Syllabic Poetry – 2 ( Herrick)

[Poems Selected from the Hesperides by Robert Herrick, 1903]

AG : So,in this case. First, his (Robert Herrick‘s) sense, “The Argument of his Book” – Subject-matter – “(Argument”, you know, “Argument” in (John) Milton and here, it’s the subject-matter, and also in my own “Contest of Bards”, the phrase “Argument” means what’s going to go on, book by book.

“I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers,/ Of April, May, of June, and July flowers. /I sing of May-poles, hock-carts, wassails, wakes..” – (you know “hock carts” that brought in the last corn of the harvest, “wakes”, parish festivals as well as watches over the dead ) – “I sing of May-poles, hock-carts, wassails, wakes/Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal-cakes./ I write of youth, of love, and have access/ By these to sing of cleanly wantonness..” (that’s really nice, I like that. they really get sexy that way – “cleanly wantonness”? – .

Peter Orlovsky: Cleanly?

AG: Yeah, young, youth love, which has access to nice clean..clean-limbed nakedness – “cleanly wantonness”) – I sing of dews, of rains, and piece by piece /Of balm, of oil, of spice, and ambergris./ I sing of Time’s trans-shifting; and I write/ How roses first came red, and lilies white./I write of groves, of twilights, and I sing/ The court of Mab, and of the fairy king./ I write of Hell; I sing (and ever shall)/ Of Heaven, and hope to have it after all.

So, each line is exactly ten syllables. If you count them – “I/ sing/ of /brooks/, of/ bloss/oms/, birds,/and/ bowers” (not “bow-ers” but “bowers” – bowers/flowers and then you get ten) – )

[Allen reads the entire poem again – beating out this time the time] – “I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers”…..”I write of Hell; I sing (and ever shall)/ Of Heaven, and hope to have it after all” – (the “Heaven” is one syllable..two,.no, one… “Of Heaven/, and hope/ to have/ it /aft/er all”) – So, even with syllabics, you can get some kind of funny syncopation, with words like “bowers” “flowers”, and “Heaven”, so you get the weird little fast… fast slurs of words.

And the next poem is ten syllables also, if you want to look – (“To the Sour Reader”) – “If thou dislik’st the Piece thou light’st on first/Think that, of all that I have writ, the worst/But if thou read’st my book unto the end/And still does this and that verse reprehend:/ O perverse man! If all disgustful be,/ The extreme scab take thee and thine for me” – But it’s all ten-syllables. It’s all four-square (like a carpenter’s made, you know, an even table you know, like you’d get a table that’s exactly square, and it sits properly, and you put… you put a bevel on and it’ll bevel properly – you put a bevel on it and the bubble in the bevel will stay right in the center), The thing is right there… and it’s a funny.. the usefulness of that is, it gives some unconscious repeated tick-tock all the way through, that runs counter.. see, it’s sort of like an unwobbling, immovable, and that runs counter to any other kind of rhythm that you have writing down..and the other rhythm you set up within the line. So you have the unconscious rhythm of the mon-o-syllable of ten (or whatever number), and then you might that beautiful thing, “I sing of Time’s trans-shifting”, that really beautiful,, right at the centert (where) he gets away from all the monosyllabic “May, of June, and July flowers “, “brides, and… bridal-cakes “, “of youth, of love”, “balm, of oil, of spice, and ambergris”, all of a sudden – ” I sing of Time’s trans-shifting” (da da-da da da da-da) – and that fits “I sing /of/”Time’s/ trans/shifting”) also, so there’s a counterpoint, or counter-stress, or.. I don’t know what you’d call it, counter-rhythms?, There’s a single monosyllabic count and there’s..then there’s – ” I sing of Time’s trans-shifting: (da da-da da da da-da) – (da da da-da… – I don’t know what that is) – and you also get “Of Heaven, and hope to have it after all”.  And then whenever you put in,, then, you notice how exact you get all the commas, all the periods and the semi-colons. You know, you can really neaten it out all you want and make it totally one-hundred-percent neat and logical and square almost. So people react against it because it’s a bit (of) a square form. But, on the other hand, it’s very.. it’s like doing crossword puzzles, you know, or acrostics, it’s.. It’s just sort of like a little puzzle thing you can make).

{Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-two minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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