Expansive Poetics – (A Digression – Metrics)

AG: You all know anapestic rhythm? Is there anybody here that doesn’t know rhythms, I guess. Well, we might as well go to the board. We won’t be using this much in the twentieth-century but, just for those who don’t know, this is standard (or was, at one time, standard) simple measured iamb. [Allen proceeds to write on the blackboard]. What’s an iambic pentameter line? Does anybody remember one?

Student: “Let me not to the marriage of true souls..” (Editorial note – “Let me not to the marriage of true minds]

AG: Well, it’s kind of mixed. It’s “Let me not to the marriage of true..” Well, I don’t know. I don’t have a book of English poetry here. I keep forgetting them. Oh well, let’s see..

Student: “Whether to be or not to…”

AG: Come here.. “To be or not to be, that is the question”. Yeah, okay. “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Of course it doesn’t (fit). They never fit. But it’s the general rising cadence – duh-dah-duh-dah-duh-dah-duh-dah-duh-dah. And the alternative would be trochee. That’s iamb. Most of you know them. For those who don’t we might as well get that in. Then there is dah-duh-dah-duh-dah-duh – “Tyger, tyger, burning bright/In the forests of the night. Trochee. Then there is dactyl “This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the…” Homer is supposedly dactylic hexameter – Six feet – “”This is the forest primaeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks”. And then, anapest – what we just had there (in Edgar Allan Poe) – “And so, all the night-tide, I lay down by the side/Of my darling – my darling – my life and my bride” –  “And so, all the night-tide, I lay down by the side/Of my darling – my darling – my life and my bride/ In her tomb by the sounding sea/In the sepulchre by the sea” – So that would be anapest. And those are the standards that you’re supposed to learn in grammar school and high school. Did you learn those? Anybody not? Yeah. What school did you go go?

Student: What high school?

AG: Yeah?

Student: Burke High School in Omaha, Nebraska

Student: Burke High School

AG: What city?

Student: Omaha, Nebraska

AG: And you?

Student (2): A place called Inglemoor High

AG: Where’s that?    (Is) that (in the)  Northwest? It was standard. I don’t know nowadays. Things have fallen apart a bit. Those were the standard magazine verse rhythms. What was interesting was that – I’ve gone over (this) a few times with people with other classes, so I don’t want to get too much into it, but there are a lot of varieties that are very rarely picked up on.   Is there anything I can answer. No? Anything I could answer?

Student: A poem’s spondaic or spondee?

AG: Yeah. There are a lot of different varieties. We’ll get to (the) spondee in a minute.
They are originally derived from the Greek. They are called “feet” – I guess this would be a poetic foot – dah-duh-duh  dah-duh-duh. It’s called a “foot” because, originally, it was a dance rhythm – Dah-duh-dah  dah-duh-duh dah-duh-duh dah-duh-duh – that the Greeks used in Greek choruses. So the nomenclature for poetic feet comes from the fact that it was originally danced – it was a measure for dancing. – and chanting at the same time. So you could chant and dance. The Greek chorus could chant and dance across the stage. But the Greeks had a much greater variety of dance rhythms and poetic rhythms than we used commonly in the early part of the century, in America and England. Because we never had the idea of.. we had dah-duh-dah or duh-duh-dah, but we never had (the Cretic foot, I think this is called) – dah-duh-duh-dah dah-duh-duh-dah dah-duh-duh-dah dah-duh-duh-dah. That’s not common. That’s not common. It’s common in speech but not common as a poetic rhythm that you might write to scheme, or you might scheme out.
Or the Greeks also had duh-dah-duh-dah, No, Duh-dah-dah. Duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah,duh-dah-dah,duh-dah-dah,duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah. So there are many variations of the three-syllable feet, like dah-duh-dah, duh-dah-duh, dah-dah… dah-dah-duh. (two sharp..) Duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah. Or, duh-dah-duh, duh-dah-duh. duh-dah-duh – “I’ll fuck you”, “I’ll fuck you” – They’re part of our speech. “I’ll kick yuh”, “I’ll kick yuh”, “I’ll kick yuh” – or, “You kick me”, “you kick me”,”you kick me” – or, “He’ll kick ’em”,”He’ll kick ’em”,”he’ll kick ’em”,”he’ll kick ’em”,”he’ll kick ’em”,”he’ll kick ’em” “- Duh-dah-dah.“- “He’ll kick ’em”, “he’ll kick ’em”,”he’ll kick ’em”, “he’ll kick ’em”.

Then there’s a great variety that are not generally used in English but were often used in Greek (and also by Ezra Pound, and people who studied Greek – and also by Hungarian poets, who have a great range of rhythm that they command).

Then there are four-syllable thythms, called.. I forgot. They have a name. They have a regular nomenclature. There’s a little book in the (Naropa) library which has the whole system. It’s a little xerox manuscript I put in a couple of years ago [Editorial note – There are at least sixteen four-syllable meters. The ones Allen refers to most are the choriambic, the four paeonics, and the four epitritus meters]. But there are rhythms that go one-two-three – dah-duh-duh-dah, dah-duh-duh-dah.

Student: So was this something that was carried over from the Greek language to English translations, or..

AG: The.. Well, I just want to outline a few of the sounds first.

Student: Okay

AG: Duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, which would be two, three, four – in other words, four-syllable meters, which we rarely encounter in English, actually. Very few people use them. And there are a number of varieties, like dah-duh-dah-dah, dah-duh-dah-dah, dah-duh-dah-dah. Or duh-dah-duh-duh, duh-dah-duh-duh,duh-dah-duh-duh,duh-dah-duh-duh, duh-dah-duh-duh. Or, duh-duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-duh-dah. In other words, your accent is in a different position than the first, second, third or fourth. Or it could be dah-dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-dah-duh. In other words, three sharp and one light. Duh-duh-dah-duh,duh-duh-dah-duh,duh-duh-dah-duh. Or, Dah-dah-duh-dah, dah-dah-duh-dah, dah-dah-duh-dah,  dah-dah-duh-dah. Or, Dah-duh-dah-dah, dah-duh-dah-dah,dah-duh-dah-dah. Or, dah-dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-dah-duh. Are you following? Just shifting the unaccented syllable.
Have you heard of those? or do they teach those at all… (R) where you were educated?.. Yeah, (the) Latin would have them.

Well, there’s a history in English of people who are interested in those kinds of rhythms – mainly the Renaissance poets – Sidney, Sir Philip Sidney, and (Edmund) Spenser – people who went to Italy for their educations back in Renaissance times at a time of revival of Greek learning and pagan antiquity, and revival of the meters, and revival of stanza-forms – like Sappho’s stanza (Sappho uses the spondee, which is two accented or two long syllables – actually, they were measuring the length of the syllable rather than the accent of the syllable).

Are people familiar with that – quantitative measure? How many here have heard of quantitative measure – the length of the syllable. We were teaching it last term. How many have not heard of quantitative syllable length? Well, I’ll get into it later on, when we get to Ezra Pound, because he revived it in English for the twentieth-century, and that’s his speciality. But, basically, it’s just measuring the length of the vowel

The Sapphic stanza is quantative and ends with a spondee. Some of the lines end with a spondee, and a spondee is two long (syllables) – “wave splash”,  [Allen illustrates this on the blackboard] . When you measure long vowels you may do it like that instead of a sharp sound. In English, we took over the nomenclature of Greek and Latin prosody – the measure of the line – and made it into accents – a count of accents. The Greeks originally were counting he length of the vowel. Like (Ezra) Pound’s “with usura” – with usury – “with usura the line grows thick” – duh-duh-dah-duh-duh-dah-duh-dah – he’s hearing “with usura the line…grows…thick”. It’s a slow-down.  “Red cheeked boyfriends tenderly kiss me sweet mouthed” – “sweet mouthed” is a spondee – two long vowels in a row, a foot consisting of two long vowels or two accented vowels.
This is too complicated to get into right here. Is this confusing people? Is anybody confused? Well, we’ll straighten it out later.

Student: (What is the difference between a foot and) a beat?

AG: Well, a foot is a combination. A beat would be when you’re counting (as we do, standardly, American, in English, nowadays, or 1880-1890), a beat would be the accent. No, a beat would be the stress, the stress. Duh-duh-dah duh-duh-dah duh-duh-dah. A foot of four stresses, or a foot of four syllables, one stressed and three unstressed, is duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-duh-dah. That’s a foot. A four-syllable foot with four…three unaccented syllables – duh-duh-duh – and one accented syllable – dah. Or three unstressed syllables and one stressed syllable. So a foot would be four or three or two, or even one. It could be one.

Student: When you write poetry do you think about this..?

AG: Never!

Student: No?

AG: But, yes, actually, yes I do sometimes. I wouldn’t start out with a scheme necessarily I start out with a rhyme like dah-duh dah-duh dah-duh. You might start out with that kind of a rhyme – like “love me, love me, love me”, “give it to me, give it to me, give it to me”. I might start out with something like that – an impulse like that – and then want to reproduce it and then it might stumble. So then I might analyze it and say “duh-duh-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh-duh dah-duh-duh-duh dah-dah-duh-duh, dah-dah-duh-duh” – That is an actual meter – “Dah-dah-duh-duh”  [Editorial note – it’s called ionic a maiore“high hat into”] – two stessed syllables and two unstressed. That is a foot. So I might want to reproduce the foot. Or I might use these kind of analytics to analyze a line that doesn’t fit right (or) doesn’t sound right. I was writing a poem called “Plutonian Ode” (which you heard me read). So I actually figured out the line at one point.. I got to a line of “Over your dreadful vibration this measured harmony floats audible” – talking to plutonium – “Over your…” And I wanted to continue the line but I had to figure out what meter I was using, in order to continue the line. So it was “Over your dreadful vibration this measured harmony floats audible”. Well, it was basically dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, or dactyl, I guess. That was dactyl, wasn’t it?  I forgot – dah-duh-duh – (it is) -“Over your dreadful vibration this measured harmony floats audible/These jubilant.. – duh-dah-dah-duh-dah – “These jubilant tones are honey and milk and wine-sweet water poured on the stone block floor”. Well, I didn’t stick to a consistent thing, but I wanted to know what I was doing so I’d know where to vary, So it’s useful, if you’re tinkering at the level or height of ecstatic rhythm, like you’ve got in (Edgar Allan) Poe, or you might have in “Howl”, or some kind of heroical poem – (Percy Bysshe) Shelley?  It’s really useful to know what the count is, so you can always reproduce it and extend it another two or three lines, if you want. If you get a run, that’s really nice. (If you) get a run that’s getting sort of orgasmic and building up, then you might want to extend it, so you want to know what the beat is. It’s useful. But I wouldn’t…

What one does is absorbs the poems into your nervous system, like “Annabel Lee”duh-dah-dah-dah – “So all the night-tide, I lie down by the side” – that’s reversed a little. That is, you absorb the poem in the body, and that influences you, so that you come up with variants of those rhythms. Does that make sense?

Student: Um-hmm

AG: So, in other words, the best way to learn is (to) just take strong pieces of rhythm that attract (you when) you hear them. Maybe you can analayze and find out later what they are but to absorb them into your body by repeating them aloud.

Student: And then try to write in that style in your own…

AG: You don’t have to try. I think that if it gets into your nervous system, then it comes out. It just comes out naturally. In other words, after a while you tend to think in those forms, in those cadences, tend to feel those cadences, or you recognize yourself talking in those cadences, or you recognize yourself talking in them.There was one cadence I thought was very interesting that was used… it was a five-syllable foot, five-syllable meter, called dochmiac meter, that was traditionally used by Greek dramatists at the height of the revelation in the Greek play. At the moment when Oedipus discovers that he’s married his mother and killed his father and gives a great cry, it would be “Dah dah duh dah dah“, something like that (the dochmiac is actually -unstressed, stressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed – “I bit off his nose” – which, in English, we have in milder (form) in Ben Jonson“Droop herbs and flowers/Fall fruits in showers”) – Dah-dah-duh-dah-dah – “Fall fruits in showers” [Editorial note, the actual line is “Fall grief in showers“] – and in Hart Crane, (in the) twentieth-century, more powerfully – “Lo, Lord Thou ridest!/Lord, lord, Thy swifting heart/ Nought stayeth, nought now bideth/But’s smithereened apart!” – but “Lo, Lord Thou ridest!..” – the hurricane – bom-bom-puh-dah-dah – and that’s a single recognizable foot, actually (as a dance foot- you can imagine (it) –bom-bom-puh-dah-dah – that’d be great))&gt.Dah dah duh dah dah” –

[Randy Roark transcriber’s note: “Although there are four five-syllable meters listed on the hand-out Ginsberg distributed to his classes, I can find none approximating this one. “Lo, Lord Thou ridest!” is anaclastic or hypodochmius, but it’s stressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed, unstressed”]

“The Raven” by Poe is dah-duh-dah-duh, dah-duh-dah-duh, dah-duh-dah-duh, dah-duh-dah-duh. One, two, three, four – it’s a four syllable. “Once upon a..” – well, it could either be a four-syllable – “Once upon a..” – “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered , weak and weary,/Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore” – or else just trochee -“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered , weak and weary” – Everybody know “The Raven”? Anybody here never heard “The Raven”? Anybody? “The Raven” is the one poem that finally penetrated through every skull. Terrific. I always liked that one.

[Audio for the above can be found here, beginning at approximately twenty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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