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RhythmMethod

The oldest English     accented meter
Of four, unfailing,     fairly audible
Strongly struck     stresses seldom
Attended to anything     other than
Definite downbeats:     how many dim
Unstressed upbeats     in any line
Mattered not much     motion was measured
With low leaps     of alliteration
Handily harping on     heavy accents
(Echoing equally     all vowels,
Consonant cousins     coming together).

That's a typical example of self-reference from Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse, a spritely little volume by John Hollander. As the author laments via extended metaphor in his Introduction:

Both verse and prose, then, are schematic domains. Literacy used to entail some ability to write in both modes, without any presumption of poetry in the execution of skill in the former. But today sportswriters on the few newspapers we have left know no Latin nor can write good witty verses. We no longer memorize poems at school. Young persons are protected from the prose cadences—so influential on writing in both modes—of the King James Bible by aggressive separatism and the churches themselves; all of us are shielded from Shakespearean rhythm by the ways in which both prose and verse are publicly intoned in America. The territory covered in this guide—this road map through the region of poetry in English—has itself tended to run back into second-growth timber, if not into wilderness.

Some day we will all be reading Blue Guides and Baedekers to what once were our own, familiar public places. In former times, the region of verse was like an inviting, safe municipal park, in which one could play and wander at will. Today, only a narrow border of that park is frequently used (and vandalized), out of fear that there is safety only in that crowded strip—even as the users' grandparents would cling to walks that went by statues—and out of ignorance of landscape. The beauties of the rest of that park are there, unexplored save by some scholars and often abandonded even by them.

I am old enough to have grown up in the park, and to map a region one loves is a way of caressing it. (Goethe wrote of counting out hexameters on his Roman lady's back as she lay in his arms: he was mapping her body's curve even as he felt for the ancient rhythm.) I too set out now as a loving rather than merely dutiful tour guide. Even today, when touch seems casual and only discourse intimate, one can't presume on Whitmanic relations with readers. I shall content myself (Inquiry's too severe in prose; / Verse puts its questions in repose) with tapping out my self-explaining diagrams and illustrations of the walks and alleys and bosks and ponds and parterres and follies and hahas and so forth that comprise my territory, as it were, on the reader's hand. After all, this is a manual.

Hollander's exemplars range from trivial (for the simplest formal structures) to pleasantly arch:

Apostrophe! we thus address
More things than I should care to guess.
Apostrophe! I did invoke
Your figure even as I spoke.

Later editions of this tiny tome include illustrative samples from poets over the centuries. Throughout its course Rhyme's Reason is a delight to drift along or dip into, with happy surprises around every riverbend.

(cf. RulesVersusPrinciples (23 June 1999), LyingVerses (15 March 2001), IambicHonesty1 (23 Apr2001), IambicHonesty2 (27 Apr 2001), IambicHonesty3 (6 May 2001), PoeticProcesses (3 Mar 2002), NeverToldAnybody (16 Dec 2005), ... )


TopicPoetry - TopicLiterature - TopicHumor - Datetag20060224


(correlates: InThePalmOfYourHand, BlindFaith, SilverAnniversary, ...)