More Detour on Metrics – (Longfellow)


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

AG: But (Henry Wadsworth) Longfellow, interestingly enough, (and) (Thomas) Campion, in the sixteenth Century tried out quantitative verse forms just to see if it could be done in English. Then, in the nineteenth-century, a whole raft of poets, in the mid nineteenth-century also tried out these rhythms more with an emphasis on the accentual stress part rather than on the quantitative. So there are great poems by (Algernon) Swinburne, (Alfred Lord) Tennyson (who was a fantastic prosodist, who knew all the different rhythms) – Swinburne, Tennyson, and, in America, Longfellow. By the time it gets to Longfellow it’s just completely reduced to accents –

“This is/ the for/est primeval./ The murmuring/ pines and the hemlocks” – He’s not at all listening to the quantitative element of it. That’s because Longfellow went to study in Heidelberg (or Tubigen?) Heidelberg, and German poetry is very heavily accentual too. And so there’s the ” Du bist wie eine Blume/So hold und schon und rein” (Heinrich) Heine) – So that his ear was trained more and more and more towards the accentual, towards the stress. And I think it was that influence of German accentual poetry on top of long long long long years of English degeneration of accentual poetry that finally broke the back of accentual poetry in America and led to (Walt) Whitman and (Ezra) Pound revolting against it and trying to find a different measure, a different rhythm. You know, abandoning it and saying it’s too hard to write poetry in this way, it all turns sing-song, finally, although it was immensely popular, you know, you’ve all heard that line? – has anybody not heard that line ,”This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines…”? Never heard it? – I guess.. you’ve heard your day? – I thought that was a classic when you went to grammar school high school didn’t they teach you Hiawatha. You know Hiawatha? Longfellow? You know. Isn’t that Hiawatha?

Student: Evangeline

AG: Evangeline, Evangeline… Yeah, Hiawatha’s got a different, other (rhythm). Evangeline.That was like a best-seller in America. By 1910 it was the example of American epic poetry in all the school-books. If you get school-books ( like the Norton Anthology from 1910, or whatever), because I have a lot of them, because my father went to school in those days and he kept his books so I looked all over those books. That’s the great.. there’s pages of that in the anthologies.

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

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