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Sprung rhythm - the sonnets

Here are links to the previous posts on sprung rhythm:
An intro to sprung rhythm
Yesterday's post about poetic feet in sprung rhythm

In addition to his requirement of four stressed syllables per line (using poetic feet varying from 1 to 4 syllables in length) plus a caesura mid-line, Hopkins used a lot of alliteration, as was discussed in the prior posts. You can seek out alliteration in the poems in this post as well, and see how it spreads across and between lines. These poems being sonnets, there is also end-rhyme involved.

Hopkins also used additional form requirements, including the sonnet form. Here is "The Windhover", which is a Petrarchan sonnet in structure, using sprung rhythm instead of iambic pentameter for its constriction:

The Windhover
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
  dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

  No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion*
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

*sillion: thick body of soil that has been turned over by the plough
And if you're wondering, a "windhover" is a kestrel. This particular one is riding a thermal, and Hopkins is, in his imagination, riding the kestrel.

Discussion of form: This poem takes the form of an Italianate or Petrarchan sonnet: it's 14-lines long, and it uses the rhyme form ABBAABBA CDC DCD. It uses Hopkins's sprung verse, and it's a thing of true beauty.

Speaking of things of beauty, Hopkins developed an entirely new sonnet form he called the "curtal sonnet". It is similar to a sonnet, but curtailed (hence the name), weighing in at only 10-1/2 lines (that "1/2" is an overly generous designation). Perhaps his best-loved curtal sonnet is "Pied Beauty":

Pied* Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced— fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
        Praise him.

The word "pied" in the title means spotted (or, if you prefer, speckled). This entire poem is in praise of things with spots, from trout to cows to the way the skies have spots of cloud or the fields, which are compared to a quilt: "Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow and plough".

Discussion of form: Hopkins considered the curtal sonnet to be a Petrarchan sonnet condensed down to 3/4 its usual size. You can read Hopkins's justification for and mathematical explanation of the form at Wikipedia (yes, I just sent you to Wikipedia - it's as good an explanation as you'll find anywhere of what Hopkins was up to with this form - and it involves math).

The rhyme scheme employed in a curtal sonnet is ABCABC DBCDC.

As with "The Windhover," this poem is not written in iambic pentameter, but uses sprung rhythm. In this particular poem, I count four accented syllables in most lines, although I'm hard-pressed to read "With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim" and not end up with six accented syllables. See those accents in the last line of the first stanza? Those were Manley's, and he meant for both "all" and "trades" to be read as accented syllables; that line contains an "outlier" as well - a fifth accented word. (As I said yesterday, when one makes up their own game and its rules, one can add all the exceptions one wants and get away with it, which is precisely what Hopkins does.)

The first six lines give examples of the pied things for which Manley is offering thanks; the second stanza (of four and one half lines) expands to thank the Lord for all of the things that might fit within this category. What I like about the second stanza is its ambiguity: is Manley telling all those things that are freckled, fickle, etc. to praise God, or is he praising God for having made them? The stanza reads well both ways, and I rather think that was on purpose.

I also think it was a deliberate echo of the Anglican hymn, "All Things Bright and Beautiful", written by Cecil Frances Alexander in 1848, which lists off the creations of God, and which in turn may have been based on something Coleridge wrote in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: "He prayeth best, who loveth best; All things great and small; For the dear God who loveth us; He made and loveth all." You can read a bit about Cecil Alexander and why she wrote the song in this post at semicolonblog. But I digress.

I appreciate how Hopkins condensed the sonnet form down to a shorter approximation of itself, and how he managed to keep a rhyme scheme intact while varying his line lengths due to his use of sprung rhythm. It's interesting to see him, placed as he was at the end of the 19th century, finding ways to stay within form while breaking it at the same time. Clever, clever man.

More on sprung rhythm tomorrow.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mary Lee Hahn
Apr. 25th, 2016 11:06 am (UTC)
Thanks for the GMH fix for today.

Sigh. Love him.
Apr. 25th, 2016 04:34 pm (UTC)
He really did have a way with words!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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