kellyrfineman (kellyrfineman) wrote,

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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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Tags: forms, hopkins, national poetry month, poetry, poetry friday, sprung rhythm
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