a sound, that is, of the fundamental and its overtones. In music, tone-quality is of the utmost importance, but as an element of speech rhythm it is practically non-existent, and may be wholly neglected, though it plays, of course, a prominent part in the oral reading of different persons.[2]

[2] There is, however, another phenomenon (to be discussed later) called by the same name, 'tone-color,' but having only a metaphorical relation to it. Many words father, soul, ineluctable, for example have emotional associations which stand to the literal meaning somewhat like overtones to the fundamental. This tone-quality of language is one of the primary and most significant sources of poetical effect, but it should never be confused with the musical term on which it is patterned.

What is the relation of these physical attributes of sound to sound rhythm? The answer lies in a closer examination of the nature of rhythm, especially as it concerns the rhythm of speech.

Rhythm means measured flow or succession. Now first, in order that any succession may be measured, there must be something recognizable which distinguishes one unit from the next. In spatial rhythms the point of division is almost always easily perceived; hence the greater difficulty of analyzing the simplest time-rhythms as compared with the most complex space-rhythms. Moreover, the basis of measurement, that by which the 'distance' between any point of division and that which follows it is determined, must, by definition, be duration of time. Suppose, however, that the time-distance between successive points of emphasis or division is equal, is the rhythm therefore necessarily regular? No, because the points of emphasis themselves may vary in force or energy. Thus if in the following scheme (A' = point of emphasis; -= equal time-distance):


every A' is not of the same value, the result might be (A'A'= twice as much emphasis as A';A'A'A' = three times as much):


and this could not be called regular. A simple illustration of this is the difference in music between 3/4 time, where we count 1A' 2 3, 1A' 2 3, 1A' 2 3 and 6/4 or 6/8 time, where we count 1A'A' 2 3 4A' 5 6, 1A'A' 2 3 4A' 5 6. Furthermore, apart from any question of force or energy applied in the production of a sound, it is clear that high notes seem to possess a greater strength than low notes, and must therefore be recognized as an element in rhythmic emphasis. For example, if the following series of notes were sounded on a piano, and each struck with equal force—


a certain 'accent' would probably be felt on the e which was not felt on the a. And it is well known that shrill sounds and high-pitched voices carry farther and seem louder than others.

In the simplest kind of temporal rhythm, therefore, where the beats are, say, drum-taps of equal force, the primary element is time. But if there is the added complication of drum-taps of unequal force, the element of comparative stress must be reckoned with. And if, finally, the drum-taps are not in the same key (say, on kettledrums differently tuned), then the further element of comparative pitch must be considered as a possible point of emphasis. In a word, pitch may sometimes be substituted for stress.

In music rhythmic units may be marked by differences in tone-quality as well, and thus the potential complexity is greatly increased; but in spoken language, as has been said, this element of rhythm is negligible. In speech-rhythm, however, the three conditions of time, stress, and pitch are always present, and therefore no consideration of either prose rhythm or verse can hope to be complete or adequate which neglects any one of them or the possibilities of their permutations and combinations. And it is precisely here that many treatments of the rhythm of language have revealed their weakness: they have excluded pitch usually, and often either stress or time. They have tried to build up a whole system of prosody sometimes on a foundation of stress alone, sometimes of time alone. The reason for this failure is simple, and it is also a warning. Any attempt to reckon with these three forces, each of which is extremely variable, not only among different individuals but in the same person at different times—any attempt to analyze these elements and observe, as well, their mutual influences and combined effects, is bound to result in a complication of details that almost defies expression or comprehension. The danger is as great as the difficulty. But nothing can ever be gained by the sort of simplification which disregards existent and relevant facts. It is to be confessed at once, however, that one cannot hope to answer in any really adequate way all or even most of the questions that arise. The best that can be expected is a thorough recognition of the complexity, together with some recognition of the component difficulties.

Moreover, only a part of the problem has been stated thus far. Not only is all spoken language the resultant of the subjectively variable forces of time, stress, and pitch, but these three forces are themselves subject to and intimately affected by the thought and emotion which they express. Though educated persons probably receive the phenomena of language more frequently through the eye than through the ear, it is true that words are, in the first instance, sounds, of which the printed or written marks are but conventional symbols. And these symbols and the sounds which they represent have other values also, logical or intellectual and emotional values. Language is therefore a compound instrument of both sound and meaning, and speech-rhythm, in its fullest sense, is the composite resultant of the attributes of sound (duration, intensity, and pitch) modified by the logical and emotional content of the words and phrases which they represent.

For example, utter the words: "A house is my fire," and observe the comparative duration of time in the pronunciation of each word, the comparative stress, and the relative pitch (e. g. of a and fire). Now rearrange these nearly meaningless syllables: "My house is afire." Observe the differences, some slight and some well marked, in time, stress, and pitch. Then consider the different emotional coloring this sentence might have and the different results on time, stress, and pitch in utterance, if, say, the house contains all that you hold most precious and there is no chance of rescue; or if, on the other hand, the house is worthless and you are glad to see it destroyed. And even here the matter is comparatively simple; for in reading the following sentence from Walter Pater, note the manifold variations in your own utterance of it at different times and imagine how it would be read by a person of dull sensibilities, by one of keen poetic feeling, and finally by one who recalled its context and on that account could enjoy its fullest richness: "It is the landscape, not of dreams or of fancy, but of places far withdrawn, and hours selected from a thousand with a miracle of finesse."[3]

[3] Walter Pater, "Leonardo da Vinci," in The Renaissance. For an account of scientific experiments on the time and stress rhythm of this sentence, see W. M. Patterson, The Rhythm of Prose, New York, 1916, ch. iv. An idea of the complexity may be obtained from Patterson's attempt to indicate it by musical notation:

The last step of the complication, which can only be indicated here, and will be developed in a later chapter, comes with the mutual adjustment of the natural prose rhythm and the metrical pattern of the verse. Such a sentence as the following has its own peculiar rhythms: "And, as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet's pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name." Now read it as verse, and the rhythms are different; both the meaning and the music are enhanced.

And as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name. SHAKESPEARE, Midsummer Night's Dream, V, i.

These then are the problems and the difficulties. The solutions can be only partial and tentative, but they are the best we are able to obtain with our present knowledge and our present capabilities of analysis. As science today has advanced in accuracy of knowledge and understanding of the facts of nature far beyond the powers of our ancestors to imagine, so in the future psychologists may, and let us hope will, enable us to comprehend the subtleties of metrical rhythm beyond our present power. Yet there will always remain, since the ever-inexplicable element of genius is a necessary part of all art, a portion which no science can describe or analyze.

* * * * *

The Psychology of Rhythm. That nearly all persons have a definite sense of rhythm, though sometimes latent because of defective education, is a familiar fact. The origin and source of this sense is a matter of uncertainty and dispute. The regular beating of the heart, the regular alternation of inhaling and exhaling, the regular motions of walking, all these unconscious or semi-conscious activities of the body have been suggested; and they doubtless have a concomitant if not a direct influence on the rhythmic sense. Certainly there is an intimate relation between the heart action and breath rate and the external stimulus of certain rhythmic forces, as is shown by the tendency of the pulse and breath to adapt their tempo to the beat of fast or slow music. But this can hardly be the whole explanation. More important, from the psychological point of view, is doubtless the alternation of effort and fatigue which characterizes our mental as well as physical actions. A period of concentrated attention is at once followed by a period of indifference; the attention flags, wearies, and must be recuperated by a pause, just as the muscular effort of hand or arm. In truth, the muscles of the eye play a real part in the alternations of effort and rest in reading. The immediate application of this psychological fact to the temporal rhythms has been clearly phrased by the French metrist, M. Verrier:

I hear the first beat of a piece of music or of a verse, and, my attention immediately awakened, I await the second. At the end of a certain time—that is, when the expense of energy demanded has reached a certain degree—this second beat strikes my ear. Then I expect to hear the third when the dynamic sense of attention shall indicate an equal expense of energy, that is, at the end of an equal interval of time. Thus, by means of sensation and of memory of the amount of energy expended in the attention each time, I can perceive the equality of time-interval of the rhythmic units. Once this effort of attention becomes definite and fixed, it repeats itself instinctively and mechanically—by reflex action, so to say, like that of walking when we are accustomed to a stride of a given length and rapidity. Here we have truly a sort of metronome which will beat out the rhythm according as we regulate it. And it goes without saying that with this we can not only note the rhythm in our songs or spoken verse or movements, but also perceive it in the sounds and movements of other persons and other things.

This metronome of attention functions, indeed, still more simply. With attention, as with all the psycho-physiological processes, effort alternates with rest: it grows stronger and weaker, contracts and expands in turn. This pulse of attention varies in different persons according to the peculiar rhythm of the organism. In the same person, under normal conditions, it remains nearly constant. It is always subject to modification by the psycho-physiological conditions of the moment, especially by the emotions and by external circumstances. In a series of identical equidistant stresses, those which coincide with the pulse of attention seem the stronger: this is what is called subjective rhythm. Since this coincidence is nearly always somewhat inexact, there results an easy accommodation of the pulse of attention, although even in the subjective rhythm there has already occurred an objective influence capable of affecting us sensibly.[4]

[4] Paul Verrier, Essai sur les Principes de la MA(C)trique Anglaise (Paris, 1909), Deuxieme Partie, Livre II, ch. x, pp. 56, 57; and cf. p. 90, n. 1.

Thus we have always at hand both a more or less efficient bodily metronome in the pulse and in respiration, and also a "cerebral metronome" capable not only of easy adjustment to different rates of speed but also of that subtlest of modulations which psychologists call the 'elastic unit,' and which musicians, though not so definitely or surely, recognize as tempo rubato.

The sense of rhythm, as has been said, differs remarkably in different individuals—just as the sense of touch, of smell, of hearing.[5] To some, rhythm appears chiefly as a series of points of emphasis or stresses alternating with points of less emphasis or of none at all; such are called, in scientific jargon, 'stressers.' To others the principal characteristic of rhythm is the time intervals; such are called 'timers.' But this is a practical, not a philosophical distinction. For it is the succession of points of emphasis which even the most aggressive stresser feels as rhythmic; and succession implies and involves a temporal element. The stresser's only difficulty is to feel the approximate equality of the interval. The essential thing, however, is to understand that, while time is the foundation of speech-rhythm, stress is its universal adjunct and concomitant.[6]

[5] A simple experiment will illustrate this. Place two persons back to back, so that they cannot see each other, and have them beat time to an audible melody; as soon as the music ceases they will begin to beat differently. (Verrier, II, p. 65.) The difficulty of keeping even a trained orchestra playing together illustrates the same fact. [6] "If rhythm means anything to the average individual, it means motor response and a sense of organized time." Patterson, p. 14.

The explanation of this duality is simple. A series of identical tones


contains a simple objective rhythm. The pronounced timer will feel it clearly; the extreme stresser will not. Change the series to




and both will feel it; for in the last example both time and stress are obvious, and in the other the longer notes of the series produce the effect of stress.[7] Most persons, therefore, with a greater or less degree of consciousness, allow their physical or cerebral metronome to affect the simple


so that they hear or feel either




It is thus that the clock says tick-tock, tick-tock, the locomotive chu-chu, chu-chu. Timers are in the minority.

[7] Musicians often 'dot' a note for the sake of emphasizing the accent, especially in orchestral music and with such instruments as the flute, where variations of stress are difficult to produce.

A converse phenomenon of the subjective introduction of stress into a series of identical tones at equal intervals is the subjective 'organization' of a series of irregular beats. Some do this more easily and naturally than others, but the tendency is present in all who are not absolutely rhythm-deaf. The "minute drops from off the eaves" beat out a tune, the typewriter develops a monotonous song, the public speaker 'gets his stride' and continues in a sing-song.

Thus, when there are equal intervals but stress is absent, we more or less unconsciously supply it; when there are distinct stresses at irregular intervals we organize them into approximately regular intervals. We have in us by instinct and by development both the ability and also the need to draw forth rhythm wherever it is latent. Rhythm becomes one of our physical and mental pleasures, manifest in primitive dancing and balladry, sailors' chanteys, and the simple heave-ho's of concerted labor. It induces economy of effort, and so makes work lighter; and it has, though perhaps not always, a certain A sthetic value, in making labor more interesting as well as easier. It is one of the attributes of the god we worship under the name of System.

* * * * *

CoArdination, Syncopation, Substitution. The processes of the subjective organization of rhythm may best be explained under the heads of coArdination, syncopation, and substitution. Their application to the particular problems of verse will be apparent at once, and will, in fact, constitute the bulk of the following pages.

* * * * *

CoArdination has two aspects, according as it is thought of simply as an existing fact or as a process. In the former sense it is the agreement or coincidence (or the perception of agreement or coincidence) between the simple normal recurrence of beats and the actual or predetermined pattern. Thus in the lines

And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies, MILTON, Paradise Lost, II, 950.

A sable, silent, solemn forest stood, THOMSON, Castle of Indolence, st. 5.

the 'natural' beat of the words uttered in the most natural and reasonable manner coincides with the 'artificial' beat of the metrical line.

On the other hand, coordination is the process which results in one's reduction of irregular beats to an approximately regular series. When we hear a haphazard succession of drum-taps or the irregular click-click of the typewriter, most of us soon begin to feel a certain orderly arrangement, a rhythmical swing in the repeated sounds, a grouping according to a sort of unit which recurs with nearly equal intervals. The units are not absolutely equal, but are elastic, allowing of some contraction and expansion; yet they are so nearly equal, or we feel them so, that the series seems regular.

Now this process of coArdination involves two activities, syncopation and substitution. The workings of both are highly complex and somewhat uncertain; they differ greatly in different individuals, and when analyzed scientifically seem to produce more difficulties than they explain. But fortunately the outstanding ideas are beyond dispute, and detailed examination can properly be left to the scientists.

* * * * *

Syncopation is the union, or the perception of the union, of two or more rhythmic patterns.[8] A familiar example is perhaps the 'three against two' in music, where one hand follows a tum-te-te, tum-te-te rhythm, the other a tum-te, tum-te. This complexity, which strikes us as sophisticated subtlety and is not always easy to reproduce, is in fact both simple and familiar to the untutored savage. We must remember that the evolution of language and of music has been for the more part in the direction of greater simplicity of structure. Primitive music, as we find it in the undeveloped Indians and Australasians, is often too complex to be expressed by our regular notation. Another familiar example of syncopation is the negro dance, in which the "dancer taps with his feet just half-way between the hand-claps of those who are accompanying his performance."[9] And of course the commonest example is the strongly marked syncopation of ragtime.[10]

[8] Cf. Patterson, p. 3, "... the possibility of preserving a certain series of time intervals, but of changing in various ways the nature of the motions or sensations that mark the beats." This may be tested by a simple experiment. With the foot or finger tap evenly, regularly, and rather rapidly. Without changing the regularity of the tapping, but merely by a mental readjustment, the beats may be felt as tum-te, tum-te, tum-te (or te-tum, etc.) or as tum-te-te, tum-te-te, tum-te-te (or te-te-tum, etc.), or even as tum-te-te-te, tum-te-te-te (or te-te-te-tum, etc.). It is but a step from this successive perception of various rhythms from the same objective source to a combined and simultaneous perception of them. [9] Patterson, p. xx, n. 3. [10] Experiments have shown that with a little practice one can learn to beat five against seven, and thus actually though unconsciously count in thirty-fives. (Patterson, p. 6.)

In prose, this syncopation is evident in the apparent recognition, and even reproduction in reading aloud, of a regularity of rhythm where none really exists; as when protracted reading or listening develops or seems to develop a monotonous sing-song. But this phenomenon cannot be explained briefly, and the details must be omitted here.[11] In verse also syncopation frequently occurs, though it is seldom recognized except as an 'irregularity.' In the following lines of Paradise Lost the first two coincide pretty closely with the normal beats of the measure; while in the third line the series is an entirely different one.

So Satan spake, and him Beelzebub Thus answered: "Leader of those armies bright, Which but th' Omnipotent none could have foil'd...." MILTON, Paradise Lost, I, 271-273.

Here to stress distinctly but,-tent, could utterly ruins both the meaning and the music of the line: to utter the words as if they were ordinary prose would preserve the meaning, but destroy the verse-movement. In Milton's ear, however, and in ours if we do not resist, there is a subtle syncopation of four beats against five. (Of course syncopation alone does not explain the rhythm of this line.) A most startling syncopation is ventured by Milton in Samson Agonistes (1071-72):

I less conjecture than when first I saw The sumptuous DAilila floating this way.

[11] Those who are interested will find the scientific experiments discussed in Patterson, ch. i and Appendix III.

* * * * *

Substitution is simpler. It merely means recognizing the equivalence, and therefore the possibility of interchange, of a long interval with two or more shorter intervals whose sum equals the one long. That is, in music two quarter-notes are equal to a half-note, and they may be anywhere substituted one for the other; or a dotted half-note equal three quarter-notes, etc. In verse it means that three syllables (or one, or even four) may be substituted for the normal two syllables of a foot if the three (or one or four) are uttered in approximately the same period of time.

The term substitution, however, may be used in a larger sense. Thus far only the purely temporal element of the rhythm has been thought of. When the two others, stress and pitch, are recalled, it becomes clear that another sort of substitution is both possible and usual, namely, that of either pitch or stress for duration. In other words, the groups that make up a rhythmic series may be determined or marked off by emphasis of pitch or emphasis of stress as well as by duration of time. In fact, it is from this habitual interplay of the three elements that most of the complexity of metre arises; as it is the failure to recognize this substitution which has given the older prosodies much of their false simplicity and their mechanical barrenness.

* * * * *

Summary. The fundamental problems of versification are all involved in the principles of rhythm, especially the temporal rhythm of language. The rhythm of both prose and verse is a resultant of the three attributes of sound: stress, duration, and pitch (the first two being usually the determining elements, the third an accessory element) modified by the thought and emotion of the words. The feeling for this rhythm, or perception of it, has both physical and psychological explanations, and varies considerably among individuals, some being 'timers,' others 'stressers,' apparently by natural endowment. The processes of our perception of rhythm are those of coordination, or partly subjective reduction of actual 'irregularities' to a standard of 'regularity'; this reduction being accomplished mainly by syncopation and substitution.



It is clear now that all language is more or less definitely rhythmical; and that the two fundamental and determining elements of speech-rhythm are time and stress. It is clear also that the essential thing in our perception of rhythm is the experience or recognition of groups, these groups being themselves distinguished and set off by stress and time. When there is an easily felt regularity of the groups, when the alternation of stress and unstress and the approximate equality of the time intervals are fairly apparent, then the rhythm is simple. When the regularity is not obvious, the rhythm is complex, but none the less existent and pleasing.[12] In other words, the character of language rhythm is determined by the relative proportion of coincidence and syncopation. In verse, coincidence preponderates; in prose, syncopation (and substitution). Between absolute coincidence, moreover, and the freest possible syncopation and substitution, infinite gradations are possible; and many passages indeed lie so close to the boundary between recognizable preponderance of the one or of the other that it is difficult to say this is verse, that is prose. Various standards and conventions enter into the decision.

[12] When no organization of the irregularity is possible, the language is unrhythmical; and such, of course, is often the case in bad prose and bad verse.

For practical convenience three main sorts of rhythmic prose may be distinguished: (1) characteristic prose, or that in which no regularity (coincidence) is easily appreciable; (2) cadenced prose, or that in which the regularity is perceptible, but unobtrusive, and (3) metrical prose, or that in which the regularity is so noticeable as to be unpleasing. No very clear lines can be drawn; nor should one try to classify more than brief passages in one group or another. And, obviously, longer selections will combine two or more sorts in succession. A few examples will serve to show what is meant.

* * * * *

Characteristic Prose. No prose, as has been said above, is without rhythmic curves; but the best prose, that which always keeps in view the best ideals of prose, carefully avoids consecutive repetitions of the same rhythmic patterns. It is the distinction of verse to follow a chosen pattern, with due regard to the artistic principles of variety and uniformity; it is the distinction of prose to accomplish its object, whether artistic or utilitarian, without encroaching on the boundaries of its neighbor. Prose may be as 'poetic,' as charged with powerful emotion, as possible, but it remains true prose only when it refuses to borrow aids from the characteristic excellences of verse.

To be sure, it is not always easy to avoid regular patterns in writing the most ordinary prose. They come uncalled; they seem to be inherent in the language. Here is, chosen casually, the first sentence of a current news item, written surely without artistic elaboration, and subjected, moreover, to the uncertainties of cable transmission. It was no doubt farthest from the correspondent's intention to write 'numerous' prose; but notice how the sentence may be divided into a series of rhythmic groups of two stresses each, with a fairly regular number of accompanying unstressed syllables:

A general mobilization in Syria has been ordered as a reply to the French ultimatum to King Feisal that he acquiesce in the French mandate for Syria, according to a dispatch to the London Times from Jerusalem.

No one would read the sentence with a very clear feeling of this definite movement; in fact, to do so rather obscures the meaning. But the potential rhythm is there, and the reader with a keen rhythmic sense will be to some extent aware of it.

Again, there is in the following sentence from Disraeli's Endymion a latent rhythm which actually affects the purely logical manner of reading it:

She persisted in her dreams of riding upon elephants.

Here one almost inevitably pauses after dreams (or prolongs the word beyond its natural length), though there is no logical reason for doing so. Why? Partly, at least, because persisted in her dreams and of riding upon el-have the same 'swing,' and the parallelism of mere sound seems to require the pause.

For these reasons, then, among others, the most 'natural' spontaneous and straightforward prose is not always the best. Study and careful revision are necessary in order to avoid an awkward and unpleasant monotony of rhythmic repetition, and at the same time obtain a flow of sound which will form a just musical accompaniment to the ideas expressed. Only the great prose masters have done this with complete success. Of the three following examples the first is from Bacon; the second is from Milton, who as a poet might have been expected to fall into metre while writing emotional prose; the third is from Walter Pater—the famous translation into words of the Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo da Vinci. The first is elaborate but unaffected, the second is probably spontaneous, the third highly studied.

This kind of degenerate learning did chiefly reign amongst the schoolmen: who having sharp and strong wits, and abundance of leisure, and small variety of reading, but their wits being shut up in the cells of a few authors (chiefly Aristotle their dictator) as their persons were shut up in the cells of monasteries and colleges, and knowing little history, either of nature or time, did out of no great quantity of matter and infinite agitation of wit spin out unto us those laborious webs of learning which are extant in their books. For the wit and mind of man, if it work upon matter, which is the contemplation of the creatures of God, worketh according to the stuff and is limited thereby; but if it work upon itself, as the spider worketh his web, then it is endless, and brings forth indeed cobwebs of learning, admirable for the fineness of thread and work, but of no substance or profit. Advancement of Learning, Bk. I, iv, 5.

Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on; but when he ascended, and his Apostles after him were laid asleep, then straight arose a wicked race of deceivers, who, as that story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his conspirators how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb still as they could find them. Areopagitica.

Hers is the head upon which all "the ends of the world are come," and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. ... She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands. "Leonardo da Vinci," in The Renaissance.

Here no continuous patterns are recognizable, yet the whole is felt to be musically and appropriately rhythmic. In the next excerpt, however (from John Donne), and in many passages in the Authorized Version of the Psalms, of Job, of the Prophets, there is a visible balance of phrases and of clauses, a long undulating swing which one perceives at once, though only half consciously, and which approaches, if it does not actually possess, the intentional coincidence of cadenced prose.

If some king of the earth have so large an extent of dominion in north and south as that he hath winter and summer together in his dominions; so large an extent east and west as that he hath day and night together in his dominions, much more hath God mercy and justice together. He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; He can bring thy summer out of winter though thou have no spring; though in the ways of fortune, or of understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintered and frozen, smothered and stupefied till now, now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest to fill all penuries. All occasions invite His mercies, and all times are His seasons.

* * * * *

Cadenced Prose. Cadenced prose is in English chiefly an historical phenomenon of the seventeenth century. It is part of the late Renaissance literary movement, when prose, after vaguely classic models, was held worth cultivating on its own account; and is in some degree a tempered afterglow of the crude brilliance of euphuistic balance and alliteration. It made no effort to conceal its definite rhythmic movements—rather, it gloried in them; but was always careful that they should not become monotonous or too palpable.

In the following examples the rhythmic units are for the sake of clearness indicated by separate lines, after the fashion of 'free-verse.' The passages should be read first with the line-division uppermost in the attention; then as continuous prose. The result of the second reading will be perhaps a fuller appreciation of the rhythmic richness of the sentences, both as to variety and uniformity. Sing-song and 'pounding' are by all means to be deprecated.

(a) Simple two-and three-beat rhythms—

O eloquent just and mighty Death! whom none could advise thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared thou hast done; and whom all the world hath flattered thou only hast cast out of the world and despised. Thou hast drawn together all the far-stretched greatness all the pride cruelty and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two narrow words Hic jacet. SIR WALTER RALEIGH, History of the World, Bk. V, ch. vi.

(b) Simple three-and four-beat rhythms—

They that have great intrigues of the world have a yoke upon their necks and cannot look back. And he that covets many things greedily and snatches at high things ambitiously that despises his neighbor proudly and bears his crosses peevishly or his prosperity impotently and passionately he that is a prodigal of his precious time and is tenacious and retentive of evil purposes is not a man disposed to this exercise: he hath reason to be afraid of his own memory and to dash his glass in pieces because it must needs represent to his own eyes an intolerable deformity. JEREMY TAYLOR, Holy Dying, ch. ii, sect. 2.

(c) Mainly two-beat rhythms—

Now since these dead bones have already outlasted the living ones of Methuselah and in a yard under ground and thin walls of clay outworn all the strong and spacious buildings above it, and quietly rested under the drums and tramplings of three conquests; what Prince can promise such diuturnity unto his reliques or might not gladly say 'Sic ego componi versus in ossa velim.' SIR THOMAS BROWNE, Urn Burial, ch. v.

(d) Mainly three-beat rhythms—

What song the Syrens sang or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women though puzzling questions are not beyond all conjecture. What time the persons of these ossuaries entered the famous nations of the dead and slept with princes and counsellors might admit a wide solution. But who were the proprietaries of these bones or what bodies these ashes made up were a question above antiquarism; not to be resolved by man nor easily perhaps by spirits except we consult the provincial guardians or tutelary Observators. Ibid.

* * * * *

Metrical Prose. The above passages are daring, but greatly daring. So great is the subtlety, the variety, the art, that they never fail of their intended effect. They are justifiable because they justify themselves—partly by their lofty and dignified content, partly of course by their sheer artistry. But when the same thing is attempted by unskilful hands it fails ingloriously. We say it has "a palpable design upon us," and balk. Gibbon and Burke, as inheritors of the seventeenth-century tradition, sometimes fell into the error; Ruskin, with his 'poetical' style, was sometimes guilty; but the worst and most conspicuous offenders were Dickens and Blackmore. Examples are abundant. Not all are equally unpleasant; the individual taste of some readers will approve passages which others will reject. With Dickens and Blackmore, however, the phenomenon approaches downright deliberate trickiness.

The calculation of profit in all such wars is false. On balancing the account of such wars, ten thousand hogsheads of sugar are purchased at ten thousand times their price. The blood of man should never be shed but to redeem the blood of man. It is well shed for our family, for our friends, for our God, for our country, for our kind. The rest is vanity; the rest is crime. BURKE, Letters on a Regicide Peace, I.

When Death strikes down the innocent and young for every fragile form from which he lets the panting spirit free a hundred virtues rise in shapes of mercy, charity, and love, to walk the world and bless it. Of every tear that sorrowing mortals shed on such green graves some good is born some gentler nature comes. DICKENS, Old Curiosity Shop, ch. 72

"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost, "I made it link by link, and yard by yard." DICKENS, Christmas Carol.

I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. Ibid.

Much they saw and far they went, and many homes they visited, but always with a happy end. DICKENS, Christmas Carol.

But above the curved soft elbow, where no room was for one cross word (according to our proverb) three sad gashes edged with crimson spoiled the flow of the pearly flesh. BLACKMORE, Lorna Doone, ch. 38.

A peculiar instance of metrical prose, avowedly an experiment and fortunately (as most will think) not repeated, is the passage near the end of Kingsley's Westward Ho! Kingsley called it 'prose shaped into song.' The objection is simply that in such a situation song is out of place. Let prose do the legitimate work of prose; and when the intensity of feeling justifies song, let there be song. No hybrids, no cross-breeding—unless, as here, for purposes of experiment. Here is a part of the passage:

Then he took a locket from his bosom; and I heard him speak, Will, and he said: "Here's the picture of my fair and true lady; drink to her, SeA-ors, all." Then he spoke to me, Will, and called me, right up through the oar-weed and the sea: "We have had a fair quarrel, SeA-or; it is time to be friends once more. My wife and your brother have forgiven me; so your honour takes no stain."

* * * * *

Elements of Prose Rhythm. Thus far the discussion of language rhythm has been confined to a general perception of rhythmic movement. When an attempt is made to carry the investigation into greater detail, more difficult and from a prosodic point of view really crucial problems present themselves. The essential thing in any perception of rhythm is the experience of groups; but what are the nature and determining qualities of these groups? In music there are bars—the primary rhythmic group, comprising a single rhythmic wave, that is, covering the time-distance from one point of division to another—phrases, cadences, etc. The dual nature of language, however, its union of sound elements and thought elements, gives the question another aspect. Corresponding to the musical bar there is the metrical foot; to the musical phrase, the logical phrase; to the musical cadence, a similar melodious flow of word-sounds. But there are also in prose what are called breath-groups and attention-groups, series of words bound together by the physiological requirements of utterance and the mental requirements of perception and understanding.[13] The first step towards clearness will be a closer distinction between prose and metrical rhythms.

[13] Compare the sentence from Disraeli on page 24, above.

* * * * *

Syllable. The simplest and smallest unit of speech-sound is the syllable; then follow, in increasing magnitude, the word, the phrase (that is, words held together by their meaning or by their sound), the clause, the sentence, the paragraph. These units exist in verse as well as in prose, but while verse has other units (which are arbitrary and artificial), prose rhythm has only these. The rhythm of a paragraph is determined by the length, structure, content, and arrangement of the sentences; that of a sentence by the length, structure, content, and arrangement of the phrases; that of the phrase by the length, structure, content, and arrangement of the words; that of a word by the character of the syllables. Now syllables, as has been explained above, have the sound attributes of duration, intensity (or lack of intensity), and pitch—called, however, in the terminology of phonetics, length or quantity, accent (or no accent), and pitch. These must be studied individually before their combined effects can be understood.

* * * * *

Length. Length is of course comparative. Some vowels require a longer time to enunciate than others: the e in penal than the i in pin, the o in coat than the o in cot, etc. Again, some consonants are shorter by nature than others: the explosives, p, t, k, etc., than the continuants s, z, th, f, m, n, l, etc. When vowels and consonants are combined into syllables the comparative length is still more apparent: thus form is longer than god, stole than poke, curl than cut, etc. Moreover, it is not alone the natural quantity of vowels and consonants that affects or determines their length, but also their position in a word and in a sentence. Thus, for example, the same sounds are uttered more rapidly when closely followed by one or more syllables than when alone: as bit, bitter, bitterly; hard, hardy, hardily. This elasticity of syllabic quantity is clearly shown in Verrier's examples:[14]

These indications, moreover, cover normal utterance only; in emotional language or elocutionary delivery there are deliberate and arbitrary lengthenings and shortenings.[15]

[14] Vol. i, pp. 79, 80. The musical notation must be taken as merely approximate. [15] Experiments have been made to obtain absolute measurements of syllabic quantity, and elaborate rules formulated for determining longs and shorts. Thus far, however, the results have been very variable and unsatisfactory, and should be accepted with great caution.

* * * * *

Accent and Stress. The term accent may best be reserved for grammatical or dictionary accent—the greater emphasis placed according to standard usage upon one syllable of a word as compared with the others. Thus portion has an accent on the first syllable, material on the second, apprehension on the third, deliberation on the fourth. The other syllables are either unaccented, as the first of material and the second of portion, or have a secondary accent, as the second of deliberation.

Accent should be distinguished from stress, which is the rhythmical emphasis in a series of sounds. In prose the rhythmical stress is determined almost wholly by accent; in verse the two sometimes coincide and sometimes differ markedly.

In certain words whose accent is somewhat evenly divided between two syllables, and in certain combinations of monosyllables, there is a tendency to subject even grammatical accent to rhythmical stress. Hence the common pronunciations Newfoundland, Hawthornden; the alternation of stress in poor old man, sad hurt heart; and the shift of accent in "In a Chinese restaurant the waiters are Chinese."

* * * * *

Pitch. Pitch is a very uncertain and variable phenomenon. For the most part it is an ornament or aid to simple language rhythms, but under some conditions it plays an important rA'le which cannot be neglected. Because of the physical structure of the vocal organs pitch is constantly changing in spoken discourse, though often the changes are not readily perceptible. Usually it coincides with accent.[16] It is also a frequent but by no means regular means of intensifying accent: compare "That was done simply" (normal utterance) with "That was simply wonderful" (intensive utterance). On the other hand pitch and accent sometimes clash: compare "The idea is good" (normal utterance) with "The idea!" (exclamatory). Other examples of pitch as a significant factor in prose are: "One should not say 'good' but 'goodly,' not 'brave' but 'bravely'"; "Not praise but praising gives him delight."[17]

[16] To adduce Greek in explanation of English pitch would be a clear case of ignotum per ignotius. But interesting parallels have been noted by Mr. Stone (in R. Bridges, Milton's Prosody, 2d ed.). "The ordinary unemphatic English accent," he says, "is exactly a raising of pitch, and nothing more" (p. 143); and there are similar habits in English and Greek of turning the grave accent into acute, as in to gA"t money and to gA(C)t it. The Greeks recognized three degrees of pitch: the acute (high), and the grave (low), (which, according to Dionysius, differed by about the musical interval of a fifth), and midway, the circumflex. Compare thAit? (acute, expressing surprise); thAct? (circumflex, expressing doubt); and thA t book (grave 'book' and not 'table'). The main difference between the two languages is that so far as we can tell classical Greek had (very much like modern French) a pitch-accent and very little or no stress-accent, whereas English has both (though stress-accent preponderates). [17] Cf. J. W. Bright, "Proper Names in Old English Verse," Publications of the Modern Language Association, vol. 14 (1899), pp. 347 ff.; especially pp. 363-365.

Another aspect of pitch is that which in the rhetorics is usually called inflection. A question is uttered with rising inflection, that is, with a higher pitch at the end. Declarative sentences usually have a falling inflection just before the final period, that is, a lower pitch. Exclamations often have a circumflex inflection, as "Really!" spoken in a sarcastic tone; that is, the pitch rises and falls.

Experimental attempts to indicate variations of pitch by our common musical notation are given by Verrier. A single example will suffice here.[18]

[18] Verrier, vol. iii, p. 229. A more ambitious attempt, from Pierson, MA(C)trique naturelle du langage (Paris, 1884), pp. 226, 227, is given by Verrier, vol. ii, p. 14 a musical transcription of the opening verses of Racine's Athalie.

Perhaps the most important aspect of pitch from the point of view of rhythm is its actual influence upon accent. We say naturally: "He was fifteen years old"; but place the numeral for emphasis at the end of the sentence and it receives a kind of pitch accent: "His age was fifteen." Compare also Chinese and Chinese in the example above.

Observe carefully the elements of duration, stress, accent, and pitch in the following sentences:

Now he's a great big man.

He was a remarkable young fellow, but he had an ungovernable temper.

Off went Joy; on came Despair.

* * * * *

Word and Phrase Rhythm. The next larger unit after the syllable is the word; after the word, the phrase. Something has already been said in the previous paragraphs on word and phrase rhythm: it remains to examine them more closely.

Words vary in length from one to eight or even ten syllables; and the accents (main and secondary) may fall on any of these syllables according to the origin and historical development of the word—thus words of two syllables: Aipple, alA cubedne; of three syllables: bA(C)autiful, accA(C)ssion, appercA(C)ive; of four syllables: Aipoplexy, matA(C)rial, evolAtion, interrelAite. But generally in polysyllables the tendency to rhythmic alternation of stress produces one or more secondary accents more or less distinctly felt; thus on the first syllable of apperceive and on the third of apoplexy there is an obvious secondary accent; on the third syllable of beautiful and the fourth of material there are potential accents, not regularly felt as such but capable, under certain circumstances, of rhythmic stress. For example, in the phrase 'beautiful clothes' there is no accent and no stress on -ful; but in 'beautiful attire' the syllable -ful receives a very slight accent (properly not recognized by the dictionaries) which can well serve as a weak rhythmic stress. Long words illustrate the same principle: antitranssubstantionalistic, pseudomonocotyledonous, perfectibiliarianism. This potential stress is of the utmost importance in verse—as when Milton out of three words, two of which have no recognized secondary accent, makes a 5-stress line:

Immutable, immortal, infinite. Paradise Lost, III, 373.

The result of this tendency to alternation, or in other words of the difficulty of pronouncing more than three consecutive syllables without introducing a secondary accent or stress, is that English phrases fall naturally into four rhythmic patterns or movements (and their combinations): 1. accent + no-accent (a. one syllable, b. two syllables); 2. no-accent (a. one syllable, b. two syllables) + accent. Examples: 1a beauty, 1b beautiful, 2a relate, 2b intercede. These four movements are variously named: the first two are called falling, the second two rising; 1a and 2a are called duple or dissyllabic, 1b and 2b triple or trisyllabic; 1a is called trochaic, 1b dactylic, 2a iambic, 2b anapestic (after the names of the metrical feet in classical prosody). Beauty, by this usage, is a trochee, beautiful a dactyl, relate an iamb, intercede an anapest. But these patterns alone are by no means sufficient to explain or register all the phrasal movements of English prose—as a single sentence will show.

He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune, for they are impediments to great enterprises either of virtue or of mischief. BACON, Essay VIII.

Here the first phrase is in falling rhythm, the second (probably) in rising rhythm, the third is—rising or falling? To some readers it will appear of one sort, to others of another. The fourth phrase is probably rising, the fifth doubtful, the sixth falling, the seventh probably rising. To say that the first phrase is made up of a dactyl and two trochees means very little. The primary fact to be recognized and understood is that these four patterns exist in English speech not as absolute entities but as tendencies. In prose they are discontinuous, irregularly alternating, often hardly perceptible; but they are there as potential forces whose latent effects are brought out by regular metre.

Another problem at once obvious is to determine the limits of a phrase. Some readers will feel "to fortune" in the above sentence as a separate phrase, others will join it to the three words that precede. No rules can be laid down. Two tentative but useful criteria are possible, however. A phrase may be regarded as purely musical, a group of sounds that either by their own nature or by their possibility of utterance in a single expulsion of breath seem to belong together. But this is an uncertain criterion, since we separate the sounds of words with great difficulty from their meaning, and the periods of breathing are subject to arbitrary control. And some phrases are uttered in much less than the time required in normal breathing. The other criterion, sometimes supporting sometimes contradicting the former, is the logical content of words. But this also is uncertain, since logical content ought to hold subject and verb together, whereas in the example above it clearly does not. And neither breath grouping nor logical grouping will enable us to determine whether "either of virtue or of mischief" is two phrases or one.

The limits of the sentence, with its clauses, are, largely through the modern conventions of printing, more distinctly felt and observed. But its rhythm is none the less complex. For it is not only the sum of the smaller rhythmic movements of word and phrase and clause, but forms a new entity of itself, created by the union of the lesser elements—just as a building is more than its component bricks, stones, and timbers.

* * * * *

Composite Speech Rhythm. Such, briefly described, are the rhythmic elements of spoken English prose. When only small sections are analyzed singly, it is possible to understand something, at least, of the intricate pattern of forces which are interwoven in the rhythms of ordinary language. When one undertakes to analyze and express the combined rhythms—musical, logical, emotional—of connected sentences and paragraphs, one finds no system of notation adequate; the melodies and harmonies disappear in the process of being explained. Those who wish to enjoy to the fullest the rhythmic beauties of English prose must patiently scrutinize the smallest details, then study the details in larger and still larger combinations—the balance and contrast of phrases, the alternation of dependent and independent clauses, the varieties of long and short sentences, of simple, compound, periodic sentences—and finally endeavor to rejoin the parts into a complete whole. To pursue the subject further would be to encroach upon the domain of formal rhetoric and would be out of place here. The best counsel is the old counsel: try to understand and feel the great passages of the great prose masters. A few examples have been given on pages 25 ff., above; they should be studied diligently.

* * * * *

Prose and Verse Rhythm. It is but a short step from the occasional regularity of rhythm in the passages on pages 27-29 to the deliberately continuous regularity of verse. A tendency to rhythmic flow, it has already been shown, is inherent in ordinary language. When the words are made to convey heightened emotion this tendency is increased, and "the deeper the feeling, the more characteristic and decided the rhythm" (John Stuart Mill). Then, as Coleridge says, "the wheels take fire from the mere rapidity of their motion," and finally we have

high and passionate thoughts To their own music chanted.

Intensified, regularized rhythm is reciprocally both a result of impassioned feeling and a cause of it: hence its double function in poetry. It springs, on the one hand, from "the high spiritual instinct of the human being impelling us to seek unity by harmonious adjustment and thus establishing the principle that all the parts of an organized whole must be assimilated to the more important and essential parts." On the other hand, it "resembles (if the aptness of the simile may excuse its meanness) yeast, worthless or disagreeable by itself, but giving vivacity and spirit to the liquor with which it is proportionally combined."[19]

[19] Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ch. xviii. Compare the more poetical expression of the same truth in Carlyle's Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History: "Observe too how all passionate language does of itself become musical with a finer music than the mere accent; the speech of a man even in zealous anger becomes a chant, a song. All deep things are Song. It seems somehow the very central essence of us, Song; as if all the rest were but wrappings and hulls! The primal element of us; of us, and of all things. The Greeks fabled of Sphere-Harmonies: it was the feeling they had of the inner structure of Nature; that the soul of all her voices and utterances was perfect music.... See deep enough, and you see musically; the heart of Nature being everywhere music, if you can only reach it." (The Hero as Poet.)

The question is as old as Aristotle, whether metre, that is, regularized rhythm, is an inalienable and necessary concomitant of poetry. The answer rests on a precise understanding of terms; for the right antithesis, so far as there is one, is not between prose and poetry, but between prose and verse. High and passionate thoughts, true poetical feeling and expression may and do exist in prose, but their most natural and characteristic expression is in verse. The old question has been lately reopened, however, by the anomalous form called 'free-verse.' Only the name is new; the thing itself is, at its best, but a carefully rhythmed prose printed in a new shape: an effort to combine in an effective union some of the characteristics of spatial rhythm with the established temporal rhythms of language. Free-verse will be discussed more fully on a later page; it is mentioned here because it is a natural transition between prose and verse, claiming as it does the freedom of the one and the powers of the other.

Another means of recognizing the close relations of verse and prose is to try to determine which of several passages of similarly heightened emotion, printed in the same form, was originally verse and which prose.

Yet, as I would not catch your love with a lie, but force you to love me as I am, faulty, imperfect, human, so I would not cheat your inward being with untrue hopes nor confuse pure truth with a legend. This only I have: I am true to my truth, I have not faltered; and my own end, the sudden departure from the virile earth I love so eagerly, once such a sombre matter, now appears nothing beside this weightier, more torturing bereavement.

But follow; let the torrent dance thee down to find him in the valley; let the wild lean-headed eagles yelp alone, and leave the monstrous ledges there to slope, and spill their thousand wreaths of dangling water-smoke, that like a broken purpose waste in air. So waste not thou; but come; for all the vales await thee; azure pillars of the hearth arise to thee; the children call, I thy shepherd pipe.

A late lark twitters from the quiet skies; and from the west, where the sun, his day's work ended, lingers as in content, there falls on the old, gray city an influence luminous and serene, a shining peace. The smoke ascends in a rosy-and-golden haze. The spires shine, and are changed. In the valley shadows rise. The lark sings on. The sun, closing his benediction, sinks, and the darkening air thrills with a sense of the triumphing night—night with her train of stars and her great gift of sleep.

There, suddenly, within that crimson radiance, rose the apparition of a woman's head, and then of a woman's figure. The child it was—grown up to woman's height. Clinging to the horns of the altar, voiceless she stood—sinking, rising, raving, despairing; and behind the volume of incense, that, night and day, streamed upwards from the altar, dimly was seen the fiery font, and the shadow of that dreadful being who should have baptized her with the baptism of death. But by her side was kneeling her better angel, that hid his face with wings; that wept and pleaded for her; that prayed when she could not; that fought with Heaven by tears for her deliverance; which also, as he raised his immortal countenance from his wings, I saw, by the glory of his eye, that from Heaven he had won at last.

Dost thou already single me? I thought gyves and the mill had tamed thee. Oh that fortune had brought me to the field where thou art famed to have wrought such wonders with an ass's jaw! I should have forced thee soon wish other arms, or left thy carcass where the ass lay thrown; so had the glory of prowess been recovered to Palestine.

And when, in times made better through your brave decision now,—might but Utopia be!—Rome rife with honest women and strong men, manners reformed, old habits back once more, customs that recognize the standard worth,—the wholesome household rule in force again, husbands once more God's representative, wives like the typical Spouse once more, and Priests no longer men of Belial, with no aim at leading silly women captive, but of rising to such duties as yours now,—then will I set my son at my right hand and tell his father's story to this point.[20]

[20] The first is from a poem in free-verse, Meditation, by Richard Aldington; the second is blank verse, from the Small Sweet Idyl in Tennyson's Princess; the third is from Henley's Margaritae Sorori (also in free-verse); the fourth is from DeQuincey's English Mail-Coach, Dream Fugue IV (prose); the fifth is from Milton's Samson Agonistes, ll. 1092 ff. (blank verse); the sixth is from Browning's The Ring and the Book, Bk. V (blank verse).

On the other hand, it is worth observing what effect metrical arrangement has upon the emotional quality and power of words and phrases. Hardly anyone would, perhaps, find the following passages strikingly melodious:

Prince Lucifer uprose on a starr'd night. The fiend, tired of his dark dominion, swung above the rolling ball, part screen'd in cloud, where sinners hugg'd their spectre of repose.

Here there is sweet music that falls softer on the grass than petals from blown roses, or night-dews on still waters in a gleaming pass between walls of shadowy granite; music that lies gentlier on the spirit than tired eyelids upon tired eyes.

But turn these words back to their original metrical order, and it is almost a miracle performed. One recalls Coleridge's definition of poetry as the best words in the best places.

On a starr'd night Prince Lucifer uprose. Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend Above the rolling ball in cloud part screen'd, Where sinners hugg'd their spectre of repose. MEREDITH, Lucifer in Starlight.

There is sweet music here that softer falls Than petals from blown roses on the grass, Or night-dews on still waters between falls Of shadowy granite in a gleaming pass, Music that gentlier on the spirit lies Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes. TENNYSON, Lotos Eaters.

It should now be clear that prose and verse are not so antithetical as is often supposed; that they are only different forms of the same substance, language; two branches from the same root. At certain points they overlap and are practically one; at other points the divergence is obvious but not great; and even in their extreme differences the common basis of the rhythms is the same. In both prose and verse are the same relations of time, stress, and pitch, except that in verse the arrangement and order of them are according to a perceptible pattern. Verse is but prose fitted over a framework of metre. Herein lies the whole art of versification, the whole psychology of poetic rhythm, the whole problem of metrical study and investigation.

We must always remember that "a line of verse is a portion of speech-material with all its phonetic features (corresponding to its ethos as well as its logos) adjusted, without violence, to a fixed and definite metrical scheme. The two entities, metrical scheme and portion of speech-material adjusted thereto, are distinct and the chief study of the metricist is the manner of adjustment of the latter to the former, the way in which a suitable portion of phonetic liquid is chosen and poured into metrical bottles."[21] Only after having grasped what can be grasped of the subtleties of prose rhythm, and having learned the common forms and patterns of metre, can we put the two together, recognize their new unity, perceive the new rhythmic beauties, harmonies, modulations that spring from their mutual adjustment.

[21] Thomas Rudmose-Brown, "English and French Metric," in Modern Language Review, vol. 8 (1913), p. 104.

A word may be added here, though the subject is one rather of A sthetics than of prosody, on the function of metre in emphasizing and reinforcing the beauties of thought, emotion, and expression that poetry offers. Two practical illustrations have just been given above. Every writer on poetics, from Aristotle down, has had something to contribute, but the substance of it all may be found in the eighteenth chapter of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, from which a few sentences have already been quoted.[22] It is not merely that verse by its external appearance notifies the reader, or by its perceptible regularity notifies the listener, that the writer is putting forth his highest efforts, that language is being driven to its highest possibilities; it is not that the use of verse signalizes greater aims and intentions than the use of prose; but rather that the higher efforts, the greater aims, turn by a natural, spontaneous, but partly mysterious instinct to metrical forms for adequate or fit expression. The poets themselves have proved this. No one, barring a few notable exceptions, who felt the creative powers of poetry within him has dared neglect or refuse the added difficulties and the potential beauties of metre. Not the sense of obstacles overcome, but of possibilities realized prompts to formal rhythms. Music, in Dryden's phrase, is inarticulate poetry; but poetry, while it remains articulate and endeavors to accomplish its own destinies, will always approach as close as its own conditions permit to the powers of music. Some poets are inclined more powerfully to music than others. Burns composed with definite melodies in mind; Shelley often began with a little tune which he gradually crystallized into words; Schiller tells us that inspiration often came to him first in the form of music. Tennyson, Swinburne, and others, have chanted rather than read their poetry aloud. And even Browning, who sometimes appears to prefer discord to music, is found to have studied not only the science of music, but also the musical effectiveness of words.

[22] A convenient collection of extracts from various writers is made by Professor R. M. Alden in Part IV of his English Verse, New York, 1903.

While it is unquestionably going too far to insist as Hegel does that "metre is the first and only condition absolutely demanded by poetry, yea even more necessary than a figurative picturesque diction"; or even to say that the finest poetry is always metrical; still it remains a simple fundamental truth that metre is the natural form of poetic language. The great exceptions to this—the poetic prose of a Sir Thomas Browne, a Pater, a Carlyle, or the free-verse of Whitman—do but prove its soundness; for we always feel them to be something exceptional, something not quite natural though not quite amiss, something wonderful, like tours de force. We would not wish them otherwise, perhaps; but we should doubt them if we did not actually have them before us.



Elements of verse rhythm. The simplest metrical unit is the syllable; the next higher unit is the foot, a group of syllables; the next higher unit the line, a group of feet; then the stanza or strophe.

In some prosodies—as the French and Italian, for example—the standard unit of verse is the syllable. The first essential of a line is that it have a certain number of syllables; the accents or stresses may, theoretically at least, fall anywhere in the line. In English verse also the syllable has sometimes been regarded as the unit, but for the most part only by a few poets and prosodists of the late sixteenth, the seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.

The foot corresponds in English verse to what has been described in Chapter I as the rhythmic unit of all rhythms, namely that which recurs in regular sequence. It comprises, therefore, a point of emphasis and all that occupies the time-distance between that point of emphasis and the following one. In other words, a foot is a section of speech-rhythm containing a stressed element and an unstressed element, usually one or two unaccented syllables. So much is clear and undisputed in theory. But there are few single topics on which writers on English prosody are so much at variance as on the further, more accurate definition of the foot. One of the main sources of difficulty, however, is easily removed. The metrical foot is not a natural division of language, like the word or the phrase, but an arbitrary division, like the bar in music, an abstraction having no existence independent of the larger rhythm of which it is a part. The analogy between the metrical foot and the musical bar is very close: they are both artificial sections of rhythm which either in whole or in part may be grouped into such phrases as the ideas or melodies may require.[23] They may be isolated and treated by themselves only for the purposes of analysis, for they are merely theoretical entities, like the chemical elements. There is no reason, therefore, that the foot should correspond with word divisions, no objection to the falling of different syllables of one word into different feet. Thus in Gray's line

The cur few tolls the knell of part ing day

both curfew and parting are divided.[24] Further, the division between clauses may fall in the middle of a foot, as in Wordsworth's lines

The world is too much with us; late and soon Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.

[23] The chief difference perhaps between the foot and the bar is that the latter always begins with a rhythmic stress, whereas the foot may begin with an unstressed element. [24] Some metrists, holding that every foot should begin with a stress, divide thus: The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. Such a division can be justified on several grounds, but it remains awkward and obscures the plain fact of rising rhythm. It does not affect the division of word and foot; for compare Shelley's line: Ne cessi ty! thou mother of the world.

But another difficulty remains, which is apparent in the second line just quoted from Wordsworth. The general rhythm of the whole sonnet of which these two lines are the beginning is plainly duple rising, or iambic. The first line and the latter part of the second are easily divisible into iambs; but how shall Getting and spend- be divided? Clearly and spend- is an iamb, but Getting is not. Can trochees and iambs occur together in the same line without either obscuring or actually destroying the rhythm? The simpler solution would be to keep the whole line in rising rhythm by regarding -ing and spend- as the second foot and [~] Gett- as the first. (The sign aEuro indicates a missing syllable or musical rest. See below, page 63.)

The most common feet are the iamb, the trochee, the anapest, and the dactyl (see above, page 38), to which may be added the spondee. The names are borrowed, not quite felicitously, from classical prosody. Various symbols are in use:


iamb [U][] X[] xa alone, despair, to walk. trochee [][U] []X ax study, backward, talk to. anapest [U][U][] XX[] xxa interdict, to permit, dactyl [][U][U] []XX axx tenderly, after the. spondee [][] [][] aa stone deaf, broad-browed.

Classical prosody distinguished several other feet, some of which are occasionally mentioned in treatises on English verse: amphibrach [U][U], tribrach [U][U][U], pyrrhic [U][U], paeon [U][U][U], choriamb [U][U].

The objection to the use of these classical terms is not so serious as is frequently supposed. Since Greek and Latin prosody was primarily quantitative, that is, based upon syllabic length, and every long syllable was theoretically equal to two short syllables, an iamb or [U]-had the musical value of [Eighth note, Quarter note], a trochee of [Quarter note, Eighth note], a dactyl of [Quarter note, Eighth note, Eighth note], etc. And since no such definite musical valuation can be given to English feet, a Greek iamb and an English iamb are obviously different. But after all there was inevitably an element of stress in the classical feet, and there is a very positive element of time in the English, so that the difference is not so great, and no confusion need result once the facts are recognized. Another set of terms, however, borrowed from the Greek and Latin is open to more grave objection, for no real equivalence exists between the classical and the modern phenomena. The iambic trimeter in Greek consists of three dipodies or six iambs; as used by English prosodists it consists of three iambs. The Greek trochaic tetrameter, similarly, contains eight trochees, the English 'trochaic tetrameter' but four. The common term iambic pentameter is not so objectionable, but is to be rejected because of its similarity to the others, which are actually confusing.

The next larger metrical unit after the foot is the line or verse. It is distinguished (1) mechanically by the custom of printing, (2) phonetically by the pause usual at the end, and (3) structurally by its use as a unit in forming the stanza. Lines are of one, two, three, or more feet, according to the metrical form used by the poet (see Chapter IV). In rimed verse the end of the line is so emphasized that the line itself stands out as a very perceptible rhythmic unit; in unrimed verse, however, the line is frequently not felt as a unit at all, but is so interwoven with the natural prose rhythm of the words as to be almost indistinguishable to the ear, though of course visible to the eye on the printed page. This fact is easily apparent in reading the second, fifth, and sixth illustrative selections on pages 43, 44.

The stanza or strophe is a combination of two or more lines of the same or varying lengths, according to a regular pattern chosen by the poet. 'Irregular' stanzas sometimes occur, in which the thought rhythm is said to control and determine the stanzaic rhythm; that is, the length of line and position of rimes are regulated by the logical and emotional content of the words. On the various kinds of stanzaic structure, see pages 88 ff., below.

* * * * *

Metrical Patterns. It must be fully understood that these metrical patterns of line and stanza are purely formal. They are the bottles into which the poet pours his liquid meaning, or better, the sketched-in squares over which the painter, copying from an old masterpiece, draws and paints his figures. They have no literal or concrete existence. They are no more the music of verse than

is the music of a waltz. They are absolutely fixed and predetermined (though the poet may invent new patterns if he chooses). But he uses them only as forms on which he arranges his words and phrases. For the rhythm of language is extremely soft and malleable: by skilful handling it can be moulded into an infinite variety of shapes. Perhaps the comparison of a stanza by John Donne with a stanza by W.B. Yeats, both based on the same metrical scheme, will help to make this clear. The formal scheme is


Death, be not proud, though some have callA"d thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so: For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death; nor yet canst thou kill me. JOHN DONNE, Death.

When you are old and gray and full of sleep And nodding by the fire, take down this book, And slowly read, and dream of the soft look Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep. W. B. YEATS, When You are Old.

Even more striking is the difference of rhythmical effect observable in reading, one after the other, a page of Pope's heroic couplets in the Essay on Man, of Keats's same couplets in Endymion, and Browning's same couplets in My Last Duchess.

While the formal pattern remains fixed and inflexible, over its surface may be embroidered variations of almost illimitable subtlety and change; but always the formal pattern must be visible, audible. The poet's skill lies largely in preserving a balance of the artistic principles of variety in uniformity and uniformity in variety. Once he lets go the design, he loses his metrical rhythm and writes mere prose. Once we cease to hear and feel the faint regular beating of the metronome we fail to get the enjoyment of sound that it is the proper function of metre to give. On the other hand, if the mechanical design stands out too plainly, if the beat of the metronome becomes for an instant more prominent than the music of the words, then also the artistic pleasure is gone, for too much uniformity is as deadly to art as too much variety.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea, The plowman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

These verses are regular (as is appropriate for the theme), and vary comparatively little from the formal metrical pattern. The coincidence of prose rhythm and metrical rhythm is almost complete. Yet by means of small subtleties of variation in pause, word order, long and short syllables, Gray always saves the poem from monotony. How far the variations may be carried, how much the ear may be depended upon for rhythmic substitution and syncopation, is determined by many things. Certain lines are unmistakably metrical to all ears and in all positions—such as these verses of Gray's Elegy. Certain lines are generally felt to contain daring variations and yet be successful and effective—such as

The blue Mediterranean, where he lay. SHELLEY, Ode to the West Wind.

Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro' the lawn. TENNYSON, Small Sweet Idyl, in The Princess.

Other lines stretch our metrical sense to the breaking point, and according to individual taste we judge them bold or too bold—such as Tennyson's

Take your own time, Annie, take your own time. Enoch Arden.

or Milton's

Burnt after them to the bottomless pit. Paradise Lost, VI, 866.

In all of these examples the metrical pattern is the same: five consecutive iambs. The modifications illustrate plainly the extraordinary flexibility of language.

* * * * *

Time and Stress. Probably the most disputed point in all prosodic theory is the relative importance of time (duration, syllabic length) and stress (accent) in English verse. Some writers have attempted to explain all the phenomena entirely by stress; others entirely by time. Neither side, of course, has been very successful.[25] The difficulty is partly one of theory and partly one of correct analysis of the facts. Thanks, now, to the attention paid in recent decades by the experimental psychologists to rhythm and metre, we are in a position to reach at least approximate clearness on this vexed point. Since the older theorists have mostly started either from the traditional conceptions of classical prosody or from examination of but a part of the phenomena, their work may be left out of account here. Certainly no great blame attaches to them; they are the Bacons and Harveys and Newtons of metrical science. A more nearly correct analysis of the facts is possible now because with the minutely accurate instruments of the scientists to aid us we need no longer trust to the uncertainties of perception and statement of separate individuals. Of course no one today holds the extreme belief that science explains everything; and of course the scientific experiments on the nature and effect of rhythm must have a starting point in the personal equations of those who have submitted themselves to the scientific tests. With all its patience and thoroughness of investigation, experimental psychology is only now establishing itself. But it does offer, on this one mooted point of versification, invaluable help.

[25] An historical survey of the problems and theories, somewhat colored by the author's own theory, may be found in English Metrists, Oxford, 1921, by T. S. Omond.

The theory presented in the previous pages states that sound rhythm consists of a succession of points of emphasis separated by equal time divisions. This is the ideal rhythm. When subjected to the conditions of metrical language it suffers two alterations. In the first place, our notions of time are extremely untrustworthy. Days vanish in a moment and they drag like years. Very few of us can estimate correctly the passage of five minutes: syllables are uttered in a few hundredths of a second. We are satisfied with the accuracy shown by an orchestra in keeping time; but if we took a metronome to the concert we should find the orchestra very deficient in its sense of time. The fact is that the orchestra knows better than the metronome, that perfectly accurate time intervals become unpleasantly monotonous, that we rebel at 'mechanical' music. Thus the time divisions of pleasurable rhythm are not mathematically equal, nor even necessarily approximately equal, but are such as are felt to be equal. The second alteration of ideal rhythm is that which results from the conformity of fluid language to its metrical mould. This metrical scheme, based theoretically on equal time units marked by equal stresses, becomes a compromise of uneven stresses and apparently equal time divisions.

Almost every line of verse is a proof of this: both the fact and the explanation are clear when approached from the right angle, and may be tested by carefully prepared statistics. In the following examples the figures beneath each syllable give the time of utterance in tenths and one-hundredths of a second; the figures in parentheses represent pauses.[26] The first, from Paradise Lost, II, 604-614, is in blank verse, with five iambic feet to a line; the second, from Shelley's The Cloud, is apparently irregular, but the basis is clearly anapestic. The ideal rhythm or metrical pattern of the first is

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