A Brief Detour on Metrics – 1


Allen continuing his class on Sir Philip Sidney‘s poem  [Astrophil and Stella – Sonnet 1 – “Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show”]

Student; So after that?

AG: Well, I don’t know. What happened to the “of”? – [”That She, dear She might take some pleasure/Of my pain”] – “of my pain”, “pleasure of my pain” – That’s one of the problems of the transcription. So we’ll substitute the “That” for the “Of”, we’ve still got six

“Pleasure might cause her read,/ reading might make her know”, no, “Pleasure/ might cause her/ read,/ reading/ might make her/ know” – that makes it six.

“Knowledge/ might pity/ win,/ and pity/ grace/ obtain/ – I sought fit/ words to paint/ the black/est face of/ woe” – It finally gets to be an even iambic – “I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe”, “fit words to paint the blackest face” (da-da), “I sought fit words..” “I sought/ fit words to paint/the blackest face of woe” – Yes – Oft turn/ing others’/ leaves,/ to see if/ thence/ would flow/ Some fresh/ and fruit/ful showers/ upon/ my sun/burned brain” (I’m just counting out, you know, da-da, da-da, da-da – that’s the main (count), but of course, it’s very varied so, “Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburned brain” – “sun-burnt brain”, “sun/burnt/brain”. But the basic paradigm is iambic hexameter. The hexameter line is interesting because that’s the basis of…is that the French basic form? –hexameter? – what’s the difference between a hexameter and an alexandrine ?

Student : The alexandrine’s just the close-up of the line.

AG: There is a little bit of dactylic in here anyway, a little echo of it when you get to “Studying inventions fine”, “Loving in..” (da-da-da-da) – “Loving in truth, and fain..”, well, “Loving in truth..” It begins a little bit with an element of dactylic. That’s heavy-light-light, heavy-light-light, stress-light-light, stress light-light, “Loving/in/truth” (da-da-da da). And it goes through “Knowledge might pity” – “Knowledge might pit..” – Knowledge might da-da-da. Is everybody following this? –  Dactylic? – Dactylic is.. well you’ve got little sheets on this –  [Allen chalks it up on the blackboard] – “This is..” “this – the famous case of dactylic that we use to use in high-school [from Longfellow] – “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks” – So, “Loving in truth..” and “Pleasure might cause her read”, “Knowledge might pity win”, “Studying inventions fine” is a little element but its basically a sonnet, which is supposed to be iambic, but it’s got little elements of dactylic (da-da-da da).

What good this is to you, I don’t know but it’s a.. some, maybe, when you’re writing, you find, “that’s an interesting line to try – “da-da-da da, da-da-da da, da-da-da da””. That’s the Homeric line, isn’t it?

Student: Perhaps

AG: Well, the Homeric line is a dactyl. Yeah, Homer is written in dactylic hexameter – hexameter – one, two, three, four, five, six. So the Homeric line was written in dactylic hexameter but the emphasis was not necessarily on accent. It was this accentual system was taken over from the Greek vowel-length system, as I kept saying. –  [to Student] – Do you know Homer ? – Does anybody here know Homer? Can you recite a line or two?


Student (Pat):  μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/οὐλομένην….

AG: One line at a time. So that we get the dactylic. That is, pause at the end of one dactyl, one hexameter, hexametric line.. μῆνιν ἄειδε…μῆνιν ἄειδε…

Student: (Pat):  μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,…

AG: Anybody? know the next line? The opening lines of The Iliad – “Sing of the wrath of the..” “Sing, O God, of the wrath if Achilles, of glorious wrath/that brought down ruin on the Trojans and laid many a man low”,  or something. “That brought down wrath on the Achaens and laid many men low around the walls of Troy”, or something. But, one time, clearly, you know

Student (Pat):  μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,/πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προί̈αψεν/ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν/οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι… [pauses] –  it’s been so long..

AG: Twelve thousand years!

We’ll get someone in here that can maybe… want to check it out? . We ought to hear some of that. Because it’s really the basis of …. like all the other poetry that comes out of the Western world somewhere is related to that sound (da-da-da da-da-da) and is a good good sound.

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

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