More Metrics

The Foot

Human Spine Anatomy

AG: .Well, the feet would be the… well, basically, the number of stresses in a line would be the number of feet, basically, number of stresses, as distinct from syllables. And a foot would be a varied kind of feet (da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da) – Tyger, Tyger ( da-da, da-dada-da da) – So there’s four feet in “Tyger, Tyger burning bright” (that’s four feet -right?) – I think the Greek word is “metron” maybe for measure..I don’t know, I’ll have to check that out – hard to find a Greek nomenclature for all this, because the English is a little slippery. So that’s the four-feet line. However, “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright” is a seven syllable line – “Tyger, Tyger burning bright” – right? – So there is a difference between feet and syllable. You know that? – Is there anybody confused about that? Sure? You? (for you) it’s all clear?

Student: So the tetrameter is four stresses?

AG: No, four feet really, four measures – tetra – four – meter..meters

Student: Well, doesn’t that imply the amount of syllables…

AG: They’re variable. See, the meters could be variable, could be mixed, as we’ve seen. Like, you take a look at .. well, that’s also assuming real simple-minded English prosody where there’s only one main stress to a foot. Though, as I was saying, there are some feet, like the dochmiac, where you have four stresses, and four stressed syllables and three.. no, three stressed syllables and two unstressed syllables, as in.. well, to Ben Jonson, in Ben Jonson, just to go back a second, to “The Gypsies Song” – or…”Slow,slow, fresh fount..” (page) two sixty six) – “Droop herbs and flowers/Fall grief in showers” – That’s “Droop herbs and flowers/Fall grief in showers” – If you count that as a five-syllable meter -dochmiac – or hypodochmiac, there’s three… of course, you could count it if you wanted (da da da da da-da), you could break it up and say it’s a…… (tape ends abruptly here –then continues) – ……to push it.. yeah.

Student: What I was asking (was) if the poem is iambic tetrameter meter, if it was a perfect iambic tetrameters, where each line has eight syllables, so, then, it doesn’t (apply, then..).

AG: Yes, but a perfect iambic tetrameter would then become, generally, monotonous and boring – mechanical, like electronic disco – because there wouldn’t be the variation of breath that comes with the fresh impulses of emotion that might make an extra stress or an extra syllable thrown in. But we can get to this really nicely if we continue with (Robert) Herrick, because he has short lyrics and we can check out (the) number of syllables as well as the meters in Herrick and see how that’s done. Jonson is more subtle but Herrick is ..Herrick is this four-square business, almost perfect. In fact, Herrick does write almost perfect like this. So we’ll look at his variations to see why..But a perfect iambic tetrameter that would be.. what?.. you said it would be eight syllables, yes -perfect, perfect, except “perfect”, in this case, is not perfect, because the perfect tetrameter is varied. It’s got to be, otherwise it’s boring. It’s a..then it’s a (trap). Those forms are like eidolons, Platonic archetypes from which you vary, or like the..spine looks like this  [sic – Allen describes the basic spine structure on the board ] , but everybody’s spine is different, You know, a spine has got a certain number of vertebrae, (but) they’re all different, every single one of them’s different, different shape.

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

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