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4B4V: metrical radiology

By Javier Huerta

“By choosing among texts that range metrically from the straightforward to the intricate, you can sharpen your skill at taking an x-ray of the architecture of verse.  This inner structure arises from the interplay of meter (the bones of a poem) with rhythm (its flesh); of abstracted, regular pattern with the pulse of felt, voiced meaning.”

My friend and fellow uc berkeley english grad Alex C. shared this instructional website on prosody with me. Alex and I took a graduate class on Poetic Meter (yes, a whole semester focused mostly on generative metrics), and that’s why he let me know about this site, because of my interest in all things meter. (You have to understand I once wrote a paper on the use of accentual syllabic meter in Whitman’s Song of Myself. The revision from “I sing myself” to the iambic pentameter line “I sing and celebrate myself. Don’t worry. I have this paper filed away with all my old defunct arguments.) The website is ran by the Department of English at University of Virginia.

I remember learning how to scan in an undergrad creative writing class at University of Houston. The subject of the class was poetic forms. The instructor had us scan Frost poem after Frost poem. Ah how to scan his “Don’t don’t don’t don’t” in “Home Burial.”  Until one day everything clicked.

Someone somewhere once said that meter is a trick easily learned. That someone meant this disparagingly. I agree that prosody is easily learned, but the problem is that many students don’t take the time to learn it. Saying that one should learn meter is not the same as saying that one should write in meter. But I do think that if a poet writes in “free verse” that that should be because  he or she chose that form not because he or she was limited to that form.

So I just wanted to share this educational resource for those who are interested in an interactive way of teaching accentual-syllabic meter.  You can try for yourself. The poems are ranked by difficulty.  The least difficult, according to the website, is Wordsworth’s A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal.  The most difficult is Hardy’s The Voice. Though I’m not sure how that poem can be more difficult to scan than Hopkins’s God’s Grandeur.


Posted in Uncategorized on Saturday, April 17th, 2010 by Javier Huerta.