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. Hopkins's reputation as a 'modernist-before-his-

time' is due partly to the fact that his poems were not published until 1918, in the midst of the first decade of modernist experiment. In fact his poetry is firmly rooted in the tradition of the Romantic ode: he is the most extreme personification of the Romantic paradox. His ex cathedra statements on form and imagination are original only in the oddness of their vocabulary. 'Inscape' and 'instress' are renamed elements of the late-eighteenth-century Romantic school of primitivism, a desire to isolate a transparent and unitary correlation between experience, feeling and linguistic expression. Phenomena such as 'sprung rhythm' and 'outrides' are said to originate in Old English verse and questions of what they are and how they work have provided a minor growth industry for twentieth-century prosodists. To simplify matters, sprung rhythm is the maintenance of a regular pattern of major stresses in each line with a variable number of lesser unstress-stress patterns or outrides—a formula not too distant from Coleridge's accentualist experiment in 'Christabel'. It would be difficult and I believe pointless to attempt to summarise or judge the vast amount of work on Hopkins's syntax, sound patterns, etymology, metre, diction (see Milroy, 1977 for an accessible guide). Instead we will attempt to identify a common stylistic feature which draws together these cognitive and conventional elements of the double pattern.

In Hopkins's sonnet The Windhover' we encounter a somewhat eccentric form of syntactic compression or sentence embedding. In ordinary language an embedded syntactic structure is the equivalent of making two statements at the same time: for example the sentence 'James, who is Irish, eats mushrooms' involves two propositions, 'James is Irish', 'James eats mushrooms'. In Hopkins's poem the embedding is far more dense and grammatically deviant.

I caught this morning morning's minion king dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon.

The subject of the sentence, the falcon, is the beloved (the 'minion') of the morning and also 'dauphin' (heir) to the kingdom of daylight, not to mention being 'drawn' (silhouetted? or drawn out?) by the 'dapple dawn'. The concentrated, elliptical structure of the syntax is matched by a similarly localised pattern of stress groupings and alliterative-assonantal clusters. Consult any study of Hopkins's technique and you will find that critics concentrate upon dense, localised structures while paying much less attention to broader patterns of coherence. The reason for this is that

Hopkins balances intense and disorientating moments of formal and referential synthesis against very conventional anchor points. In The Windhover' these involve the persistent use of the personal pronoun—'I caught', 'my heart', 'my chevalier', 'my dear'—and the slightly irregular but undeniably insistent presence of that structural archetype, the sonnet. The effect, in this and many of his other much discussed poems, is of a specific presence struggling with the arbitrary conventions of poetic and noil poetic language. It is this tension within the double pattern, between the poetic and the non-poetic functions of language, that enables us to locate the true historic and aesthetic affiliations of Hopkins's verse. Milton and Blake had practised a moderate form of grammatical deviation, but Hopkins is the first poet in English to write consistently in a way that is by all normal standards ungrammatical.

We have already encountered a form of syntactic compression, and in poems such as The Wreck of the Deutschland' we will find syntactic expansion: verbless or subjectless sentences, incomplete clauses, interruptions and exclamations by non-designated speakers, colloquial insertions and repetitions. This is stanza 28 from 'The Deutschland',

But how shall I.make me room there:

Reach me a.Fancy come faster—

Strike you the sight of it? look at the loom there,

Thing that she.there then! the Master,

Ipse, the only one, Christ, King, Head:

The poem is an attempt to capture the physical, emotional and spiritual experience of imminent death, and it differs from his first person lyrics in that Hopkins interposes the perceptual and verbal presences of the shipwreck victims with his own. In lyrical pieces such as 'The Windhover' syntactic concentration is deployed as a register of immediacy and spontaneity and in 'The Deutschland' this same sense of the immediate context of the utterance distorting its linguistic register is supplemented by the chaotic multiplicity of voices. In both instances Hopkins attempts to bring the text as close as possible to the pre-ratiocinative function of the speech act. And again we encounter the Romantic paradox. In all of his poems we make sense of the various forms of syntactic deviation and incoherence by imposing the order of deep structure upon the disorder of surface structure, but as we do so we are aware of a pattern that is persistent, if not entirely regular, and intrinsic to the structure of the text. In 'The Windhover' we encounter the sonnet; in 'The Deutschland' the potentially chaotic synthesis of voices is enclosed and to a degree stabilised by sound patterns: the continuities of rhyme scheme and assonantal-alliterative pattern are counterpointed against syntactic discontinuities.

I stated earlier that the Victorians are the grammarians of poetic form, the inheritors of a complex meta-langue of patterns and devices. Hopkins has been praised for his attempts to bring poetry closer to the immediacies of ordinary language, but such praise should be qualified by our awareness that the more he unshackled his words from the impersonal determinants of non-poetic syntax, the more he foregrounded the equally impersonal structures of the purely poetic langue. One early reviewer of his posthumous collection (1918) commented on how the 'strangeness' of his grammatical constructions is at odds with the 'traps for the attention' offered by the persistent sound patterns (Milroy, 2).

Much attention has been paid to Hopkins's experiments with conventional notions of semantics and etymology (in 'The Windhover' we find 'wimpling', 'Buckle', 'sheer plod', 'sillion'). Words are drawn from contexts not normally associated with the situation of the utterance: contemporary dialect and referential arcana, roots pulled from Latin, Welsh, German and Old English. As we attempt to isolate and recontextualise these semantic oddities we will find that they also function within the text as links in a phonemic chain (billion, sillion, shine, vermillion; riding, striding, wimpling, wing, swing). Once more we find that abnormalities in the cognitive register of the double pattern (the words signify outside their normal or expected context) are stabilised by its conventional register (they are fitted into a sound pattern that is vital to the structure of the text).

The relationship between Hopkins's verse and modernist experiment is and will remain uncertain. He sustains the Romantic ideal of transparency and immediacy which would be readdressed by the early modernists, but his almost obsessive reliance upon the material elements of metre and sound pattern were the very elements that the modernists rejected. His closest link is with the eclecticism of the postmodern (see Chapter 6, pp. 173-89). Dylan Thomas and T.S.Eliot juxtaposed discontinuities of narrative, syntax and deictic reference with textual patterns of metre and rhyme. Hopkins, Thomas and Eliot are traditionalists in the sense that each concedes that poetic individuality and immediacy can only become valid if the voice of the poet is an element of the intrinsically poetic structure of the text.

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