Syllabic Poems – 4 (Herrick)

“Water, water, I desire/Here’s a house of flesh on fire..”

AG: (returning to an analysis of Robert Herrick)  – “The Scare-fire” (on page two seventy four) – That’s all seven syllables – “Water, water, I desire/Here’s a house of flesh on fire/Ope the fountains and the springs,/And come all to bucketings /What ye cannot quench pull down /Spoil a house to save a town /Better ’tis that one should fall,/Than by one to hazard all. ” – (da-da da-da da-da da, da-da da-da da-da da, da,-da da-da da-da da, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7,)

Now, the weird thing is, when you get into this, it’s useful, You may think this is an artificial arithmetical, funny arithmetic, you know, a dry ariththmatic way of dealing with the poem, or the organization of the poem, but you’ve got to reailze that this is the major form of verse line, one line, organization of all of Chinese poetry! – and Tibetan poetry, and millions of other poetries also – because the Chinese (does anybody know Chinese? anybody know any Chinese poems? – you know hung-chung-moon-fung  hong-ding-ling-ching sing boom bung ding ding-jing – 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 – Yeah, you do it automatically, you get to do it automatically,

Why don’t we just do that aloud, emphasizing the syllables not the meaning – “Water, water..” [Allen & class read out loud Herrick’s poem in unison] – I mean, it’s just… inevitably you hear it.. well, the way we’re doing it – “Water, water, I desire..” (da-da da-da da-da da) – da-da-da…  – Allen sounds out the rhythms of the entire poem) . (It’s got that) nursery-rhyme lilt. Like, you can hear the syllable thing easy?. It gets ingrained in your system after a couple (of times)… You’ve got to vocalize it a couple of times, you know loud, and then it’s there.

And then you find that when you’re writing, particularly some times short lines, you’ll fall into patterns of syllables, syllable-counts, almost automatically, not monotonously but automatically, and you’ll give funny order.. a pretty order, to your impulse on the page (or your impulses on the page take an order related to syllabic count -sometimes)

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)

Now the extensions of it in modern times are. (is) .Kenneth Rexroth – “The Phoenix and the Tortoise”, a long philosophical poem ( I think he’s got seven, I think he uses a seven-syllable-count line, no rhyme, no particular meter, (a) conversational shot, very very loose, and I think he got to a point, imitating (William Carlos) Williams, where he just wanted to talk on, he didn’t want to be bothered about the page, so he just said, “I will arbitrarily write in… chop my writing up into, seven syllables of words, no mattter where it ends”. It does impose some funny kind of discipine on the line, on account of you would then tend not to write something that would end in a hyphen, I mean, a hyphenated word. You wouldn’t want to do that, like that (Ben) Jonson thing that he did, back when he says…what was it? Dioscuri? De-oscuri? – I’ve forgot …yes..  “to sep-a-rate the twi-“…-“to sep-a-rate the twi-/Lights the Di-os-cur-i”  (AG stresses the rhythm) . I think, actually.. I think, more or less, the… I’m not sure, I would have to go over it again but I was looking at it before, that Pindaric Ode of (Ben) Jonson, not only does it count the accents but he also tries to stick to an even, regular count of syllabies. Following what I mean? In other words, not only the number of feet.. (is this all clear? the difference between feet and syllables? does anybody not know that?)

Student: Feet?

AG: Oh, maybe we ought to go back and check that out.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-nine-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-four-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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