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 functions and uses, but for the purposes of this study it can be divided into three types: the intertextual and the historical, which I shall now briefly summarise, and the situational which will be dealt with in the following section.

The intertextual context is not entirely ahistorical. Since the sixteenth century poets have either imitated, transformed or selfconsciously rejected the formal precedents set by their forebears. For example, Milton's Paradise Lost maintains many of the conventions set in the use of blank verse by dramatists but also effectively alters the accepted convention that blank verse should be used only in dramatic rather than non-dramatic poems. To appreciate this combination of continuity and innovation we cannot simply rely upon precise documentations of the syntactic and metrical distinctions between Milton and Shakespeare. We must also consider such issues as why the subject and purpose of his Christian epic demanded such a shift between generic and formal categories, how this shift would have affected the expectations of contemporary readers, and, in a broader sense, how Milton's own experience of the social and cultural condition of the late seventeenth century would have prompted him to disrupt the established balance between form and interpretive expectation. Hence intertextuality can never remain immune for the historical context of a particular poem. To give another example, it is possible to fully document the structural differences between the regular eighteenth-century closed couplet of Pope and its more irregular uses by early-seventeenth-century poets, but such details are virtually useless without our consideration of how the status and function of poetic writing in society and in relation to non-poetic discourses underwent a radical change between the 1620s and the 1720s.

The first serious challenge to the role and function of linguistic metrics occurred in Wimsatt and Beardsley's essay 'The Concept of Metre: an Exercise in Abstraction' (1959). Wimsatt and Beardsley argued that in attempting to construct a 'grammar' of the double pattern the linguistic metrists further isolated the function of poetic form from its interaction with such effects as metaphor, and implied that their programme would encourage the widespread image of poetic studies as a hermetic and specialised field. But since the late 1950's their warning has remained largely unheard. On the one hand linguists have extended and intensified the work of Trager and Smith, Halle and Keyser, Chatman and Kiparsky, and on the other, 'conventional' literary critics have remained generally immune from these developments and have drawn upon the methods of traditional and contemporary prosody more or less at random. It is the purpose of this study to offer a productive analysis of the minutiae of poetic form—the principal topic of linguistic metrics—in relation to its broader aesthetic, linguistic and historical contexts, and we might begin by giving some attention to a formula developed by Jakobson in 'Linguistics and Poetics'.

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