Reading Out Loud – A Diversion – 2

Greek prosody has a system for each vowel of up, down, or middle. Rising tones, falling tones, and marked by a circumflex (the little mark, the little upside-down “v” mark) up and down. And I think the first book of Homer’s The Iliad  has one word – “Peleus” – which is both up and down. “Sing , oh muse, of the wrath of Achilles, Peleus’ son” – son of Peleus – so that would be marked in Greek line (with an) up and down accent.

That was formal in Greek. There’s no such consideration formally in American or English. Except any hip poet, or any poet conscious of pronouncing, is aware of the musicality of the way he pronounces. And, pushed to exaggeration, these pitches, rising and falling, become tunes, actually.








The way I find tunes in (William) Blake is I find out how to pronounce the Blake idiomatically, like “Little Lamb, who made thee?”. As if you were actually asking the lamb – “Who made thee?”. There might be many different ways of doing it but I finally settled on, “Little Lamb, who made thee?” – that proposes [Allen begins singing] – ““Little Lamb, who made thee?”, or some tune. In other words, by extrapolating the tone that you find yourself using when you try and pronounce it intelligently, when you extrapolate or exaggerate it and push it out further, then you can arrive at a tune. So every intelligent line has its own tune, or it can have it’s own tune, or the way to find the tune is (to) figure out what the line means so that when you pronounce the line, you are pronouncing every single syllable within the line with some meaning. Every single syllable with some meaning – duh dah-dah-dah – and then the tune will have the equivalent of the emotional tone of the pronunciation.- [Allen sings again] “Every syllable” – There was a little intelligent, alert duh-dah duh-duh-dah, a little trumpet call [singing again] “Every syllable!”

The emotional tone expressed in the physical pitch or tone in the syllable in the line will have a melodic manifestation or articulation. In other words, it’s just common sense – I’m using big words, but, if you pour your feeling into the words and you understand each word, understand each syllable, so you’re not sliding over one or two or three syllables as being dead wood, if you don’t have any dead wood in there, then you can have a continuous melody. Louis Zukofsky’s wife (Celia) used to compose tunes to his poetry that way.

Well, that’s taking it all the way over into song, but keeping it into speech you still have the tone. And so you’ve got tone and intelligence in the consonants and conscious power of breath in the vowels. I wouldn’t want to systematize it, but you’ve got power in the vowels, intelligence in the consonants and emotion in the tones. That’s maybe making it all too conscious. The simplest rule, then, is to pronounce each line as if it did mean something, and then find out what your cadence and your.. not find out but just do it with cadence and tone as if it meant something. That’s simple, basically.

[Audio for the above may be heard here, starting at approximately eighteen minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-two-and-a quarter minutes in] 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *