More on Metrics

Allen Ginsberg’s classroom hand-out – “A Synopsis of Metrical Systems”

continuing from here


Allen’s pedagogical insistence on quantative prosody, on the minutae of classical prosody, was something he came back to again and again with his students at Naropa  (see, for example  – one of many examples – here). In transcription, it makes, perhaps, for some somewhat tedious transcript – to hear the subtle and various distinctions he’s making, it really becomes necessary to listen closely to the audio (happily, here available). Allen does employ here a somewhat unique teaching method to lighten things up – learning through cursing! – “If you just do it for cursing. See, for cursing, you can get into it fast. You can always adjust one of these to (a) curse, you can always fit cursing in(to) it.”. (A.G.)

AG: If you want to considered a four-syllable foot, there is a.. there are a variety of four-syllable foots called epitritus – the epitritus feet – E-P-I-T-R-I-T-U-S  there’s four of them, and let’s see now, how this would be? – this would be the epitritus tertius, where the short syllable is in the third place – epitritus the third – so epitritus tertius (there’s epitritus primus,epitritus secundus, epitritus tertius, and epitritus…quartus – this is epitritus tertius – “Go, love-ly rose”

Student: You go where the soft beat is.

AG: Yeah, where the soft beat is, where the soft beat or length is. If it’ just to sound them, the epitritus primus would be da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, “Go-fuck-your-self!”,  “Go-fuck-your-self!”,  Go-fuck-your-self!, Go-fuck-your-self!,  Go-fuck your-self!  – and epitritus secondus.. well, acually, “Go” would be a long.. it would be He fucked himself, He fucked him-self, He fucked him-self, He fucked him-self. or  something like that, or – “I’ll-kick-your-ass”,  I’ll-kick-your-ass. I’ll-kick-your-ass.    So something like.. “your” would be like.. “I’ll kick your ass” would possibly be more..

Student: Did you say milder?

AG: I-kicked-big-ass, I-kicked-big-ass, I-kicked-big-ass, I-kicked-big ass,. That would be epitritus primus.  Then epitritus secundus would be – maybe we’ve got one here?, well…

Student: Son-of-son-of-a-bitch?

AG: Son-of-big-bitch, Son-of-big-bitch, Son-of-big-bitch, Son-of-big-bitch, Son-of big bitch, Son-of-big-bitch – Well, there are probably phrases that are common that we hear. da-da da-da – What was that da-da da-da phrase that we used?, cadence, you know, some little phrases..

Student: Come and get it?

AG: Come-and-eat-now, Come-and-eat-now, Come-and-eat-now, Come-and-eat-now, Come-and-eat-here, Come-and-eat-good, Come-and-eat-good, Come-and-eat-good, Come-and-eat-good –  that would be epitritus secondus. – Come-and- eat-good, Come-and-eat-good – or, Come-and-eat-well – Come-and-get-high, Come-and-get-high

Student: Wanna get high?

AG: Wan-na-get-high, Wan-na-get-high?, Wan-na-get-high?- Sure,  Wanna-get-high? Wanna-get.. You know, they’re actually.. See, what I’m trying to say, these cadences are natural. We do have them in the speech, we do have them in our speech. It’s a question of recognizing them, fixing, recognizing them, making them conscious, and then you can use them in poetry consciously and you can make all sorts of interesting things (like “Come and get high” – that’s perfect)

So, then, epitritus tertius would be – “Go lovely rose” – “Go, lovely rose”. – and epitritus quartus would be…. I’m trying to find something that’s natural rather than something I just make up… – Da da da-da, Da da da-da – You go..

Student; ….your way

AG: You go your.. no.. You-go-way-your, You-go-way-your …. You go way now, You go way now, You go way now, You go way now, You-go-way-now

Student:  Do you still have primus?
AG: What?  
Student: Do you still have primus?
AG: “Primus” – first – that was the Latin
Student; What was the first word?
AG: “Epitritus” –  E-p-i-t-r-i-t-u-s – Epitritus
Student: Say that again?
AG: “Epitritus” –  E-p-i-t-r-i-t-u-s. – I’ll pass out a sheet with all these on them, next time [sic – see above] . We haven’t read it at all. We were just looking up and trying to translate one Greek word to try and complete our…  the Greek word for mixed meters in one line. So epitritus primus is E-p-i-t-r-i-t-u-s – There’s primus, secondus, tertius and quartus.  first, second, third… you don’t have to use the Latin – epitritus, first, second, third, fourth.

So the epitritus is when you have three heavy beats. The opposite of that would be the paeonic meters, where you have three light beats and one heavy, three short and one long. that would be  da-da-da da, da-da-da da, da-da-da da, da-da-da da – or,  da da-da-da, da da-da-da, da da-da-da, da da-da-da, for the secondus,. paeonic secondusda da-da da, da da-da da, da da-da da, da-da-da da-da da, da da-da da, da da-da da, would be the third – no, wait I’m getting the two mixed up – da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da da-da, da-da-da-da would be paeonic tertius. –paeonic secondusda-da-da-da,. da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da – da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da – that’d be in the second place, where the long is in the second place.  So, in other words, when you have three, when there’s an arrangement of three short, or three light beats, it’s called paeonic, mixed, either in the first, second, third, or fourth place with the long beat.. And where you have three long and one short, it’s called epitritus. And those are some of the four-beat measures..

Student: What”s the line with the three soft beats in?
AG: Three soft is called the paeonic meter
Student: Can you give an example?
AG: Three soft beats?, okay – “Along the wharf..”, “Along-the-wharf”, “Upon-the-height”, “In- the-night” – something like that –  “Along-the-wharf” – da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da –  “Along-the-wharf”, “Upon-the-height”, “In-the-night”,  “Within-the-bite” – “Within-the-bite”, Under the right” – oh, yes, right, I’m sorry, it’s a classic device of T.S.Eliot“Under the bam/ Under the boo/ Under the bamboo tree/Two live as one, /one live as two,/ two live as three/Under the bam/ Under the boo/ Under the bamboo tree”…”My little island girl/My little island girl..” “will you come and live with me” – “Under the bam/ Under the boo/ Under the bamboo tree”. – those are mixed. That’s one of the great exercises by T.S.Eliot in the meters..paeonic and…. yeah, that would be the paeonic ..epitritus... fourth paeonic – “”Under the bam-Under the boo-Under the bam-boo tree” – da-da-da da da da – one, two, three – da-da-da  (that sounds like a six beat) da da-da, da da-da  (actually, that could be broken down into – a molossus da-da-da – Well, there’s a whole bunch of names.

I’ll read you the names of them because they’re so beautiful, they’re (the) classic Greek names. The iamb and trochee, you know, and then there’s, for two soft beats, just two soft, it’s pyrrich and, as you know, spondee for two heavy beats. Then there’s the… for the three-syllable meters there’d be tribrach  (which is three-in-a-row of short), molossus – three-in-a-row long), dactylic (da da-da, da da-da da da-da – one long, two short, anapest  (da-da-dum, da-da-dum, da-da dum)  and then there’s there’s the bacchius  (da da-da, da da-da, da da-da, da da-da – I’ll-fuck-you, I’ll-fuck-you, I’ll-fuck-you, I’ll-fuck-you).  And then there’s the bacchius -(Fuck-me-now, Fuck-me-now, Fuck-me-now, Fuck me-now – Da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da). And then there’s the antibacchius…  What?…  These are the measures you use when you’re coming, you realize! – Da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da – this is the common speech of ecstatic coming, the orgasmic, the orgasmic utterance, measures of the orgasmic utterances! – so if you really want to write orgasmic poetry, you’ve really got to get on to these.  Then there’s the antibacchius.  da da-da, da da-da, da da-da, da da-da.  Then there’s the amphibrachys  – (I’ll pass these out so you don’t have to write them down..) –  amphibrachys, which is,  da da-da, da da-da, da da-da

Student: You betcha?

AG: Yeah, “You betcha” – You-bet-cha! You-bet-cha! You-bet-cha!  You-bet-cha! You-bet-cha! – Or, the opposite is, the cretic – “Boy-oh-boy!, Boy-oh-boy!  Boy-oh-boy!  da da-da Boy-oh-boy!  Boy-oh-boy!  You-betcha  Boy-oh-boy! You-bet-cha! Boy-oh-boy!  You-betcha!

And interestingly, if you can use them, then you can get the demotic things, these choruses going back – “You betcha/ boy-oh-boy” – “You betcha/ boy-oh-boy” – “You betcha/ boy-oh-boy” – “You betcha/ boy-oh-boy” – And then, if you were a Greek chorus, you can dance with that, see – “You betcha-boy-oh-boy-You betcha- boy-oh-boy” – And so the Greek chorus danced across the stage with those, while pronouncing those – It’s true! – This was actually what was actually going on in those days. These were.. (the)  lengths. (the reason they’re called (a)  “poetic foot” is, it’s the foot of the chorus dancing). See, that’s the big revelation of the foot – (the) poetic foot is..  each foot is the measure of the dance steps, how the chorus footed it, footed neatly
So that was the cretic or amphimacer,  (and cretic is especially pleasing to the ear of Ed Sanders, that’s one of his favorite meters, and if you examine Ed Sanders’  poetry, you’ll find his poetry is composed in these meters)

Then you get..  the you get the four-beat meters –   da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da – and then..or.. da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da – and that’s proceleusmaticus or, I don’t know, I never use that one , and also the dispondeus. But then, the diiambus, which is two iambs – da-da da-da, da-da, da-da,  and the ditrochiusda-da,  da-da (same as trochaic, except two of them put together) . Then you get to the interesting, the bacchius meter (for Bacchus) – (da- da-da, da da-da, da da-da). And then you get the antibacchius (da- da-da, da da-da, da da-da – Go-fuck-you, Go-fuck-you… no, what is it? – If you just do it for cursing. See, for cursing, you can get into it fast. You can always adjust one of these to (a) curse, you can always fit cursing in(to) it….God-damn-it!, God-damn-it!, God-damn.. God-damn-it!, God-damn-it! God-damn-it!, God-damn-it!. I guess molossus would be – “God-damn-you! – God-damn-you! God-damn-you! – molossus, that’s three long,,, or “God-damn-you-now!” if it were a dispondeus  – God-damn-you-now – one, two, three, four.

But then, you get the most beautiful of…  in the four-beat ones, you get diiambus, ditrochius, and now, next, are the great…the greatest of all, I think, probably, the… it’s a four-beat, four syllable meter called the choriambic (which by itself is just a beautiful name – the choriambic meter, because you can see just dancing maenads in every direction), and choriambic meter is what I used in “Mo-loch-who’s-eyes- are a-thous-and blind-wind-ows”, to a great extent,

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

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