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Marxist Hexameter: Genevieve Taggard in a Heroic Measure–now with audio!

By Annie Finch


Labor Day march across the Mackinac Bridge

A poetic measure can mean so many things to different poets. The dactylic measure, for example, evoked serious Homeric epic for Virgil’s Aeneid and Longfellow’s Evangeline, but a more satirical epic quality for Carolyn Kizer’s Pro Femina. Here’s a smaller-scale yet equally meaningful kind of epic heroism commemorated by Genevieve Taggard:

“At Last the Women Are Moving,” Genevieve Taggard (1935)

Last, walking with stiff legs as if they carried bundles,
Came mothers, housewives, old women who knew why they abhorred war.
Their clothes bunched about them, they hobbled with anxious steps
To keep with the stride of the marchers, erect bearing wide banners.

Such women looked odd, marching on American asphalt.
Kitchens they knew, sinks, suds, stew-pots and pennies…
Dull hurry and worry, clatter, wet hands and backache.
Here they were out in the glare on the militant march.

How did these timid, the slaves of breakfast and supper
Get out in the line, drop for once dish-rag and broom?
Here they are as work-worn as stitchers and fitters.
Mama have you got some grub, now none of their business.

Oh, but those who know in their growing sons and their husbands
How the exhausted body needs sleep, how often needs food,
These, whose business is keeping the body alive,
These are ready, if you talk their language, to strike.

Kitchen is small, the family story is sad.
Out of the musty flats the women come thinking:
Not for me and mine only. For my class I have come
To walk city miles with many, my will in our work.

Taggard’s dactylic meter is rougher and more awkward than, say, Longfellow’s, perhaps in solidarity with the “stiff legs” of the women she writes about. She intersperses many trochees with the dactyls, and she varies the rhythm with running starts (“came,” “there,” “Oh but,” ) antibacchics (“clothes bunched a,” “stiff legs as,” “line drop for”), cretics (“housewives, old,” “bearing wide”), one-syllable feet followed by a rest (“Last,” “(e)rect,” “once,” “odd,” “sinks,” “suds”), and first paeans (“Mama have you,” “ready if you”).

As can be heard in this audio clip (which I think may be the first audio to be posted on Harriet–thanks Travis for figuring out how to do it!), throughout the poem the dactylic rhythm becomes increasingly sure and powerful, running over obstacles and rough places. Though the first stanza takes some time getting going, “hobbling with anxious steps” before it “keeps with the strides of the marchers,” this meter comes out of its classical past to inspire this poem with great energy, carrying both the force and the compassion of Taggard’s beliefs and personality.

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Comments (70)

  • On June 25, 2009 at 3:32 pm Don Share wrote:

    Genevieve Taggard’s books are very hard to come by these days; I don’t think she’s been in print since Ahsahta Press reissued To the Natural World back in 1980. Amazingly, however, there’s a Kindle collection available for about 3 bucks – I can’t quite tell what’s in it.

    Workers might like to track down her anthology, May Days: An Anthology of Verse from Masses-Liberator; a quote from that book’s introduction: “The working class needs artists. It has no one to convince of its quality but itself. The exploited mass that owns neither the earth or its own toil or the fruits or implements of toil will sooner or later have all these.” You can read that intro by clicking here.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 7:42 am duane sosseur wrote:

    what measure is this? I wrote it yesterday but Taggard’s
    running over rough places seems different. It’s a poem but sounds like a song.

    “even when it’s gone”

    there’s the ache where my heart used to be
    in the dark where no one sees
    love lingers on even when it’s gone
    it whispers in my ear to me
    and it’s just what it wants to be
    holding me close it’s never wrong

    I know that I’m a bore sometimes
    and you’re out the door not mine
    don’t even bother to call
    it’s been way too long for me
    I’d wish for more but I can see
    that I just want it all

    baby yes so steal from me
    I’m not what I used to be
    when you go it’s never wrong
    yes I see that love is free
    and you know that means a lot to me
    all I know even when it’s gone

    there’s the ache where my heart used to be
    in the dark where no one sees
    love lingers on even when it’s gone
    it whispers in my ear to me
    and it’s just what it wants to be
    holding me close it’s never wrong

  • On June 26, 2009 at 8:03 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Dear Annie,
    All the way from his rice paddy in Chiang Mai to Maine, this old guy tells you that’s NOT the Brooklyn Bridge!

    I was there in 1983 for it’s centenary where a crowd of more than 500,000 New Yorkers sang “Happy Birthday dear Bridgey.”

    One of the most important experiences of my life was writing a poem called “Brief for a Project to Build a Bridge Joining Brooklyn with the Isle of Skye.” That’s why I know it so well. The poem has wonderful notes too, the last bit of which which goes: “The project was finally completed by Emily Warren Roebling, the designer’s young daughter-in-law, who for nine years directed the whole massive operation from her house on nearby Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights while her brilliant husband, the Chief Engineer, lay blind, deaf and paralyzed in his bed.”

    Would Genevieve Taggart have approved of that or not? Or you?

    I say get a photograph of the right bridge up there right away where it belongs!


  • On June 26, 2009 at 8:59 am thomas brady wrote:

    I once could see the George Washington Bridge trailing off to New Jersey if I looked hard right from my window. Is that the GW Bridge?

    Also, is it just me? I find the quoted Taggart lines have no recognizable rhythm whatsoever.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:08 am Don Share wrote:

    Not the Brooklyn Bridge; Hart Crane need not apply. I think the Taggard lines are strange to us because they are so uninflected by Modernism!

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:22 am Jordan wrote:

    GW has only one arch, a steel latticed cage:


    I don’t know of any three-archers in NY. Maybe the Delaware Memorial Bridge’s several stanchions might provide that view?

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:24 am thomas brady wrote:

    That’s easy. Anapestic with a lot of iambic substitutions (they are related rhythms: da da DAH & da DAH)

    there’s the ACHE/ where my HEART/ used to BE

    That’s the leading rhythm: anapest. (da da DAH)

    And there’s also some trochis thrown in to mix things up (DA da)

    Here’s a typical mix: First foot is a trochaic substitution, then an iamb, and then finally back to the anapest:

    DON’T ev/-en BOTH/-er to CALL.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:14 am duane sosseur wrote:

    Taggards poem has captured substance and meaning…
    it’s an event in itself. The lines do pull you along as the women overcome their despair to walk the bridge.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:51 am Colin Ward wrote:

    LOL! I was about to say that dactyl would be my sixth choice when I realized you were joking. Good one, Annie.


  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:59 am Ron Silliman wrote:

    Looks like the Golden Gate Bridge to me.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:17 am Don Share wrote:

    I thought I saw Weldon Kees in that crowd!

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:46 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Whoa, great save Christopher, thanks! I walked the Brooklyn Bridge a couple of weeks ago so that was on my mind. Sheesh.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:46 am Annie Finch wrote:

    I’ve fixed it.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:50 am Annie Finch wrote:

    It’s not just you. Many people have a hard time hearing meters other than iambic simply becuase they are so rarely used. And these are very irregular dactyls. If they were equivalently irregular iambics (say, something by Dylan Thomas) they’d be easier to spot simply because the base meter would be so familiar.

    One of the most obvious lines–out in the glare, so to speak– is this one:

    Here they were out in the glare on the militant march.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:55 am thomas brady wrote:

    I had not thought geography had undone so many.

    Shouldn’t there be a comma after ‘erect,’ l.4, or are their erections ‘bearing the wide banners’…?

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:56 am Annie Finch wrote:

    It is a common variation in dactylic lines to leave off one or both of the last two unstressed syllables. Same with trochees. The end of a line in falling meter can commonly loses syllable, and the beginning of a line in falling meter can commonly add syllables (as Taggard does frequently here–I call this the “running start.”)

    These are the inverse variations to the common conventions for rising meters. IN the case of rissing meters, it’s the end of the line that commonly adds unstressed syllables (the feminine or extra-syllable ending) and the beginning that loses them.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:58 am Annie Finch wrote:

    That is so funny!!!

    Yes, there should be a comma after erect–a website typo

  • On June 26, 2009 at 12:28 pm thomas brady wrote:

    I missed the straight line for all the crookedness.

    Why didn’t I see this one?

    HERE they were/ OUT in the/ GLARE on the/ MIL i tant/ MARCH.

    Thanks, Annie.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:26 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    I wouldn’t say this poem was in dactylic meter at all Annie.

    Dactyl is the greek for finger and the orginal quantitive dactyl was exactly that, like a finger – one long sound followed by two short ones, for example

    Flow in it Shave in it Dawn it is Bright, innit?

    In the Accentual Stress English Language metric which appropriated its terms wholesale from the Greeks and flowered during the Tudor Renaissance when the nouveau courtiers at the court of Henry VII and Liz I were engaging in the project of legitimising imperial expansion under the piety of Religion and justifying their murder and pillage in the name of God – whose sole patron was the English Crown who had a monopoly on the poetic, which was either praise Liz or get yer head chopped off (as many did) — these sychophants were typical bluffers who rather than look to their own most natiove Galeic Poetic because of political reasons, like people who want to escape their roots and imitating the people they thought most posh, looked to a culture 2000 miles distant and 1000 years dead at its closest living point for poetic inspiration.

    Because the wholesale Greek metrical template which is quantitive, (the length of a sound as opposed to stress) is not naturally suited to English which is a stress based language, a dactyl in Greek is one long sound and two short, whilst in English it is one stressed syllablle followed by two unstressed.

    However, the difficulty here is in the English speaking world, the same word in different parts of it, can be wholly different and essentially the metric of any English language poem, is open to enough interpretation as to make it a baggy science at best and at worst, a bit like the Fugitive/New Critics who would come up with totally specious close readings to tery and turn a pigs ear int a silk purse and vice versa.

    The way i read this, there are instances of dactyls, but in now way enough to claim it as a poem written in dactylic meter, far from it.

    At random i have taken the third stanza:

    How did these timid, the slaves of breakfast and supper

    How did – a trochee – these timid dactyl

    the slaves of (amphiabrach) – breakfast (sppndee) – and supper (generously a dactyl)

    Get out (iamb) – in the line (anapest) – drop for (trochee) – once dish-rag and broom – none of these culd be construes as a dactyl.

    Here they (spondee) – are as work-worn as stitchers and fitters – again no dactyls either quantitively or accentual stress.

    Mama have you got some grub, now none of their business. – again this line, where’s the dactyls?


    I discovered this when moving to Ireland from England, the same words i had been pronouncing all my life in a certain way, here the stress was placed differently, die to a hangover and crossover of the Gaelic in which the first syllable is stressed, so

    Dorans – in England would be spoken as an iamb – duh-Ranns

    whereas in Ireland it would be a trochee DOOR-ns.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:36 pm michael robbins wrote:


    HOW did these (dactyl) TIMid, the (dactyl) SLAVES of break (dactyl) fast and SUPP (er) (anapest, feminine ending).

    What almost no one remembers is that scansion is about RELATIVE stress. The first syllable of “breakfast” is stressed more than the other second unstressed dactylic syllables but not nearly as much as “slaves.”

  • On June 27, 2009 at 12:45 am Annie FInch wrote:

    All terms for meter in English are usually known/assumed to be the accentual-syllabic equivalent of the original quantitative metrical terms in Greek. . .Sorry I didn’t clarify this, Desmond.

    And if we were being really scientific about it, we would be talking about strong and weak positions and not referring to meter at all; real linguists have no patience at all for meter, but poets do. Taggard read dactyls and iambs and so she wrote them. Here is my scansion:

    HOW did these / TIMid, the / SLAVES of / BREAKfast and /SUPper

    (trochees are the most common substitution in dactylic lines)

    (Get) OUT in the / LINE, DROP for / ONCE ( )/ DISH-rag and / BROOM

    (running start before first foot) antibacchic (see list of many antibacchics in this poem in my original post)/ single syllable followed by rest/ dactyl/ dactyl missing final unstressed syllables (all these are very common variations except for the single syllable followed by rest, which is slightly uncommon)

    HERE they are as / WORK-worn as / STITCHers and / FITters.

    fourth paean/dactyl/dactyl/trochee

    MAMa have you /GOT some / GRUB, now / NONE of their /BUSiness

    fourth paean/trochee/trochee/dactyl/dactyl

    Again, trochees are extremely common variations in dactylic meter; the fourth paean is a bit more unusual (clearly, this is a much rougher use of the (accentual-syllabic equivalent of the quantitative) dactylic meter, as I said, than Longfellow’s). They are all falling feet and so they don’t disturb the basic falling rhythm.

    All the variations here are completely legitimate variations, rough or not, and don’t violate once the metrical contract for dactyls, because they maintain the falling rhythm (though she does vary the line-lengths between four and five dactylic feet.)

    We are not used to thinking in terms of variations for noniambic meter, but in actual use, noniambic meters such as dactyls can, as this poem shows, be varied just as intensely as iambics can.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 7:31 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    You’ve still not convinced me.

    Robbin’s evidence is laughable, from my point of view, the way i speak and where my accent places stress:

    He says

    Nope – reminds me of the opening of Baraka’s Dope

    Hallelujah, wow ! wow !
    Hallelujah, Wow ! Wow !

    like wow ! wow ! dude, that’s so convioncing


    You have:

    HOW did these – as a dactyl.


    Maybe in the Vogon language spoken in la la land, but not anywhere i know.

    To take what Robbins claims to be the very first dactyl in the line he offers as proof i am wrong and yo ! Robbo who is an expert and entrusted with carrying over to the next generations the wholly scientific species of holy speaking he knows as one who aint bluffing…?



    Robbins, you have –

    HOW did these – as a dactly – which means you are saying

    hOw is stressed and

    did these – isn’t.


    I can’t see it myself. The O in hOw has even less of a stress the way i speak it than the E in thEse, which you have as unstressed.

    hOw (stressed O) did (unstressed *i* – thEse (stressed E) – in my world, which makes

    hOw did – a trochee

    thEse timid – a dactyl

    Slaves of – trochee

    Breakfast and – dactyl

    Supper – trochee


    You both have the opening scanned the same

    hOw did these

    I can see the (what i call a masculine) stress in hOw, a stressed O rather than unstressed o as in stop for example

    ..but you do not accord the E in thEse, a stress, which has what i call a masculine stressed E, (ee) same as in the words *these wheeze she’s me’* etc — not what i call feminine stressed E (eh) as in the words *stressed blessed, went sent* etc.

    The O in hOw and E in thEse, are both (masculine) stressed, yet you scan the E in thEse differently so it will fit your system, it seems to me.

    To show how tricky meter is, i have been at it for eight years and for all that time until several weeks ago, was labouring under the misgrapsed illusion that a masculine stress meant the vowel was fully stressed

    ay ee eye oh you

    Wait – see – mind – go – too


    and a feminine stress was

    ah eh i o uh

    and – when – with – odd – us


    But i was mistaken, a femmine stress is when the stress falls on the penultimate syllable of the word and masculine stress is when the stress falls ont he final syllable.


    This doesn’t altar what i see as wholly specious in Robins and Finch, but indicates just what a bluffers charter all this, can you hear it

    WHEN/ i go (dactyl) IN shouting (dactly) SAYing haLOO (midterm break) GOing on (dactyl) AND ON (spondee) AND over AND OUT (inverted middle-brow mid seventies Marxist phase Baraka)

    Accentual Stress meter is not an exact science and effectively a personal thing as you say TOMato i say tomATO which renders the first a dactyl and the second more an amphibrach.

    I think there is a thing about the profs and docs in particular having to stick to their guns on what others think is all hoo ha or hooey, because in the world of Leters an academic lives and dies by their rep, so if one of the great unwashed comes in without visible accreditation, doesn’t have a hutch in the grove and a certain this-is-the-game-and-these-the-rules mindset every poet nearly in America has now it is a wholly institutionalised practice where to be a poet and not a prof teaching kids puts you in the 1% bracket — then its great gas watching how the profs will drown in their own MAKE-BELieve (can you hear it, the technical term w all bluff with?) RATHER than (reversed waffle) admit the ollamh has got it right and Amiri Baraka is the best going, and just for an exercise, what meter would you put this in:

    Hallelujah, wow ! wow !
    Hallelujah, Wow ! Wow !

    Jimmy Carter wouldn’t lie,
    you heard him at the state of union address
    swearing on Rosalynn’s face lift:

    “I wouldn’t lie.”

    Nixon lied.
    Haldeman lied.
    Dean lied.

    Hoover lied — Hoover sucks too, but Jimmy don’t
    Jimmy wouldn’t,
    Jimmy aint lyin.

    It must be the Devil, must be the devil
    put your money on the plate
    it must be the devil
    in Heaven we’ll all be straight.

    It can’t be Rockerfella
    he gave Amis poot-booty a scholarship
    to behaviour modification university
    and Genivive almost-white works for his foundation.

    It must be niggers.
    It can’t be Mellon, he gave Winky suck-ass
    a fellowship in his bank
    put him charge of closing out mortgages

    in the low-life Pittsburgh Hill nigger section.
    It can’t be him,

    Yes sir – Yes sir – Yes sir – Yes sir – Yes sir
    yes sir – yes sir – yes sir – yes sr

    put your money in the plate
    don’t be late, don’t have to wait, all goan be in heaven after you die.

    Hallelujah, wow ! wow !
    Hallelujah, Wow ! Wow !

  • On June 27, 2009 at 9:02 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    The only way to settle the question of the stress pattern in a poem, is to put a recording of it through a software which gives a visual representation of the noise (like even a simple software auch as Audacity does) and that way we could scientfically see before our eyes where the stress is.

    The problem with trying to guage the pattern of an accentual stress language by using a quantative metric system to do so, is not unlike the problem posed in trying to decipher the meaning of French by interpreting the sounds as if they were english.

    Madame – must mean, *mad am*, as in *mad am* I.


    Unless the metric is fairly obvious, we can end up indulging in all sorts of creative gymnastics which put patterns on and cast free verse poems as if they have a regular mnetric to it which simply isn’t there.

    This poem is free verse, there is no regularity to it, either syllabically or accentual stress metric, and offering proof by using capitalisation and some fancy greek words, proves nothing.

    ITS the eas/IEest thing /IN the world /TO pretend/THIS here is/IN the dac/TYLic me/TER

    ..but it doesn’t mean it is. By sheer randomness there are going to be dactyls in it, but i think it’s stretching it (by far) to try and argue this poem is an example of dactylic heroics and do what Brady has the Fugitives doing, throwing all sorts of mad ideas at it, linking it into Homer and saying, look at this silk purse and how the author is so clever and connected to the ancient source because she clearly wrote it in the meter of the Iliad.

    Then, fo fly and proffer up a smooth flow of wafty and airy fairy lingo which says very little apart from what we would like it to, that such a bore is following in the tradition of Hesiod or Horace, when they are clearly not.

    This is only my opinion of course, there is no right or wrong here, only our own take, but the way to end all the ping pong would be to record the poem and whizz it rthough the analyser and measure the sounds scientifically instead of with wishful thinking.

    I am going to record this poem in an American voice like the author would have spoken in, and stickit into Audacity, slow it down, measure the graph, where the peaks are which show stress, and get back to you with the final incontravertable proof, and if i am wrong and it’s clearly dactylic, i will apologise and give twenty euros to the first genuine down on their luck homeless person i see in town after the test – but if i am right, i want Robbins and Finch to say

    Amiri Baracka is the real poet laureate iof America…

    ha ha ha

  • On June 27, 2009 at 6:11 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    I’m surprised–I think that “how” opening a question is always stressed– as in,

    How did these socks get in here?

    How the hell are you doing?

    How did you say you were scanning?

    Sometimes, Desmond, stress is a matter of pitch as much as of loudness. Maybe that’s what threw you off. An interrogative stress at the beginning of a question is not as loud as some other kinds of stresses, but the pitch is definitely higher. Actually linguists have isolated three aspects of stress: loudness, pitch, and the length it takes to say a syllable.

    But that length it takes to say an English syllable is strictly about conversation and has nothing to do with the classical quantitative system whereby Greek and Latin poets counted syllables with long vowels, or syllables followed by two consonants, etc. as long and the others are short. Quantitative meter in that sense really doesn’t exist in English. And it seems that it can’t exist in Englsh. Some poets have tried, and there’s an excellent book by Paul Fussell about the Renaissance attempts to do quantitative meter in English, called Well-Weigh’d Syllables–and most recently Robert Bridges tried–but these poems don’t work, since we just don’t hear quantities in English. Fussell goes into this at great length.

    However, the patterns of Greek meter have been carried over into the metrical system that DOES work for English, which is based not on quantity but on accent (hence the name “accentual-syllabic).

    The Taggard poem is in accentual-syllabic dactylic verse, not quantitative dactylic verse. It is called dactylic because the pattern of stress-unstress-unstress (modelled as I think someone said on the shape of the finger, hence the word “dactyl” meaning finger) is modelled on the long-short-short pattern of dactylic quantitative meter.

    Length of the vowel has no bearing on whether a syllable is stressed or unstressed in accentual-syllabic meter; for example, “sleep in the bakery” scans identically to “slept with the bachelor”–both are dactylic dimeters.

  • On June 29, 2009 at 8:43 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Testing testng, one two three

  • On June 29, 2009 at 8:45 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Annie, i have tried to post a detailed close reading response to the poem, but the gremlins aren’t letting it appear, so i will just post themost pertinent bit.

    This is my analysis:

    lAast, walking/ with stIff legs/ as if thEy/ carriEd/ bUndles,

    I scan this first line as having five feet: a dactyl – amphibrach – anapest – iamb – trochee


    cAme mothers/ hOusewIves/ Old women/ whO knEw/ whY thEY ab/hORred wAr/

    I scan this line as having six feet: dactly – spondee – dactyl – spondee – antibacchics – spondee


    their clOthes/ bUnched abOut/ them, they/ hObbled with/ anxious steps

    To keep with the stride of the marchers, erect bearing wide banners.

    I scan this line as having feet – iamb – cretic (aka amphimacer) – iamb – dactyl –


    The only obviously dactylic lines from my own efforts, are the three opening lines to a poem called Sidhing which was published in London’s Sentinel Poetry August 2004

    The wish of the will of the whispering dead
    The fill of the light on the black cloud ahead
    The call of the wild and the crash of the dawn

    Belong to the memory of some terrible storm

    Which once raged at the living out of all sense
    And takes our beginning to a place of no rest.
    And so we begin

    cont’d here

  • On June 30, 2009 at 1:03 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Yes, Don, precisely.
    Modernism has been so prevalent the last near-hundred years, and the work that is unnflected by it has been so thoroughly ignored or discounted it’s hard to believe it existed, and thrived…
    Which is exactly, I suppose, why I find something like the Taggard so refreshing.

  • On June 30, 2009 at 6:51 am thomas brady wrote:


    HOW did these (dactyl) TIMid, the (dactyl) SLAVES of break (dactyl) fast and SUPP (er) (anapest, feminine ending).”

    It looks like Michael Robbins wants a job at Criticism, Inc.

    Please apply at the firm of Ransom, Warren, Tate, and Brooks.

    This line gives up at ‘breakfast.’ Mr. Dactyl HAD to eat his breakfast, you see, at this little GREEK restaurant, where people do not STRESS, but QUANT-i-fy. Mr. Dactyl had syllable and eggs and forgot all about Mr. Robbins.

  • On June 30, 2009 at 10:47 am Colin Ward wrote:


    A dissenting view:

    As the thread title suggests, the poem does begin with hexameter:

    Last, walk | ing with | stiff legs | as if | they car | ried bund | les,
    Spondee + pyrrhic + spondee + 3 iambs + hypercatalectic semi-syllable = iambic hexameter.
    If we infer a caesura after “legs” we have an alexandrine.

    Let’s try it as a trinary:

    Antibacchic + bacchic + 3 iambs + hypercatalectic semi-syllable or
    Antibacchic + bacchic + 2 iambs + amphibrachic or
    Antibacchic + bacchic + amphibrachic + cretic + hypercatalectic semi-syllable or
    Antibacchic + bacchic + amphibrachic + 2 trochees.

    As we all know, antibacchics are not found in anapestic poems, English or Classical, so by the time we get to the fourth syllable we’ve eliminated anapest as a possibility. By the seventh syllable, we’ve removed dactyl for the same reason: even a single bacchic (of which this poem has many, S1-L3 and S5-L4 beginning with them) kills any real chance of the poem being dactyllic. The possibility of amphibrach, for which antibacchics and bacchics are legitimate substitutes, survives intact for one more foot until it runs into its Terminator, the dreaded cretic. The only way this could be any trinary, then, would be for it to be the 4th possibility, which is absurdly sloppy amphibrach: one trochee, preferably early on, okay, but two line-ending ones? No.

    Let’s examine the line in light of the counterintuitive notion that the comma after “Last” substitutes for two unstressed syllables:

    Last, | walking with | stiff legs as | if they | car ried | bundles,
    Doubly lame dactyl + dactyl + antibacchic + 3 perfect trochees = What? Dactyl or trochee?

    Even if one were to subscribe to the theory that verses lose, rather than find, their rhythm as they progress (in which case the paucity of trochaic substitutions in the final feet, as contrasted to the initial feet, of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter creates an insurmountable hurdle), there is still the issue of three consecutive, identical substitutions. If nothing else, this explains why a Google search of “At Last the Women Are Moving” + dactyl returns only this thread.

    Should we attempt to scan this in trinaries we run into the rhythm-killing amphibrach at the end of the line:

    Last, | walking with | stiff legs as | if they car | ried bundles,
    Doubly lame dactyl + dactyl + antibacchic + cretic + amphibrach = A mistake.

    This line was mentioned as a possible prototype:

    Here they were out in the glare on the militant march.
    Dactyllic for forescanners, anapestic for the rest of us? Not so fast! Since it’s “missing” two syllables, it could just as easily be amphibrachic, “missing” a syllable from the beginning and end of the line. Hardly a useful model line.

    Before we got to that one, though, we’d already seen the poem “established” as iambic hexameter in S1-L1, “reshaped” as amphibrachic pentameter in S1-L4:

    To keep with | the stride of | the march‘rs, e | rect bearing | wide banners.
    3 amphibrachs + 2 antibacchics = amphibrachic pentameter.
    (I trust we agree that shwa-based semi-syllables–even the same semi-syllable, “-ers” in this case–can be counted or not.)

    …and then “redefined” as trochaic pentameter in S2-L2:

    Kitch’ns they | knew, sinks, | suds, stew-| pots and | pennies…
    Trochee + 2 spondees + 2 trochees = trochaic pentameter or
    Kitch’ns they | knew, sinks, | suds, stew-| pots and | pennies…
    Trochee + 2 spondees + 1 pyrhhic + 1 trochee = trochaic pentameter.
    (In passing, note the brilliant diaeresis.)

    Even if we enunciate “kitchens” as two fully formed syllables, the dactyllic substitution doesn’t change the line’s resolution into trochee.

    Kitchens they | knew, sinks, | suds, stew-| pots and | pennies…
    Dactyl + 2 spondees + 2 trochees = trochaic pentameter.

    The three different prototype lines (none of them dactyllic, since the “hypothetical hypometrical” S2-L4 would never qualify), coupled with the remarkable balance among iambs, trochees, dactyls, amphibrachs and anapests throughout, marks this as the kind of strongly polyrhythmic free verse one would see in the 1930s. As such, the poem is a showcase of its genre. (IME, earlier High Moderns tended towards the monorhythmic.)

    Of course, all of this is even more apparent if, knowing that scansion is more reliable after lines find their rhythm, we begin our scan, foot by foot (not syllable by syllable, of course), at the back of each line (accounting for obvious hypercatalexis). Is it easier to identify people with or without their Halloween masks on?

    Incidentally, in the original poem weren’t the last two lines italicized?


  • On June 30, 2009 at 12:03 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Prosody need not be dry as dust. It isn’t necessary we don straitjackets and bulky wool sweaters and sweat over hypercatalectic antibacchics.

    The best, most common sense, and least pedantic explainer of verse is both accessible, enjoyable to read, and by far the most insightful.


    I have never yet seen an English heroic verse on the proper model of the Greek–although there have been innumerable attempts, among which those of Coleridge are, perhaps, the most absurd, next to those of Sir Philip Sidney and Longfellow.

    The author of “The Vision of Rubeta” has done better, and Percival better yet; but no one has seemed to suspect that the natural preponderance of spondaic words in the Latin and Greek must, in the English, be supplied by art–that is to say, by a careful culling of the few spondaic words which the language affords–as, for example, here:

    Man is a | complex, | compound, | compost, | yet is he | God-born.

    This, to all intents, is a Greek hexameter, but then its spondees are spondees, and not mere trochees. The verses of Coleridge and others are dissonant, for the simple reason that there is no equality in time between a trochee and a dactyl. When Sir Philip Sidney writes,

    So to the | woods Love | runnes as | well as–rides to the | palace,

    he makes an heroic verse only to the eye; for ” woods Love” is the only true spondee, “runs as,” “well as,” and “palace,” have each the first syllable long and the second short–that is to say, they are all trochees, and occupy less time than the dactyls or spondee–hence the halting.

    Now, all this seems to be the simplest thing in the world, and the only wonder is how men professing to be scholars should attempt to engraft a verse, of which the spondee is an element, upon a stock which repels the spondee as antagonistical. –EA Poe, Marginalia, August 1845

    You see? Prosody can actually be pleasurable and accessible–and not some misty realm fit for a Modernist/New Critical priesthood…

  • On June 30, 2009 at 12:31 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Here is just one more item of sweet genius on the subject. Here is cleared away the pedantry which insists there is some mystical difference between ‘quantity’ and ‘stress,’ and secondly, the author clears away, once and for all, the pedantic confusion which attends the issue of rhythm: it is not that EVERY long syllable is EXACTLY equal to two short syllables, but here we find the IDEAL within the realm of natural deviation we seek to establish as the PULSE (which has nothing to do with mere ‘beat counting’ or ‘syllable counting’) on which artful variety is laid.

    Further reading of this text will enlighten further, but this sample of fine common sense may entice:

    “And here let me pause to assert that more pitiable nonsense has been written on the topic of long and short syllables than on any other subject under the sun.

    In general, a syllable is long or short, just as it is difficult or easy of enunciation.

    The natural long syllables are those encumbered — the natural short syllables are those unencumbered, with consonants; all the rest is mere artificiality and jargon.

    The Latin Prosodies have a rule that “a vowel before two consonants is long.” This rule is deduced from “authority” — that is, from the observation that vowels so circumstanced, in the ancient poems, are always in syllables long by the laws of scansion. The philosophy of the rule is untouched, and lies simply in the physical difficulty of giving voice to such syllables — of performing the lingual evolutions necessary for their utterance.

    Of course, it is not the vowel that is long (although the rule says so) but the syllable of which the vowel is a part.

    It will be seen that the length of a syllable, depending on the facility or difficulty of its enunciation, must have great variation in various syllables; but for the purposes of verse we suppose a long syllable equal to two short ones: — and the natural deviation from this relativeness we correct in perusal.

    The more closely our long syllables approach this relation with our short ones, the better, ceteris paribus, will be our verse: but if the relation does not exist of itself, we force it by emphasis, which can, of course, make any syllable as long as desired; — or, by an effort we can pronounce with unnatural brevity a syllable that is naturally too long.

    Accented syllables are of course always long — but, where unencumbered with consonants, must be classed among the unnaturally long. Mere custom has declared that we shall accent them — that is to say, dwell upon them; but no inevitable lingual difficulty forces us to do so.

    In fine, every long syllable must of its own accord occupy in its utterance, or must be made to occupy, precisely the time demanded for two short ones.

    The only exception to this rule is found in the cæsura — of which more anon.” –EA Poe, “Rationale of Verse” 1850

    Here we are in the company of a document long suppressed and ignored, one that would free us from the prison of pedantry, a prison in which millions–especially scholars–pitifully reside. There is a spirit of priesthood that would keep the doors of the dungeon closed. The muse help us all, until the doors are finally flung aside.

  • On June 30, 2009 at 2:42 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Dear Desmond, I appreciate your effort in scanning this. By any system of prosody I know, a line that consisted of “five feet: a dactyl – amphibrach – anapest – iamb – trochee” as you scan the first line of the Taggard poem, would not be a metrical line at all. I’d recommend Paul Fussell’s book Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, and the volume on meter edited by Harvey Gross, which includes Wimsatt and Beardsley’s classic essay on the concept of iambic pentameter, setting forth the basic principle that all the feet in a line of meter need to at least scan in the same direction (ie, rising feet (iambs and anapests) OR falling feet (trochees and dactyls). The exception they make is after a linebreak or caesura, which is why, in iambic pentameter, we only see trochees at the beginning of a line or after a period in the line. This is how feet have some rhythm and consistency to our ears and bodies; otherwise it is an arbitrary intellectual exercise and the boundaries between feet make no particular sense. A line that merrily included a dactyl, anapest, and iamb without any caesurae between them would be violating this most fundamental rule so haphazardly that there would be no reason to hear it at all, by any system I know (and I’ve studied it thoroughly for a long time including my entire PhD orals in versification at Stanford ( no, it’s not a common field ( :–they said I was the only person ever to do orals in versification there).

    If you want to hear why I scan the line as dacytlic and you feel like reading prosody, another approach would be to read a bunch of dactylic poetry first so your ear would know what it is listening for. There isn’t a lot in English, but Longfellow’s Evangeline is nice and long, and a good story too. There’s a section with several fine dactylic poems, including A. E. Stallings’ “Arachne Gives Thanks to Athena,” in An Exaltation of Forms. My elegy for my father, available online, and others of my poems, including all the narrative in the forthcoming Among the Goddesses, are in dactylic tetrameter.

    I think you’ll find that the dactylic undercurrent really is there in the Taggard poem, with many roughnesses of variation and a shift between tetrameter and pentameter. But either way, thanks for the time you put into thinking about this topic, Desmond.

  • On June 30, 2009 at 4:18 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Oh Annie your not my mammie

    Are you no way
    Annie are you no way
    Are you no way Annie

    You’ve seen it rhyme by
    You’ve seen it rhyme by – a true metrical bluffer..


    It won’t have it Annie, i have spent two hours (again) trying to give my evidence, but can only post one or two lines. Some IT gremlins are opposing me.

    We’ll just have to agree to differ. It’s not like it’s nuclear bomb codes we are arguing over.

    grá agus síocháin

    love and peace

    You’ve been hit by
    you’ve been tricked by

    a spam-bot cuz i aint even real A, but a software prog.

    ha ha ha ha ha

  • On June 30, 2009 at 4:22 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    sounds ok to me Desmond.

  • On June 30, 2009 at 4:23 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Colin, I think the gist of your difference rests on the idea that all metrical lines should be scanned from the back. The origin of this idea (with a nod to Stephen Cushman for providing the exact references) is the work of Otto Jesperson, based in turn on a German study, Der Vers in Shakespeares Dramen by Konig. In other words, it is based on studies of iambic meter, specifically iambic pentameter, specifically Shakespeare.

    As I have repeatedly written here and elsewhere, conventions of prosody and scansion based on a rising meter such as iambic pentameter simply DON”T APPLY to falling meter, including dactylic meter. In fact, systematically, the opposite conventions apply to falling meter as to rising meter.

    Your confusion is not surprising, since almost all prosodic effort to date has been expended on the foot that I once saw Timothy Murphy refer to, on Eratosphere, as “the master iamb.” There has simply not been serious prosodic study of noniambic meters (except for the efforts to classify them as inhospitable to substitution, in the tradition of Edward Weissmuller’s PMLA essay contrasting duple and triple meters, the basis of Tim Steele’s discussions in his book on iambic pentameter, All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing).

    After Thomas Cable and I convened a critical seminar at the West Chester Poetry Conference a few years ago to which prosodists, linguists and poets from all over the country came with the express purpose of discussing the scansion of noniambic meters, it seemed clear that there was no real extant work in print on the scansion and variations of noniambic meter. I’ve written about the situation in an essay called “Metrical Diversity,” and I’ve been working for many years now on remedying the situation, which should be somewhat alleviated by my book forthcoming from University of Michigan Press, A Poet’s Ear: A Handbook of Meter and Form.

    The fact that a google search of this poem title and dactyls brings up only my post is only to be expected–these are two very obscure topics, let alone in combination! Having been keeping a sharp eye out for two decades now for scholarship on noniambic meters, and for poems in noniambic meters (I have a half-edited anthology of them looking for someone to take it over), I’d be surprised if I’d missed it. And Taggard herself is entirely obscure. I will get back to you on whether the last two lines should be italicized. My guess is that it was a typo on the website that printed the poem, which is why I took the italics out, but I have to track down a hard copy somehow shortly because I am putting this in the book that’s going to press.

    all the best, Annie

  • On June 30, 2009 at 4:24 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    can you really speak gaelic?

  • On June 30, 2009 at 4:35 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Of course i can speak Gaelic, fluently, since a child, i couldn’t speak English until i was 49, and only then on Weekends when out crusing in the bogs round the cottage, looking for some action, hoping to meet a few wild sheep to try out my new found fancy pants English ohn mohn Annay yah yah.

    Blud-clot dem days wuz bahd Annay
    We waz bein oh pressed afor dem
    mist arh Hemglish mohn, we wuz

    down trod ohn, we waz like, y’all
    cum back now for de up risin
    of da clahnz yah, for de sistarz

    wheeze all fightin for, four sistarz
    me dem only boy, a woh mohn Jah
    Gaia waz her in de bohg of Achill

    where the hawk of time swirls above
    the sod.

  • On June 30, 2009 at 5:04 pm thomas brady wrote:

    The bottom line here is that Taggard’s verses above mix too many rhythms to have any metrical identity.

    This is dactylic:

    Virginal Lilian, rigidly, humblily dutiful;
    Saintlily, lowlily,
    Thrillingly, holily

    And this, too:

    Cān ĭt bĕ | fānciĕd thăt | Dēĭty | ēvĕr vĭn | dīctĭvely |
    Māde ĭn hĭs | īmăgĕ ă | mānnĭkĭn | mĕrely tŏ | māddĕn ĭt?

    Now read the Taggard again.

  • On June 30, 2009 at 5:48 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    I drove past the gaelic schools in Ireland last year and was so thrilled…my celtic blood stirring.

  • On June 30, 2009 at 5:51 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    This is exactly the common misperception about noniambic meters==that noniambic meters cannot bear any variation, that it is only iambs that have the capacity to be twisted and roughened and made subtle and rough and difficult and still e iambs.

    Thomas, I know what dactyls are. If you had read as many of them as I have, you might well hear that they are the heartbeat of the Taggard poem.

  • On June 30, 2009 at 6:17 pm Colin Ward wrote:


    Colin, I think the gist of your difference rests on the idea that all metrical lines should be scanned from the back.

    And they should, but, as you saw, I was careful to use your forescanning approach throughout. Between us, you and I have scanned this poem backwards, forewards and upside down and neither of us has found a single line of unambiguous dactyl. Iamb? Trochee? Amphibrach? Yes. Dactyl? No.

    I suspect that the difference between our approaches is that I prefer a simplifying, unifying prosody while you prefer a complicating, divergent one. As for the many sources you and I could cite back and forth, common sense is not an open book test. If a scansion paints a person into such a corner that s/he needs to pull Greek rabbits (an unrepeated first paeon in English prosody?) out of a hat I submit that it may be time to rethink one’s view of the process.


    “When you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras.” – Dr. Theodore Woodward(?)

  • On June 30, 2009 at 6:21 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    …backwards, forwards…

  • On June 30, 2009 at 8:28 pm thomas brady wrote:


    I really appreciate the time you are devoting to this subject!

    I have no prejudice against noniambic rhythms.

    I just feel that no rhythm has been established in the first place by Taggard. I think what she’s trying to do, actually, is write English heroic verse on the Greek model, which features dactyls AND many spondees. As you know, this is very difficult to do in English, and, as you point out, the result is quite rough–but not without interest and even a certain majesty. I do want to thank you for sharing it.

    I had no idea of this, and was stunned when you wrote: “it seemed clear that there was no real extant work in print on the scansion and variations of noniambic meter.”

    Is this possible?

    This is a sad state of affairs, for I love the trochaic and the dactylic rhythms.

    Anyway, do I have a treat for you!

    The following features one of the greatest critic/prosodists analyzing a NONIAMBIC poem by Lord Byron.

    Which is more important when scanning? The line, or rhythmical flow? This is just one question to ponder as one reads the following.


    I shall now best proceed in quoting the initial lines of Byron’s “Bride of Abydos:”

    Know ye the land where the cypress and myrtle
    Are emblems of deeds that are done in their clime —
    Where the rage of the vulture, the love of the turtle
    Now melt into softness, now madden to crime?
    Know ye the land of the cedar and vine,
    Where the flowers ever blossom, the beams ever shine,
    And the light wings of Zephyr, oppressed with perfume,
    Wax faint o’er the gardens of Gul in their bloom?
    Where the citron and olive are fairest of fruit
    And the voice of the nightingale never is mute —
    Where the virgins are soft as the roses they twine,
    And all save the spirit of man is divine?
    ‘Tis the land of the East — ’tis the clime of the Sun —
    Can he smile on such deeds as his children have done?
    Oh, wild as the accents of lovers’ farewell
    Are the hearts that they bear and the tales that they tell.

    Now the flow of these lines, (as times go,) is very sweet and musical. They have been often admired, and justly — as times go — that is to say, it is a rare thing to find better versification of its kind. And where verse is pleasant to the ear, it is silly to find fault with it because it refuses to be scanned. Yet I have heard men, professing to be scholars, who made no scruple of abusing these lines of Byron’s on the ground that they were musical in spite of all law. Other gentlemen, not scholars, abused “all law” for the same reason: — and it occurred neither to the one party nor to the other that the law about which they were disputing might possibly be no law at all — an ass of a law in the skin of a lion.

    The Grammars said something about dactylic lines, and it was easily seen that these lines were at least meant for dactylic. The first one was, therefore, thus divided:

    Knōw yĕ thĕ | lānd whĕre thĕ | cyprĕss ănd | myrtlĕ. |

    The concluding foot was a mystery; but the Prosodies said something about the dactylic “measure” calling now and then for a double rhyme; and the court of inquiry were content to rest in the double rhyme, without exactly perceiving what a double rhyme had to do with the question of an irregular foot. Quitting the first line, the second was thus scanned:

    Arē ĕmblĕms | ōf deĕds thăt | āre dŏne ĭn | thēir clĭme. |

    It was immediately seen, however, that this would not do: — it was at war with the whole emphasis of the reading. It could not be supposed that Byron, or any one in his senses, intended to place stress upon such monosyllables as “are,” “of,” and “their,” nor could “their clime,” collated with “to crime,” in the corresponding line below, be fairly twisted into anything like a “double rhyme,” so as to bring everything within the category of the Grammars. But farther these Grammars spoke not. The inquirers, therefore, in spite of their sense of harmony in the lines, when considered without reference to scansion, fell back upon the idea that the “Are” was a blunder — an excess for which the poet should be sent to Coventry — and, striking it out, they scanned the remainder of the line as follows:

    —— ēmblĕms ŏf | deĕds thăt ăre | dōne ĭn thĕir | clĭme. |

    This answered pretty well; but the Grammars admitted no such foot as a foot of one syllable; and besides the rhythm was dactylic. In despair, the books are well searched, however, and at last the investigators are gratified by a full solution of the riddle in the profound “Observation” quoted in the beginning of this article: — “When a syllable is wanting, the verse is said to be catalectic; when the measure is exact, the line is acatalectic; when there is a redundant syllable it forms hypermeter.” This is enough. The anomalous line is pronounced to be catalectic at the head and to form hypermeter at the tail: — and so on, and so on; it being soon discovered that nearly all the remaining lines are in a similar predicament, and that what flows so smoothly to the ear, although so roughly to the eye, is, after all, a mere jumble of catalecticism, acatalecticism, and hypermeter — not to say worse.

    Now, had this court of inquiry been in possession of even the shadow of the philosophy of Verse, they would have had no trouble in reconciling this oil and water of the eye and ear, by merely scanning the passage without reference to lines, and, continuously, thus:

    Know ye the | land where the | cypress and | myrtle Are | emblems of | deeds that are | done in their | clime Where the | rage of the | vulture the | love of the | turtle Now | melt into | softness now | madden to | *crime* | Know ye the | land of the | cedar and | vine Where the | flowers ever | blossom the | beams ever | shine Where [[And]] the | light wings of | Zephyr op | pressed by per | fume Wax | faint o’er the | gardens of | Gul in their | bloom Where the | citron and | olive are | fairest of | fruit [page 243:] And the | voice of the | nightingale | never is | mute Where the | virgins are | soft as the | roses they | twine And | all save the | spirit of | man is di | vine. ‘Tis the | land of the | East ’tis the | clime of the | Sun Can he | smile on such | deeds as his | children have | done Oh | wild as the | accents of | lovers’ fare | well Are the | hearts that they | bear and the | tales that they | *tell.*

    Here “crime” and “tell” (*) are cæsuras, each having the value of a dactyl, four short syllables; while “fume Wax,” “twine and,” and “done Oh,” are spondees which, of course, being composed of two long syllables, are also equal to four short, and are the dactyl’s natural equivalent. The nicety of Byron’s ear has led him into a succession of feet which, with two trivial exceptions as regards melody, are absolutely accurate — a very rare occurrence this in dactylic or anapæstic rhythms. The exceptions are found in the spondee “twine And” and the dactyl, “smile on such.” Both feet are false in point of melody. In “twine And,” to make out the rhythm, we must force “And” into a length which it will not naturally bear. We are called on to sacrifice either the proper length of the syllable as demanded by its position as a member of a spondee, or the customary accentuation of the word in conversation. There is no hesitation, and should be none. We at once give up the sound for the sense; and the rhythm is imperfect. In this instance it is very slightly so; — not one person in ten thousand could, by ear, detect the inaccuracy. But the perfection of verse, as regards melody, consists in its never demanding any such sacrifice as is here demanded. The rhythmical must agree, thoroughly, with the reading, flow. This perfection has in no instance been attained — but is unquestionably attainable. “Smile on such,” a dactyl, is incorrect, because “such,” from the character of the two consonants ch, cannot easily be enunciated in the ordinary time of a short syllable, which its position declares that it is. Almost every reader will be able to appreciate the slight difficulty here; and yet the error is by no means so important as that of the “And” in the spondee. By dexterity we may pronounce “such” in the true time; but the attempt to remedy the rhythmical deficiency of the And by drawing it out, merely aggravates the offence against natural enunciation, by directing attention to the offence.

    My main object, however, in quoting these lines, is to show that, in spite of the Prosodies, the length of a line is entirely an arbitrary matter. We might divide the commencement of Byron’s poem thus:

    Know ye the | land where the. |

    or thus:

    Know ye the | land where the | cypress and. |

    or thus:

    Know ye the | land where the | cypress and | myrtle are. |

    or thus:

    Know ye the | land where the | cypress and | myrtle are | emblems of. |

    In short, we may give it any division we please, and the lines will be good — provided we have at least two feet in a line. As in mathematics two units are required to form number, so rhythm, (from the Greek [[Greek text:]] αριθμος [[:Greek Text]], number,) demands for its formation at least two feet. Beyond doubt, we often see such lines as

    Know ye the —
    Land where the —

    lines of one foot; and our Prosodies admit such; but with impropriety; for common sense would dictate that every so obvious division of a poem as is made by a line, should include within itself all that is necessary for its own comprehension; but in a line of one foot we can have no appreciation of rhythm, which depends upon the equality between two or more pulsations. The false lines, consisting sometimes of a single cæsura, which are seen in mock Pindaric odes, are of course “rhythmical” only in connection with some other line; and it is this want of independent rhythm which adapts them to the purposes of burlesque alone. Their effect is that of incongruity (the principle of mirth;) for they include the blankness of prose amid the harmony of verse. –eapoe ‘rationale of verse’


  • On June 30, 2009 at 8:41 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Here is Poe’s scansion again without that [[And]] and that other mark–I should have removed them, sorry.

    Know ye the | land where the | cypress and | myrtle Are | emblems of | deeds that are | done in their | clime Where the | rage of the | vulture the | love of the | turtle Now | melt into | softness now | madden to | *crime* | Know ye the | land of the | cedar and | vine Where the | flowers ever | blossom the | beams ever | shine Where the | light wings of | Zephyr op | pressed by per | fume Wax | faint o’er the | gardens of | Gul in their | bloom Where the | citron and | olive are | fairest of | fruit And the | voice of the | nightingale | never is | mute Where the | virgins are | soft as the | roses they | twine And | all save the | spirit of | man is di | vine. ‘Tis the | land of the | East ’tis the | clime of the | Sun Can he | smile on such | deeds as his | children have | done Oh | wild as the | accents of | lovers’ fare | well Are the | hearts that they | bear and the | tales that they | *tell.*

  • On June 30, 2009 at 9:04 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Hey Tom, how did yu get the stress accents above the letters please?

  • On June 30, 2009 at 9:10 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Pretty much, silly.

  • On July 1, 2009 at 5:58 am thomas brady wrote:

    Arē ĕmblĕms | ōf deĕds thăt | āre dŏne ĭn | thēir clĭme. |


  • On July 1, 2009 at 6:04 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Dear Thomas,

    Yes, absolutely, you are right–dactylic meter in English as in classical languages does use involve many spondees (though in English they come out more like trochees). Just as anapestic meter can substitute iambs frequently and iambic meter can substitute anapests frequently, so dactylic meter substitutes trochees frequently and vica versa.

    I love Poe’s long essay on meter–one of the most beautifully written pieces of prosody ever, and perceptive too. Like Nabokov’s brief and brilliant “Notes on Prosody,” or Housman’s fertile footnote about dipodic meters, it makes you wish he’d written even more on the subject.

  • On July 1, 2009 at 6:16 am thomas brady wrote:


    The accents were already attached to the text copied from the Poe essay, which I recommend you read; that Irishman Poe knew more about verse than the whole lot of them put together; study that work, the ‘Rationale,’ for a week, or so, and you’ll be an expert a hundred times over, I guarantee it.

    By the way, yesterday, on June 30, 1835, Poe, at age 26, published ‘The Unparralleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall,’ one of the first examples of modern science fiction.

    If one discovers a gas 37 times lighter than hydrogen, one might use a balloon for lunar travel…

    Some are full of hot air and some are…


  • On July 1, 2009 at 6:17 am Annie Finch wrote:

    funny, Colin, that’s exactly what I was going to say to you
    (- :

    Of course, the linguists would say we are both wrong.

    However, to continue a bit:

    The reason I scan is to describe what is there to my ear. I hear a regular groove going in this poem, and I think anyone who read it aloud would hear it too. The poem is simply, obviously, blatantly, not in free verse; even though the line-lengths vary a bit, the basic rhythm runs through pretty consistently.

    THe job of scansion is to figure out the simplest (Occam’s razor) description of what is happening.

    We both know that antibacchics and bacchics wouldn’t exist in the same lines–as you say, one wouldn’t occur in an anapestic poem, and one wouldn’t occur in a dacytlic poem– so why spend time making a hypothetical scansion that juxtaposes them?

    The poem is clearly in a falling rhythm; even without scanning, one can see that the majority of lines begin with a stress and all end with either a monosyllable or a falling rhythm.

    Clearly it’s also in triple rhythm.

    Dactyls are an obvious guess, and in fact, there is no foot here that wont fit the model-

    i have to go now, but will try to continue later.

    over and out,

  • On July 1, 2009 at 8:29 pm Colin Ward wrote:


    why spend time making a hypothetical scansion that juxtaposes them?

    To show that this is free verse.

    I could ask you the same question: Why spend time making hypothetical scansions when S1-L1 is clearly iambic, S1-L4 obviously amphibrachic, and S2-L2 undeniably trochaic?

    The fact that it has a lot of trinaries mixed in with whole lines of binary simply makes it what it is: polyrhythmic free verse. If it helps, I could show you a few poems that are much harder to categorize than “At Last the Women Are Moving”. For example, there is the Usenet “filler and killer” classic, “Hookers”, by Marco Morales:

    Missing you again,
    I embrace shallow graves.
    Pale faces, doughlike breasts
    help me forget.

    A “softball” question: In what meter would you scan Byron’s “Bride of Abydos”?

    Best regards,


  • On July 3, 2009 at 11:54 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Colin, I’ve posted an audio clip of the poem above. Granted, the dactyls in the first stanza is rough and tentative, but thereafter the dactylics get going to such an extent that I’d be surprised if you couldn’t hear them. If this is free verse, then free verse is not free verse. Your hookers looks like free verse with a strong trimeter undercurrent similar to the trimeters Bishop gets into in “The Moose.”

    “Bride of Abydos” looks on quick glance like it starts in iambic tetrameter and changes to iambic pentameter partway through.

    Heading out for now but will check back on tuesday, af

  • On July 3, 2009 at 10:17 pm Colin Ward wrote:


    thereafter the dactylics get going to such an extent that I’d be surprised if you couldn’t hear them.

    I can hear trinaries, including these two feet of clearcut anapest (among many others, along with the copious amphibrachs I’ve mentioned):

    For my class | I have come

    My question is: Can you not hear the binaries?

    If this is free verse, then free verse is not free verse.

    What else would you call something that has an equal number of iambs, trochees, anapests, amphibrachs and dactyls? Note how many of the rhythm strings change in the middle of the line.

    “There is no escape from metre; there is only mastery.”

    – T.S. Eliot

    The arrhythmia we see presented as free verse today didn’t begin to dominate until more than a decade after “At Last the Women Are Moving”. That was right about when scansion stopped being taught in schools. Funny, that.

    Your hookers looks like free verse with a strong trimeter undercurrent similar to the trimeters Bishop gets into in “The Moose.”

    I often give this to students on their first day, asking them if it’s free verse or metrical. (I warn them that if they say the latter they have to scan it for us!) If one of them ever gets it right I’ll know I’m in the presence of the next Algernon Swinburne. When they ask for the answer I tell them that, before the course is through, they will be giving me the answer. (The lengths I go to in order to keep ’em coming back!)

    “Bride of Abydos” looks on quick glance like it starts in iambic tetrameter and changes to iambic pentameter partway through.

    Perhaps we’re talking about two different poems. Lest there be any confusion, I’m referring to this one:

    Know ye the land where the cypress and myrtle
    Are emblems of deeds that are done in their clime —
    Where the rage of the vulture, the love of the turtle
    Now melt into softness, now madden to crime?
    Know ye the land of the cedar and vine,
    Where the flowers ever blossom, the beams ever shine,
    And the light wings of Zephyr, oppressed with perfume,
    Wax faint o’er the gardens of Gul in their bloom?
    Where the citron and olive are fairest of fruit
    And the voice of the nightingale never is mute —
    Where the virgins are soft as the roses they twine,
    And all save the spirit of man is divine?
    ‘Tis the land of the East — ’tis the clime of the Sun —
    Can he smile on such deeds as his children have done?
    Oh, wild as the accents of lovers’ farewell
    Are the hearts that they bear and the tales that they tell.

    will check back on tuesday, af

    Sounds good. See you then, Annie. Happy 4th!

    Best regards,


  • On July 6, 2009 at 10:44 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Thanks, this is not the poem I was referring to earlier. I’d call this mixed triple meter, anapestic and dactylic lines–not consistently falling meter like the Taggard.

    Re the line where you hear anapests, I hear a very regular English accentual-syllabic dactylic hexameter with dactyls, trochees, and a footless ending, all very typical variations in dactylic meter.

    NOT for / ME and mine / ONly/ FOR my/ CLASS I have/ COME

    The point of scansion in my view is to provide the simplest possible description of the rhythmical coherence in a poem, if the poem has rhythmical coherence. I hear rhythmical coherence in the Taggard poem; you don’t. It seems to me you are hearing with your brain rather than your ear, but you seem to think that about me as well. I don’t know that there is much more point to discussing it. But thanks for the energetic discussion.

    All best,

  • On July 6, 2009 at 11:28 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    For those of you who are interested in a nice piece of American Literary History, Colin Ward as ‘Kaltica” and Thomas Brady as ‘Tom West’ had a stirring, 18 page debate about prosody on Poets.org just over a year ago. It starts here with Tom West: http://www.poets.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=15405&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=30&sid=988dbbfe433585a0780a96f36e6012fa

    It’s always a pleasure to debate you because you are not my mirror; you do not reflect, but challenge every idea I have.

    The pages involving a detailed discussion of Hookers by Marco Morales specifically begins here: http://www.poets.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=15405&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=105

    Lest you accuse me of being ingenuous, I was ‘ACommoner,’ and yes, I am proud of it even though I didn’t make it all the way to the end of the thread. One day that event too might become our Literary History–if we get that far!


  • On July 7, 2009 at 12:53 am Colin Ward wrote:

    “Bride of Abydos” has 6 lines of perfect anapestic tetrameter and no conflicting model lines. It has some acephaly, one elision and only one substitution in the whole poem:

    [x] [x] Know | ye the land | where the cyp | ress and myr | tle
    [<=] Are emb | lems of deeds | that are done | in their clime —
    Where the rage | of the vul | ture, the love | of the tur | tle
    [<=] Now melt | into soft | ness, now mad | den to crime?
    [x] [x] Know | ye the land | of the ced | ar and vine,
    Where the flow’rs | ever blos | som, the beams | ever shine,
    And the light | wings of Zeph | yr, oppressed | with perfume,
    [x] Wax faint | o’er the gar | dens of Gul | in their bloom?
    Where the cit | ron and ol | ive are fair | est of fruit
    And the voice | of the night | ingale nev | er is mute —
    Where the vir | gins are soft | as the ros | es they twine,
    [x] And all | save the spir | it of man | is divine?
    ‘Tis the land | of the East | — ’tis the clime | of the Sun —
    Can he smile | on such deeds | as his chil | dren have done?
    [x] Oh, wild | as the ac | cents of lov | ers’ farewell
    Are the hearts | that they bear | and the tales | that they tell.

    The two “-tle” endings are borrowed to complete the subsequent lines.

    NOT for / ME and mine / ONly/ FOR my/ CLASS I have/ COME

    The point of scansion in my view is to provide the simplest possible description of the rhythmical coherence in a poem,

    Agreed. Your scansion has double hypercatalexis and more substitutions than regular feet, though–one more trochee than dactyl. Were this a line of metrical poetry it would seem to scan much easier in anapest:

    NOT for ME | and mine ON | ly for my CLASS | I have COME

    Cretic in F1, hypersyllabic F3.

    thanks for the energetic discussion.

    You’re welcome. It’s been fun.

    Best regards,


  • On July 7, 2009 at 9:47 am thomas brady wrote:

    Not sure why Colin has this: [x] [x] see below:

    [x] [x] Know | ye the land | where the cyp | ress and myr | tle

    Poe’s scansion re: the Byron is correct. (See what I posted above, or go to eapoe.org.) Colin’s is not.

    There is NO way to HEAR: [x][x], for AS SOON AS the speaker says, “Know,” the poem BEGINS–there is no other way around it. These: [x][x] are the marks of a pedant, signifying nothing…

    I agree with Colin re: the Taggard, but Colin (and Annie obviously) are too proud to let themselves be taught by Poe. Which is perfectly understandable. They both were schooled in the ‘Understanding Poetry’ era, when it was fashionable to not only ignore Poe, but to deride him; the reason for the derision was nothing but bad blood, an old quarrel, between Emerson and Poe which was carried on by Emerson’s children: William James & T.S. Eliot…and to those (almost everyone) unaware of the quarrel it seemed the natural ‘way of things’ and thus carried more weight…anyway, thanks to Colin and Annie…fascinating how an issue based on ‘quantity’ alone can so divide us!


  • On July 7, 2009 at 10:18 am thomas brady wrote:

    Here’s how I scan the first stanza:

    LAST, WALK/ ing with STIFF /LEGS as / IF they /CAR-ried /BUN-dles,
    Came MOTH /ers, HOUSE/ WIVES, OLD/ WOM-en/ who KNEW / WHY they ab /HORRED WAR.
    Their CLOTHES/ BUNCHED a /-BOUT them, / they HOBB/ -led with ANX/ -ious STEPS
    To KEEP/ with the STRIDE/ of the MAR/ -chers, e- RECT/ BEAR-ing wide / BAN-ners.

    Note L.4 ‘to keep with stride of the marchers, erect’ is anapestic/iambic–which makes sense, since anapestic/iambic is a marching rhythm. ‘Bearing wide banners’ returns to the falling rhythm, weighed down by those banners.

    Taggard is loading her lines with the weight of ancient Greek and Latin–far more spondaic than English: note all the spondees in the first three lines.

    There’s no way one can make a line ‘march’ with a lot of spondees, and since IAMBIC is a MARCHING rhythm, the default rhythm becomes trocahic/dactylic, and this is what Annie is hearing.

    The lines however, ARE arhythmic and halting, which is what Colin is hearing, and thus HE is correct.

    And Taggard is trying to make her bundled-down women hobble along to the ear, and so the halting rhythm. So Taggard is correct, also.

    It should also be pointed out that spondaic feet (two long) are equivalent to anapestic and dactylic feet (a long and two short) but NOT to iambic and trochaic feet (one long, one short) and mixing up these feet will ALWAYS make a rhythm seem halting and jittery.


  • On July 8, 2009 at 12:21 pm Julia Lisella wrote:

    Thank you Annie, for initiating the lively conversation about a poet who is too often ignored. I wanted to add here, though, a comment in connection with the poem being “uninflected by modernism”. Genevieve Taggard, along with many of her radical left poet contemporaries, considered herself a modernist and believed she was participating in a modernist project. For her, as for others, that experiment was both linguistic and socio-political. And a line like “Such women looked odd marching on American asphalt” could be a way to define that modernist “moment” when those seemingly “out of place” in the American conversation because of gender and/or class become present through language, through poetry. For Taggard, this was really part of her sense of modernism.

  • On July 8, 2009 at 9:10 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Fascinating, Julia.

    I don’t quite know why but the details of that post make me want to be there. I have tried so hard to keep left all my life, but even I was too late to be an unselfconscious socialist. I never joined a march I ever felt wholly comfortable in, as Genevieve Taggard’s obviously did. Indeed, I never found a political cause that I didn’t know from the start would create as many problems as it solved.

    Born to late!

    I too would have been a “modernist” in the sense that Genevieve Taggard thought she was, even if I didn’t write like one. Indeed, I still am, in a sense, simply because I was born before the Second World War. But still I don’t write like one—and I’m also very sympathetic to the political movement that would wipe the whole American slate clear of their prejudices and distortions.


  • On July 8, 2009 at 11:12 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    I bumped into a bloke over from Chicago, New York, or some American megatropolis, last Friday evening in the Palace Bar on Fleet Street, which is a major lampost on the literary tourist round of Dublin boozers where proprietorial fingers fumble in a greasy till, adding the halfpence to the pence.

    He was a lawyer and i asked him what changes had occured since Obama got sworn in. He said, though it was still at the stage were no-one talked of it, there had been a palpable release and dissolving of tension between the various racial communities that was too big to put into words. The historic magnitude of the simple fact of an African-American being president,and the fact that who is clearly the most intelligent person in the room who got the job on merit – had procured an immediate effect which has achieved what no amount of equality legislation could have done.

    But no one talks about it, he said, even though it is clear to all.

  • On July 9, 2009 at 1:53 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    You in Dublin, me in Chiang Mai.

    We just had a guest from Washington who said that the change was even bigger than that, that people had learned to talk again without notes! People were listening much better too, an equally important skill which Obama also models.

    I am new to Harriet, but it seems to me there’s something of that rubbing off here too. The Poetry Foundation is the first powerful, well-financed poetry organization that is not part of the Old Dispensation, and I hear views regularly expressed here that would have had all sorts of institutional control freaks waving guidelines in your faces before. Is that possibly Obama too, that with the Bush etablishment voted out people are more willing to take chances?

    At last the women are moving indeed—out from under the skirts of the feminists too. Hilary Clinton didn’t quite make it, but those 23 debates got men and women together as never before, and somehow her role as America’s representative abroad is equally important as Obama’s as president. At least that’s the way it looks to me in the Golden Triangle.


  • On July 9, 2009 at 4:06 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Yeah, Ronstar Silly Mohn was saying it is the first time in forty years the print mag is reflecting what’s happening with the flarf issue.

    I am not a flarf groupie but am fully behind the flarf issue, because for too long there has bee a closed shop with lyric normals droning in the spot-light and getting all the (subsidised) praise in our miniscule community on life-support. This gaffe too is the first to actually execute the truly fair philosphy we get to hear a lot of online by the self-styled dictators of Democracy like John Boddie and other facists whose tight-ass talk of freedom and whatnot is merely the sheen of plank factory bosses whose idea of free speech extends soley to agreeing with every word they say.

    I ‘ve lost count at the amount of pretend groovers in anti-intellectual cliques run on a basis of fear, founded on the rhetorical principles in which (as Laurie Smith who authored this article on The New Imagination in English poetry rag Magma, states) the mods of cod web democracies “use language as control – to control their own feelings by denying or minimising them and to control others by suggesting, through fluency, grammatical precision, irony or accent, that they are inferior.

    Here the editorial policy is actually not run by idiots, which is very surprising for a poetry organiastion. What gets me is the people who moan about others saying their thing, when the best thing to do is, not read and if you get a ranter, as i had at the guardian poem of the week yesterday saying i was utter shite – just ignore it. If you are in any way good, loonies launching frenzied attacks are all part of the fun, and if you just say nothing and move on, once the heat’s gone the jibe’s just hanging there like frozon vomit. Pliny says something about it in his letters, how the moment befits passion, but time is conducive to reasoned opinion.

    Unless we are trying to get global drug, sex-trafficking, or conspiracies to topple nations, there really is no good reason to start the Thirties Berlin shtick.

    We are too lucky, too rich, to be thinking that Christopher Woodman, a very eloquent 70 year old man or Brady, should be treated as though they’re Robert Mugabe, for actually talking quantum level linguistics, impelled only by a deep love for language.

    Once the logophobic oppos in the Big Mac and Fries of Poetry start waving the gun at yer head in a small room and demand crucifiction for the logorrheic – it’s time for the spirit of Borat, Bruno and Michael Moore to take over at the podium.

  • On July 9, 2009 at 4:35 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Do you hear what he’s saying, everybody? He’s saying my polite and elegant diction has a fascistic element in it, which indeed it has. I’m only 70, but was still brought up so much in the Wasp era and mould that when I went away to my Public School in Hampshire I assumed along with my classmates that all Americans looked just like me. Indeed, I had just left Saint Paul’s in New Hampshire where there had never been a black, were just a handful of Catholics, and the only Jew was a Boston Strauss.

    The final step, I pray, dear God, is that Barack Obama has laid that ghost to rest forever. He certainly has for me, because when I see that handsome face looking straight back at me and speaking such sense on the BBC I know I’m face to face at last with humanity.

    Desmond Swords is Irish, and he’s got his laptop just clear of that Guinness spill where he sits at his table by the fire in the pub (it’s still damp and chilly in July). And the language of the people is what he’s typing out for us with his fingers on fire too, that’s why it’s so long. You can’t control language if you’re Irish–it’s got you in its grip and you better be quiet! So quiet too had better be we.

    And I mean that.


  • On July 9, 2009 at 5:06 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    It only takes two to start a linguistic love-in Woodie. We are all only after trying to make that genuine connection of logorrheic larghetto which leads to a language of eloquence, essentially euphonious, the tuneful diatonic that quickens and slows into rallentando, between consenting adults in love with shape-making, artists of the virtual air-space where mind-scapes fashion and flit fully melodious, mellow and appassionato, are the notes on our vowel-scale of ogham and go, go, go

    the coat of arms for a Swiss canton
    reverse design on Mercury dimes
    the borough flag of Brooklyn
    on the Coit Tower San Francisco
    seal of Colorado state – Senate and HoR
    National Guard – on pylons flanking
    a staircase leading to Lincoln’s seat

    on the front arms of his memorial
    Hupmobile car – emblem of Columbus
    Knights, and above the door to Chicago
    City Hall – carried within the limits
    of a sacred inner city – white-birch
    rods, cylindrically wound in red
    leather ribbon, a blade of bronze
    facing out – frieze on the facade
    of a Supreme Court – the imperial
    symbol – fasces facists smash it
    trash it, lash out her lags who’d have
    us not gassin cuz there aint no imbas
    fizzin within their frame.

  • On July 9, 2009 at 5:15 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    NOW STOP, dear friend. It’s God’s gift–give Gabriel a chance to deliver.

  • On July 9, 2009 at 12:12 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Julia, this is a really useful contribution to the discussion. Thanks so much! What you say seems to have been true also of Sandburg, Lindsay, Markham. Why and how do you think this aspect of Modernism has been obscured?

  • On July 16, 2009 at 9:57 pm Julia Lisella wrote:

    Why has that aspect of modernism been obscured? I guess the short answer is the legacy of New Criticism coming later and preserving a modernism that fit their bill of the poem as a riddle to be cracked, revealed by the reader’s ingenuity and the poem’s. A certain type of modernist poem was right for such an endeavor. But I also think the rejection of Taggard’s version of modernism had to do with how inflected it was by gender. She wrote a lot about her own domestic life, her child, her role as a mother, and really tried to insert those topics into the political agenda. I think most of her contemporaries didn’t seem to have as much trouble integrating those issues as critics later seemed to in the 1950s…. On top of that, for many of the radical left poets, Modernism was also defined as a socio-cultural rejection of what came before–middle class, Victorian sentimentalism–even though one could argue that much of the wonderful 1930s rousing political poetry was pretty sentimental, too! and that many a poem and novel by a Victorian “lady” or “gentleman” helped create radical change in their own time even Taggard would have to admit– Still, modernists like Taggard saw modernism as a way to call into question capitalist constructs of middle class life, though in a complicated way, she also praised her domestic life. She has a great poem about her guilt and feeling of being torn between her middle class life and those around her during a strike, “Middle Class Woman at Midnight”… She called T.S. Eliot’s “brand” of modernism “nihilistic” or something along those lines, because she felt it was too removed from people’s struggles. But the comment also suggests that she believed there were several versions or “brands” or ways of being a modernist. Somehow we inherited the notion that modernism equals apolitical linguistic experimentation. But much of that notion of modernism is really shifting in critical circles these days making it reasonable to discuss modernism and political poetry in the same breath! I myself am pretty happy to teach Eliot, Taggard, Rukeyser, Millay, HD and many others as examples of modernisms–well it looks as though this conversation quieted down last week, but I finally got to a computer and thought I’d send this out.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 7:33 am Annie Finch wrote:

    The Modernism/New Critical doublewhammy. You’ve summed it up concisely and it makes a lot of sense. Thank you, Julia. Another question I’d enjoy learning your answer to is why it’s NOW that the definitions (and corollary aesthetic standards) are finally shifting again, after having felt pretty frozen for about 40 years. . .

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:06 am anonanew wrote:

    “But much of that notion of modernism is really shifting in critical circles these days making it reasonable to discuss modernism and political poetry in the same breath!”

    Sure, if by “these days” you mean the last 20+ years.

Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, June 25th, 2009 by Annie Finch.