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Sprung rhythm

What I got up to earlier this week:
Anglo-Saxon or Old English verse - an intro
Anglo-Saxon or Old English verse and stress
Anglo-Saxon alliteration
More on Anglo-Saxon verse

For me, discussion of Anglo-Saxon verse and kenning leads logically to a discussion of sprung rhythm, the invention of Gerard Manley Hopkins, noted poet and Jesuit priest. Why? Well, because Hopkins himself was inspired by Anglo-Saxon verse. Also by Welsh verse, as it turns out, which I understand from Sarah Stevenson involves lots of rules governing metrical stress and alliteration.

In a letter to Robert Bridges, Hopkins once said "Stress is the life of it." Or, if you prefer his letter to his brother, "Sprung rhythm makes verse stressy." Note that he said stressy, not stressful. He was trying to break out of the tradition of using iambic pentameter or tetrameter, which he found numbing, and to instead create a "brighter, livelier, more lustrous" rhythm in his poetry as a means of representing the overwhelming complexity of nature.

He was so keen on making sure people understood where he intended the stresses to fall that if one was supposed (by him) to be on a word that might not usually get it, he stuck an accent over top of it to be sure it got its proper emphasis when read, preferably aloud. Hopkins reallyreally wanted his work to be read aloud or, if not, "as if the paper were declaiming it at you". He wanted it to be experienced with the ears, not the eyes.

In general, his lines have:

1. four strongly-stressed syllables, although some lines have more than four, and occasionally one reader may differ from another as to which syllable gets the predominant stress

2. a caesura in the middle of the line, creating hemistichs, just as in Anglo-Saxon verse. E.g., "Glory be to God for dappled things" (from "Pied Beauty", which you can read in this much-earlier post of mine), where there is an implied pause after "God". (I read the stresses as follows: GLORy be to GOD for DAPPled THINGS, by the by.)

In some poems, Hopkins used longer lines divided by a virgule (that longer up-and-down line found above the backslash on a US keyboard), in which case each half of the line contains four stressed syllables (at least as I read/count it). E.g., the following four lines about clouds from "That Nature Is a Herclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection":

  Cloud puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth then chevy on air-
  Built thoroughfare: heaven roisterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter in marches,
  Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches,
  Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes lace, lance, and pair.

3. lots of alliteration, though without the BANG BANG BANG CRASH-ness of traditional Anglo-Saxon verse.

I will be continuing with this tomorrow, and probably Sunday as well, so I hope you will stop back. If you are looking for other poems to read, please check out the Poetry Friday roundup over at Jama's blog, Alphabet Soup, which you can reach by clicking the box below:

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 22nd, 2016 01:45 am (UTC)
Thanks for the lesson on sprung rhyme! I doubt if I'll be attempting it any time soon, although I do love me some alliteration!
Apr. 22nd, 2016 02:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks for stopping by - and I think sprung rhythm is easier to read than it is to explain (or write). But it's easier to sneak up on it if you start with Anglo-Saxon verse.
Linda Baie
Apr. 22nd, 2016 01:47 pm (UTC)
Interesting, and a little daunting with his words, but I do hear the stresses when I read aloud. He sounds adamant that he wants a change! Thanks, Kelly.
Apr. 22nd, 2016 02:29 pm (UTC)
He was decidedly STRONGLY opinionated when it came to verse. And some of his suggested changes (which really got rid of "filler" words) definitely entered the modern view of poetry.
Apr. 22nd, 2016 02:08 pm (UTC)
Hopkins is one of my very favorite poets so I appreciated this discussion of sprung rhythm. I love any poet who explores the different possibilities of language, creating an original type of music in their work.
Apr. 22nd, 2016 02:31 pm (UTC)
I agree with you, though will add that Hopkins was really coming out of an older poetic tradition - Anglo-Saxon verse and Old Welsh verse - rather than innovating out of the clear blue sky. His work really is breath-taking, no matter its roots!
TS Davis
Apr. 22nd, 2016 04:16 pm (UTC)
Pied Beauty, indeed.
Och, I love Hopkins. I can never recite him because the memorizing of the words must also be paired with the memorizing of the way he intended his poems to be spoken - but I love that he put so much into things.
Apr. 22nd, 2016 07:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Pied Beauty, indeed.
I can remember lines, such as "Glory be to God for dappled things", but his sprung rhythm poems are hard. I do think that "God's Grandeur" or "Spring and Fall" might be memorizable, though, because they also use some rhyme and such. (He wrote poems in "running meter" or common meter before he switched, so those are probably also doable, though not quite as glorious.
Mary Lee Hahn
Apr. 23rd, 2016 10:26 am (UTC)
Hopkins was/is amazing. Thanks for helping us dig into his poems, and thanks for a new word: VIRGULE!
Apr. 23rd, 2016 04:31 pm (UTC)
Virgule was a new word for me, too, so I'm glad to find another word-geek who appreciates it! And his work really is amazing.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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