Friday, November 16, 2012

The Joy of Prosody: Syllabic Verse

Elizabeth Mastin, WNI Guest Blogger

Hello fellow poets and all those who just enjoy poetry. As I continue in my fascinating studies, I’ve come upon a generally overlooked verse form called syllabic verse.” In the English language (as opposed to other languages in which it is more widely used), it is very simple: one simply counts the syllables in each line and then forms patterns of equal-syllable lines, regardless of meter or kinds of feet. 

According to Wikipedia, syllabic poetry “is not bound by tradition; even very long lines are not divided into hemistiches, and the verse exhibits none of the markers usually found in other syllabic meters (with the occasional exception of end-rhyme), relying for the measure solely on total count of syllables in the line.” “Syllabic verse, in English, does not convey a metrical rhythm; rather it is a compositional device, often imperceptible to the hearer.”

According to William Baer, in Writing Metrical Poetry, “syllabic verse stems from the French who used syllable-counting extensively, as French is not an accentual language. They formulated their meters with counting of syllables, using rhyme and other sonar devises to structure their poetry.”  Japanese poets use syllabic verse when they write their haikus and tankas.

In An Introduction to Poetry by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Goia, syllabic verse is defined as “A verse form in which the poet establishes a pattern of a certain number of syllables to a line. Syllabic verse is the most common meter in most Romance languages such as Italian, French, and Spanish; it is less common in English.”  

Syllabic poetry was widely used by Lewis Turco and Marianne Moore. It was experimented with by others like John Hollander and Robert Bridges. It seems that Spanish poet George Santayana also used it and I’ll give you some syllabic verse examples. It might be fun to try!!

In My Craft Or Sullen Art
Dylan Thomas

In my craft or sullen art                         7 syllables
Exercised in the still of the night             7 syllables
When only the moon rages                   7 syllables
And the lovers lie abed``                      7 syllables
With all their griefs in their arms,           7 syllables
I labour by singing light                         7 syllables
Not for ambition or bread                    7 syllables
Or the strut and trade of charms                         This pattern continues to the end of the poem.
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their inmost secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

by George Santayana

My heart rebels against my generation,                           11 syllables
That talks of freedom and is slave to riches,                    11 syllables
And, toiling ‘neath each day’s ignoble burden,                11 syllables
Boasts of the morrow.                                                      5 syllables

No space for noonday rest or midnight watches,              11 syllables
No purest joy of breathing under heaven!                        11 syllables
Wretched themselves, they heap, to make them happy,   11 syllables
Many possessions.                                                            5 syllables

But thou, O silent Mother, wise, immortal,                       11 syllables
To whom our toil is laughter, - take, divine one,               11 syllables
This vanity away, and to thy lover                                    11 syllables
Give what is needful:-                                                        5 syllables

A staunch heart, nobly calm, averse to evil,                     11 syllables
The windy sky for breath, the sea, the mountain,             11 syllables
A well-born, gentle friend, his spirit’s brother,                 11 syllables
Ever beside him.                                                               5 syllables

Then I might watch the vessel-bearing waters                  This pattern continues to the poem’s end.
Beat the slow pulses of the life eternal,
Bringing of nature’s universal travail
Infinite echoes;

And there at even I might stand and listen
To thrum of distant lutes and dying voices
Chanting the ditty an Arabian Captive
Sang to Darius.

So would I dream awhile, and ease a little
The soul long stifled and the straightened spirit,
Tasting new pleasures in a far-off country
Sacred to beauty.

Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead CityArizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.

1 comment:

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Gorgeous poems, Liz. Thanks for helping us learn how to appreciate them!