Seven Metre

Prosody (the study of versification) is an area which, like grammar and rhetoric, has suffered from scholars' disillusionment with traditional theory, and their failure to replace it with an agreed alternative. Harvey Gross is a spokesman of current perplexity on this subject when he says at the beginning of his book Sound and Form in Modern Poetry: 'The prosodist attempting the hazards of modern poetry finds his way blocked by the beasts of confusion. Like Dante he wavers at the very outset of his journey. He finds four beasts: no general agreement on what prosody means and what subject matter properly belongs to it; no apparent dominant metrical convention such as obtained in the centuries previous to this one; no accepted theory about how prosody functions in a poem; and no critical agreement about the scansion of the English meters.'1 Certainly matters are not so clear-cut as they were when the rules of Latin scansion were religiously applied to English verse, on the mistaken assumption that the accentual rhythm of English could be handled in the same terms as the quantitative rhythm of Latin. This is an age which has learnt to question official dogmas rather than to accept them - in the case of prosody, with good reason. And yet out of the doubt of recent years there has emerged a certain amount of agreement on the nature of verse structure.

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