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THE MUSICAL READING OF VERSE
1. Common Feet. In the following stanza (" The Lady of the Lake," I) the syllables that we naturally accent in reading have been printed in italics:
The stag at eve had drunk his fill,
Where danced the moon on Monan's rill,
Now a single attempt will show the absurdity of emphasizing the unaccented syllables. That would give us
The stag at eve had drunk his fill,
Where danced the moon on Monan's rill.
Nobody would read in this way. Why, then, should anybody make a helter-skelter combination of the right and the wrong way? A good ear and a little common sense will prevent such a blunder.
Letting stand for an unaccented syllable and for an accented syllable, we may indicate the accent of these lines thus:
In this stanza the poet accents every second syllable. We say that such verse consists of four feet and that the regular foot is composed of a short and a long syllable,
In "Julius Cæsar we have
Good gentlemen, look fresh and merrily.
Let not our looks put on our purposes;
But bear it as our Roman actors do.
as | our
Each verse consists of five feet, and the regular foot has two syllables, a short and a long.
the accented syllable comes before the unaccented syllable, -~. In
In the fervor and passion of prayer,
two unaccented syllables come before the syllable that takes the
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring | pines and the
we recognize the ~~_ inverted, —~~.
2. Names of Feet. The following names have been given these feet: iambus; trochee;~~anapest; dactyl. But for our purposes the names are of little importance. What we need to do is to emphasize the accented syllables, and to pass lightly over syllables that are unaccented. This will not be difficult if we remember that the poet is expected to retain the
accent that belongs to a word in prose. In the case of old writers, such as Shakespeare and Milton, we sometimes find words with an accent long since changed.
3. Variations. Although most poems have one prevailing meter, the poet finds it desirable to change his meter from time to time as the thought changes. This substitution of feet, made of course in accordance with certain rules, frequently gives the verse an added charm.
In "The Lady of the Lake," II, 41, we find, for ~_:
We welcome an extra syllable at the end of a line, as in the third line below:
This was the noblest Roman of them all.
All the conspirators, save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Cæsar;
Thou art not so unkind
We frequently find a line like this:
Harp of the North! that mouldering long hast hung,
in which the fourth foot has three syllables. The two very short syllables have the time that would naturally be given to one unaccented or short syllable:
As you read aloud, notice the effect of the different kinds of meter, one may be restful, another stirring, another stately, - and the variations.
4. Rests. There are rests in verse just as there are in music. In the following line one must stop after “ primeval " :
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and
On to their morning's rural work they haste,
the caret indicates the natural place for pausing. If, as in music, the rest takes the place of a syllable, it may be marked thus:
5. Kinds of Verse. If a verse has two feet, it is called dimeter; if three, trimeter; if four, tetrameter; if five, pentameter; if six, hexameter.
Shakespeare's line is iambic pentameter (iambic is the adjective from iambus), and if you are interested, you will have no difficulty in finding many other poems written in this meter. Nor will you need look far for examples of trochaic tetrameter and dactylic hexameter. But you must expect great variety, even in a single poem, — and you must learn to adapt yourself to the changes.
6. Scansion. Whether you do it orally or on paper, this measuring of the lines is called scansion. You should do enough scanning to become thoroughly familiar with the method.
1. Read metrically all the poetry in this book.
2. Separate into feet two lines of every kind of meter you find. 3. Copy four verses of each of the following kinds: (1) iambic pentameter; (2) trochaic tetrameter; (3) dactylic hexameter. 4. Write four verses of each of the kinds mentioned in Exercise 3.
5. Write a few verses on some subject with which you are thoroughly familiar (a school song would be acceptable). Before choosing your subject, look over the table of contents of one of your favorite volumes of poems.
7. Rhythm. In all your reading of poetry you should pay attention to time, as you do in music and dancing. The voice should show that your ear detects the regular recurrence of accented syllables that gives the musical effect we call rhythm. This measured motion of the verse is as natural as the ebb and flow of the sea. One may go so far as to say that a poem is not really a poem until it is completed by the sympathetic rendering of the human voice.
6. Write out the clearly as you can. really poetic.
difference between prose and poetry as Use as illustrations a few lines that are