Blank Verse In The Eighteenth Century

Within two decades of the publication of Milton's poem blank verse had become fully established as a vehicle for the non-dramatic poem. Although Johnson and a number of other critics remarked upon Milton's success in creating a particular idiom, a syntactic signature, with which his successors would have to engage, it must also be accepted that in the century following his epic its most challenging and perplexing formal innovations were effectively neutralised. Blank verse was brought into line...

To Define The Indefinable

Choose a poem and then define the metrical-prosodic form in which it is written. Most people will be able to identify The Rape of the Lock as a sequence of heroic couplets, Paradise Lost as blank verse and Shakespeare's sonnets as indeed sonnets. At the irregular end of the sliding scale, the Romantic ode, Hopkins's sprung rhythm or Coleridge's accentualist experiment in 'Christabel' will make concessions to identifiable patterns of syntax, alliteration, rhythm or...

Arnold

The problem faced by the Victorians is captured in Matthew Arnold's classic essay The Study of Poetry' (1880). The essay addresses the relationship between the structural and the functional identity of poetry and it contains what would appear to be a fundamental contradiction. Arnold implies that the post-Shakespearean langue of forms and stylistic devices is effectively complete the question is what its nineteenth-century inheritors should do with it 'poetry is at bottom a criticism of life...

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Such pleasure took the serpent to behold. The syllables 'Such' and 'to' occupy unstressed and stressed positions in the pentameter yet it is possible to judge their stress pitch values as equal indeed, given the context of the line, it is possible to claim that the particular, in fact unique, form of pleasure felt by Satan in his contemplation of Eve promotes the syllable 'Such' to a level of emphasis above that of a number of subsequent syllables occupying stress positions. Such a reading does...

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A Linguistic History of English Poetry Bringing together the emphases and techniques of modern linguistics and literary criticism, the author applies these to a range of poems from Shakespeare to the present day. The author argues that poetry is uniquely and intrinsically different from other linguistic discourses and non-linguistic sign systems. Looking at a variety of approaches, including those of the New Critics, Formalists, structuralists and poststructuralists, he reveals how poetic...

Paradise Lost

Milton's Paradise Lost had an effect upon the compositional and interpretive conventions of the eighteenth century that is comparable with the effect of free verse upon our own. In the sixteenth century there had been a number of attempts, notably by Surrey, to establish blank verse as an acceptable medium for the non-dramatic poem, but by 1667 it was agreed, by general consensus, that its role was limited to drama. There are a number of reasons for this demarcation between formal and generic...

Introduction The Double Pattern

The question of how poetry might be described and defined as a linguistic structure has troubled readers since well, since we have been able to keep records of what critics have said about literature. Regarding English poetry, this quest can be divided roughly into three stages the classical sources (Aristotle, Plato, Longinus, etc.) the sixteenth-nineteenth centuries, in which critics both drew upon classical precedent and developed theories to account for the types, methods and objectives of...

The Romantic Paradox A Summary

The Romantics foregrounded a perennial and so far unresolved linguistic problem they sought to close the gap between what occurs outside language and the means by which we address, mediate and communicate these phenomena. But to do so they drew almost entirely upon the linguistic genre which both intensifies and encloses language's function as a differential, self-determining sign system poetry. For the reader, particularly the critic superreader, they caused a fissure between the two frames of...

Tseliot

Eliot is the archetypal middleman between modernist innovation and its traditional antecedents a role which has earned him the contempt of Williams. His earliest, most discussed piece of experimental conservatism is The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock' (1917). The poem draws upon the established precedent of Browning's dramatic monologues, but it goes further than Browning in its use of irregular form as an axis, an anchor point for a number of bizarre deployments of deictic referents these...

Histories

The study of versification can claim to be the oldest and most enduring branch of English literary criticism. The language and methodology of George Gascoigne's 'Certayne Notes of Instruction concerning the Making of Verse or Rhyme in English ' (1575) might superficially seem to have little in common with Paul Kiparsky's 'Stress, Syntax and Meter' published, exactly four centuries later, in 1975. But both share the same objective of determining how the stress patterns of ordinary language can...

Series editors introduction to the Interface series

There have been many books published this century which have been devoted to the interface of language and literary studies. This is the first series of books devoted to this area commissioned by a major international publisher it is the first time a group of writers have addressed themselves to issues at the interface of language and literature and it is the first time an international professional association has worked closely with a publisher to establish such a venture. It is the purpose...

Exercises The Couplet

We have seen how in Pope's verse the couplet operates at two levels it organises and often controls syntax at a localised level as a kind of mini-stanza and it determines the broader relationships between theme, narrative and perspective throughout the text. Consider how this relationship works in the three pieces quoted below. Use the following interpretive agenda (i) Consider the relationship between the speaker and the subject. Clearly Dryden's piece engages with a pattern of mock-heroic...

Lyrical Ballads Poems As Pictures

Wordsworth, in the preface to Lyrical Ballads, made it clear that his intention was to realise, in poetry, the 'real language of men', 'the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling'. In short, he wanted poetry to operate as the immediate, subjective and emotional counterpart to the conventions of speech. While the Augustans sought to bring poetry closer to the designated and orderly functions of prose, Wordsworth valorised the spontaneous contingencies of the vocal utterance. How did he...

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Batter my heart, three-personed God for, you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blow, burn, and made me new. I, like an usurped town, to another due, Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end, Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captived, and proves weak or untrue, Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, But am bethrothed unto your enemy, Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,...

What Is Free Verse

This will be the most important and exploratory chapter of the book. The above question has taxed the interpretive resources of critics and poets since the first decade of this century and has resulted in a rich variety of solutions. None of these can claim to be a comprehensive, abstract definition of what free verse is or of how it works and many remain as angry attempts to dismiss the validity of their competitors. Free verse is the most significant contribution by poetry to the formal...

Victorian poetry

This will be the shortest section of the book more an interchapter than a chapter. The Victorian poets, by which I mean those whose reputations were made and sustained between the 1830s and the 1890s, are often celebrated as the most skilled and meticulous stylists of post-Renaissance English verse, and it is for this reason that their work will be treated more economically than that of their predecessors and successors. The stylistic and formal paradigms that the Victorians inherited from...

Williams And Visualism

In the years following the Imagist anthologies, and particularly in the 1920s and 30s, modernism and the free verse revolution became fraught with functional and formal divisions. The principal distinction was between those who perpetuated the drive towards innovation and experiment and those who sought to reconcile these instincts with the precedents of tradition and regularity. In the former category the more familiar names are William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound and, in the latter,...

Rhyme The Superreader And The Superpoem

Dryden's notion of rhyme as the only audible record of the existence of the English line is subtly elaborated in his admission that this new technique includes effects entirely absent from its classical predecessors 'in the help it brings to memory, which rhyme so knits up, by the affinity of sounds, that, by remembering the last word of one line we often call to mind both verses' (1663, 7). His economic diagnosis is significant for three reasons. First, he argues that this crucial element of...

The Clashing Of Codes A Definition Of Modernism

To trace all the points of intersection between modernist poetics and contemporary literary and interpretive theory would require another book. Instead, I shall propose a basic formula which might help readers to organise their own investigations, and which can be tested against poems already discussed, those listed in the Exercise section, and texts of your own choice. Modernist poetry involves what I shall term the clashing of codes. The isolation of distinct categories of the structural and...

Experiment

The Victorian poets certainly experimented with the accepted coordinates of the double pattern, but there is a clear distinction between their excursions and the twentieth-century free verse modernist tradition, and it is this the nineteenth-century innovators never allowed their use of the material density of poetry, the double pattern, to dislocate text from speaker and referent. The modernists, as we shall see, did. The obvious test case for this claim is the verse of Gerard Manley Hopkins....

Aaa

W s w s w s w or summer, winter, autumn w s w s w s w The work of the linguistic metrists, and indeed of their more traditional forebears, can be of use in the documentation of localised formal structures and in the comparing of different techniques between individual poems and poets, but only if such work is supplemented with facts and suppositions gained from our broader knowledge of the social, political and aesthetic contexts of literary writing. Context is a problematic term, with various...

Naturalisation

Naturalisation is a precise definition of the process of critical exegesis. We naturalise literary texts by first identifying their formal features and classifying their genre (poem, novel or short story, or more specifically regular or free verse) and then by considering how this particular form of linguistic organisation can absorb and restructure meaning. The conventional features of poetry are naturalised when we translate our initial impression of the multi-dimensional effects of a poem...

The Metaphysicals

The first issue to consider is how we begin to distinguish between the terms and conditions of poetic form within the dramatic text and within the isolated structure of the poem. Here we will encounter a phenomenon that is vitally important in our discriminations between text, context and meaning 'deixis' and 'deictics'. Deixis, the Greek word for 'pointing' refers to the orientational features of a particular statement. The principal deictic features of a sentence will refer to the conditions...

Browning

Browning's most celebrated contribution to the poetic langue is the dramatic monologue, and his development of this form constitutes a literary sub-genre in its own right. It implicitly acknowledges the uneasy relation between the two competing discourses of the novel and the poem. Each first person account differs from the metaphysical or Romantic lyric in its meticulous foregrounding of deictic references, and it would be useful to compare the effects created by these versified short stories...

The Ode And Deconstruction

There is often a predictable correspondence between the genres or types of the Romantic poem and its deployment of poetic form. The narrative poem will generally involve the use of the ballad, the stanza or blank verse. The accumulative, consecutive nature of these forms can accommodate and stabilise the relationship between the speaking presence and the pre-linguistic spatiotemporal nature of the reported events. The individual line or the stanzaic unit will not necessarily parallel the...

The Couplet

The heroic couplet (heroic designating it as an appropriate vehicle for the epic) consists of two iambic, decasyllabic lines rhyming aa, bb, cc, etc. It was widely used before the Restoration, but in its post-1660 manifestation it became subject to specific prescriptions and formal regulations. For example, Pope effectively rewrote a number of Donne's satyres with the primary objective of reconciling a perceived imbalance between the two dimensions of the double pattern. Donne I more amaz'd...

Baring The Device

In various ways modernist poetry makes concessions to the registers and patterns of regular verse Williams often foregrounds the interface between the line and syntax while disrupting conventional expectations of how the line is formed. Eliot and Thomas draw upon familiar patterns of sound and metre as a counterpoint to syntactic and referential discontinuities. The most intriguing instance of modernist variation juxtaposed with pre-modernist structure occurs in the sonnet. Read the following...

Measure For Measure

Measure for Measure is generally regarded as one of Shakespeare's 'problem' plays. The principal problem for the reader or member of the audience is that it offers a series of questions that remain largely unanswered. It does not inscribe a reliable formula against which we can properly judge the violation of moral norms or the subversion of political, religious or social absolutes. How should we judge Isabella's decision to preserve her own code of virginity and consequently to endanger her...

Blake And The Arbitrary Nature Of Language

William Blake both embodies yet moves beyond the Romantic archetype of innovation. More than any of his contemporaries he attempted to reconstitute, or more accurately remythologise, an entire Western tradition of poetic, theological and philosophical writing. In terms of the functional status of poetry he sought to break down the stylistic and interpretive distinctions between these three discourses. For Blake the poem was the natural medium within which man would once again unify the...

Bibliography

If a reprint is referred to, this will be the edition cited in the main Abrams, M.H. (1953) The Mirror and the Lamp. Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition, Oxford Oxford University Press. Armstrong, Isabel. (1978) 'Tintern Abbey From Augustan to Romantic', in Augustan Worlds Essays in Honour of A.R.Humphries, ed. J. C.Hilson, M.M.B.Jones and J.R.Watson, Leicester Leicester University Press. Arnold, Matthew. (1888) 'The Study of Poetry', in Matthew Arnold. Selected Prose, ed. P.J.Keating,...

Romanticism

The Romantic poets present us with a series of problems that demand the cooperation of literary scholarship and linguistic analysis. W.H.Auden, writing as a somewhat sceptical heir to the legacies of Romanticism and modernism, summarised our difficulties. 'Poetry' he wrote, in memory of Yeats, 'makes nothing happen'. What he meant is that, unlike most other forms of linguistic representation or interpersonal exchange, the poem is confined within the vacuum of its own self-determined formal...

The Sliding Scale

Jakobson cites free verse as an exception to his model of the double pattern, but he takes the case no further 'Except in the varieties of the so-called vers libre any meter uses the syllable as a unit of measure at least in certain sections of the verse'. The question of what free verse actually is will be considered in more detail in Chapter 6, but for the moment it would be useful to examine the way in which free verse has been used by critics as a means of validating their thesis that the methods by which we naturalise poems are not, as Jakobson argues, entirely responsive to intrinsic textual and linguistic structure but are, at least to some degree, a consequence of our ability to construct or impose meanings from within a shared interpretive framework. Reader-centred criticism is a complex and varied phenomenon, but it would not be an overgeneralisation to claim that it involves a shifting of the system-instance, langue-parole relationship away from the author and the...

Roman Jakobson

Roman Jakobson 1896-1982 linguist, structuralist, semiotician and, according to David Lodge, 'one of the most powerful minds in twentieth-century intellectual history'. If critical guides and anthologies of critical essays are a reliable index, Jakobson's most significant contribution to the relation between linguistics and literary studies occurred in his 'Closing Statement' delivered at a conference on stylistics at Indiana University in 1958. The proper title of this much reprinted and discussed essay is 'Linguistics and Poetics' 1960 , and it is important for two reasons. It brings together the techniques and objectives of the Eastern bloc linguists, structuralists and Formalists, the groups with which Jakobson is most readily associated, with the less easily definable methods of Anglo-American New Criticism. It can also claim to be the most precise and comprehensive attempt, within this broad international and cross-disciplinary context, to arrive at a scientific definition of...

Beginnings

The three writers whose postulations on the structure and purpose of free verse encouraged the most vociferous debates were Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell and Harriet Monroe. Monroe founded the Chicago-based journal Poetry A Magazine of Verse which from 1912 provided an outlet for innovative US poets and London-based Imagist groupings whose most prominent early members were Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, F.S.Flint and T.E.Hulme soon to be joined by T.S.Eliot and William Carlos Williams. Lowell moved...