The influences of Milton and Spenser, along with British song traditions, transformed a syllabic and heroic predilection to an accentual and lyric one, but Romanticism was itself another version of neoclassicism - and poets of the later eighteenth century simply began to draw on other resources of classical culture than those that occupied their immediate predecessors. Just as early eighteenth-century artists and architects mistakenly thought ancient buildings were unpainted, so did early eighteenth-century poets see rules of symmetry and heroic narrative in the dactylic hexameters of epic verse and the distiches of elegiacs. The uneven lines and stanza forms of Pindar's odes, the pounding heterometric stanzas of Sappho, Horace's practice of making each of his books anthologies of widely varying verse forms, were just some of the ancient poetic practices that came to the fore with the Romantic period. William Collins followed Milton's use of Horatian form; and the remarkable suspended syntax of Collins's Horatian "Ode to Evening" can be viewed as a precedent for the complex ambiguous syntax of Keats's odes. With its pronounced pauses in the final lines of its 4443 quatrains, Collins's "Ode to Peace"is an exact model for the haunting, curtailed "And no birds sing" refrains of Keats's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci."
With the significant exception of the Immortality Ode and a few other poems, Wordsworth also tends to the regularity of Horatian forms, as we can see in his juvenile translation of Horace's "O fons bandusiae," his "Ode to Duty," his "Ode to Lycoris," and his "Ode" of 1816 ("When the soft hand of sleep"), which begins with an epigraph from Horace's Book iv, 8: Carmia possumus / Donare, et pretium dicere maneri. And Coleridge, with the exception of his "Ode to Sleep" and "Ode to Tranquillity," tends to the unevenness of the Pindaric, as we can see in his "Dejection: An Ode," "Ode to the Departing Year," and "France: an Ode."
Self-taught in reading Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, Blake reported in 1799 that "to renew the lost Art of the Greeks" was "the purpose for which alone I live." Yet while he produced a visual art strongly influenced by Greek and Roman models, he excoriated classical culture for its militarism, writing in "On Homers Poetry": "the Classics, it is the Classics & not Goths nor Monks, that Desolate Europe with Wars," and in "On Virgil": "Rome & Greece swept Art into their maw & destroyd it a Warlike State never can produce Art. . . Gothic is Living Form."
Coleridge and Shelley, who had considerable Greek, continued to read English meters within a grid of classical metrics. We know, for example, that Coleridge described the line "I heard a voice pealing loud triumph today" as "amphibrach tetrameter catalectic": -/- -/- -/- -/ (that is, as four amphibrachs, the final one of which is catalectic, or incomplete).33 The reception of the neoclassical poets themselves was not simply a matter of reversing their precepts. Bysshe and other strict syllabists had criticized Dryden, and Keats relied on him for Lamia. Wordsworth expressed his admiration for Pope's "Windsor Forest" as nature poetry; Byron praised the "softness, passion and beauty" of Eloisa to Abelard and the imagery of the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot.34 The Romantics were able to read their own aesthetics back into neoclassical works.
Another important model for poetic form, once the heroic line gave way to enjambment and irregularity, was the Hebrew Bible. Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno, composed during his confinement in a madhouse from 1756 to 1763, and his 1763 A Song to David, explicitly drew on Hebrew poetic traditions, particularly in their use of anaphora, syntactical parallelism, catalogues, and doubled sequences of phrases or clauses. Here is a stanza from A Song to David:
499 Glorious the sun in mid career;
500 Glorious th' assembled fires appear;
501 Glorious the comet's train:
502 Glorious the trumpet and alarm;
503 Glorious th' almighty stretch'd-out arm;
504 Glorious th' enraptur'd main:
In these lines Smart uses a pure accentual meter to create a song structure of 4a4a3b4c5c3b. The fifth line elegantly changes the dynamic between the falling dactyls of Glorious and rising iambs of those feet that follow to the literally stretched-out spondee of out. Smart's Jubilate Agno, not published until the twentieth century, was designed with alternating passages that would follow the antiphonal patterns of the scriptures.
Of course David had been a model for the figure of the poet during the metaphysical period as well, but when we look at the major genres of Hebrew poetry - the epithalamia of the Song of Songs, the hymns, the narrative poems of prophecy and the suffering of Job; the dirges on the destruction of Jerusalem in Lamentations and the aphorisms in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes -we find a map of much of Blake's work in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and his songs, visions and prophecies, creation stories, and accounts of Jerusalem. In these lines (pl. 43, ll. 47-51) from Blake's Jerusalem, Chapter 2, we see a predominantly six-beat line focusing upon the meaning of a medial caesura that organizes a paradoxical relation between nothing and becoming nothing, withdrawing and releasing - a caesura first unmarked, then becoming stronger by means of punctuation from semicolon to colon to period:
O I am nothing when I enter into judgment with thee! If thou withdraw thy breath I die & vanish into Hades If thou dost lay thine hand upon me behold I am silent: If thou withhold thine hand; I perish like a fallen leaf: O I am nothing: and to nothing must return again: If thou withdraw thy breath. Behold I am oblivion.
Here and elsewhere in his prophetic works, The Book of Tel and Tiriel, Blake uses the metrical line of the "fourteener," borrowing from its serious and elevated uses in the sixteenth-century translations of Arthur Golding's version of Ovid's Metamorphoses and George Chapman's version of Homer's Iliad. Golding and Chapman may have seen the fourteener as the closest equivalent to the dactylic hexameter of classical epic, and "poulter's measure," alternating twelve- and fourteen-syllable lines, gives some approximation of the rhythm of classical elegiac with its alternating lines of hexameter and pentameter. When two fourteeners are broken into hemistiches to form a quatrain of lines stressed 4343, rhyming abab, they resemble ballad meter and common meter, or common measure and other hymn forms. When a line of twelve syllables is followed by a fourteener, it can correspondingly be broken into a quatrain of 3343 - what we call short meter. There thereby seems to be an intriguing family resemblance between these meters, but it is important to note that the quatrain form makes a great difference in the sense of balance, pause, and emphasis that we find in these song meters.
Byron's Hebrew Melodies of 1815, written in the wake of Thomas Moore's tremendously successful Irish Melodies of 1808, are a mixture of lyric forms, many of them based on themes from the scriptures, including his poem of David, "The Harp the Monarch Minstrel Swept." This two-part lyric uses a ten-line stanza with four rhymes ababbcdcdd, and thus is a variation of French ballade form; each of its sets of nine tetrameter lines ends in a pentameter. Byron's use of discontinuous rhythm in "The Destruction of Sennacherib" is another innovation. The poem uses anapestic tetrameter rhyming couplets grouped into numbered quatrains. It is difficult to sustain the effect of the stanza, so Byron uses And anaphorically to begin nearly half the lines, sometimes with an unstressed syllable to continue the anapest and at other times using the conjunction as the first syllable of an iamb. These techniques add to the effect of biblical narrative, but also vary it. In the following stanza the quick leap to the iamb in the second line adds to the drama of And breathed, the central action of the stanza, rhyming internally with the consequence of this deadly breathing - the hearts that heaved.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed; And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved - and for ever grew still!
With Byron's creation of Hebrew songs in imitation of Irish melodies, and Blake's extended biblical line borrowing from Renaissance translations of classical literature, we are in the thick of the syncretic dimension of Romantic meter and form. An age of prosodic simplicity gave way to an age of great prosodic texture - though simplicity, as admired in Italian madrigals by Coleridge and in the British ballads by everyone, is only one among many styles.35 The metrical and formal nativism that for the most part kept Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, and Clare close to Milton, Spenser, and vernacular British forms yields to renewed influence from European literature with Coleridge's studies of German and Italian forms, with Shelley's terza rima of his "Ode to the West Wind" and "The Triumph of Life," and with Byron's ottava rima in Don Juan and "Beppo." In this sense the mandate that form should bear an intrinsic relation to content is reinforced and the liberty of the poet to choose a form increased. As Blake writes in the last paragraph of his preface to Jerusalem:
When this Verse was first dictated to me I consider'd a Monotonous Cadence like that used by Milton & Shakespeare & all writers of English Blank Verse, derived from the modern bondage of rhyming; to be a necessary and indispensable part of Verse. But I soon found that in the mouth of a true Orator such monotony was not only awkward, but as much a bondage as rhyme itself. I
therefore have produced a variety in every line, both of cadences & number of syllables. Every word and every letter is studied and put into its fit place: the terrific numbers are reserved for the terrific parts - the mild & gentle, for the mild & gentle parts, and the prosaic, for inferior parts: all are necessary to each other.
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