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Sprung rhythm - the rest of it

Today marks the final post in my discussion of sprung rhythm, and there are a few tidbits that remain.

Sprung rhythm makes use of kennings

In addition to borrowing Anglo-Saxon ideas such as four stressed syllables per line, a caesura in the middle forming hemistichs, and the use of alliteration, Gerard Manley Hopkins also opted to use kennings in his work. Take, for example, "skies of couple-colour" from "Pied Beauty" or "Cloud puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows" in "That Nature Is a Herclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection".

The notions of inscape and instress

"Inscape" is essentially the "thingness" of a thing - its individual, true, core identity. In Hopkins's view, all beings and objects possess such a thing.

"Instress" is what holds an object's inscape together. (In Hopkins's view, it should be noted, this is related to religion, not merely nature.)

While philosophical in nature, these ideas inform a lot of his writing, and aiming to describe the "inscape" is what lends to the depth and color of his work. Take another look at the poems in yesterday's post, "The Windhover" and "Pied Beauty". It is Hopkins's desire to convey the "thingness" of things that is at the core of these poems, and, I would argue, why they succeed.

Influence on later poets

It is hard to catch other poets in the act of writing in sprung rhythm, although Stephen Fry makes a case for the use of it (or something remarkably similar) in some of the work of Ted Hughes.

. . . In turn, many British twentieth-century poets looked back the shorter distance to Hopkins, over the shoulders of Eliot, Pound and Yeats. I find it hard to read much of Ted Hughes, for example, without hearing Hopkins's distinct music. Here are two fragments from "The Sluttiest Sheep in England" for you to recite to yourself.

                They clatter
  Over worthless moraines, tossing
  Their Ancient Briton draggle-tassel sheepskins
  Or pose, in the rain-smoke, like warriors -

  . . .

  The lightning-broken huddle of summits
  This god-of-what-nobody-wants

Fry notes that the sensibilities of Hopkins and Hughes are wildly different - Hopkins is wonderment and delight, whereas Hughes is often contemptuous or disgusted - but the language play is similar.

Likewise, Hughes's wife, Sylvia Plath, invoked Hopkins quite a lot in her journals, reading him (she claimed) for solace and advice. She also used sprung verse in some of her work, including in "Ode for Ted". Here are the first and third stanzas (it's a four-stanza poem), to give you some sense of her use of sprung rhythm.

From under the crunch of my man's boot
green oat-sprouts jut;
he names a lapwing, starts rabbits in a rout
legging it most nimble
to sprigged hedge of bramble,
stalks red fox, shrewd stoat.

. . .

For his least look, scant acres yield:
each finger-furrowed field
heaves forth stalk, leaf, fruit-nubbed emerald;
bright grain sprung so rarely
he hauls to his will early;
at his hand's staunch hest, birds build.

Hopkins's influence can be seen in the works of other poets, including Thomas Merton and R.S. Thomas. Arguments have been made that E.E. Cummings uses sprung rhythm as well - and looking at, for example, "somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond", I can see it, as well as Cummings's emphasis on inscape and instress:

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

Read the rest here.

Tomorrow, I will move on something else. I am not yet certain what that will be, so it will be a surprise for all of us.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
TS Davis
Apr. 25th, 2016 08:11 pm (UTC)
Slutty Sheep and Sylvia Plath: a good note to end upon!
I love that poem to Her Man, Ted. She was so often, in journals, embittered and vexed with him (and he did seem truly difficult) but sometimes it's funny how she refers to him, and the sprung rhythm makes the poem sound by turns both forceful and amused.
Apr. 25th, 2016 08:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Slutty Sheep and Sylvia Plath: a good note to end upon!
She certainly had the right to be vexed with him, and probably he with her as well. I really enjoyed her Ode to Ted quite a bit, though - and hope you clicked through to read the whole thing!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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