Metrical Considerations – 1

Continuing today, where we left off here, with Allen Ginsberg’s 1979 Naropa Blake classes. Today, the class from March 1st, Allen, begins, with a subject we’ve (he’s) addressed here before – metrical considerations

AG (referring to a class hand-out) :  ..this synopsis of metrical systems is from a Greek dictionary.  So there basically (is) a synopsis of the original Greek rhythms divided into long and short for the count of the vowels.  It’s a count of vowels rather than accents, originally. And when it was adopted into American or English as a measure, or as a way of dividing the line, the emphasis was transferred from vowel length count to accentual count.

So this is the traditional and classical outline of English meters, of the basic ones.  Most of them are meters that are not much used, except in  (Algernon) Swinburneor Sidney Lanier in America, Edgar Allan Poe..  They’re very variable feet.  There’s a great variety possible.

Some of you may have heard of choriambic meters.  The ones that are taught in grammar school and high school are iambic: duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah.  And trochaic –  dah-duh, dah-duh, dah-duh, dah-duh.  Like “Tyger, tyger,burning bright.”  And then everybody has heard of  “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks” – the dactylic.  And there’s the anapest –  puh-dah-dum puh-dah-dum puh-dah-dum puh-dah-dum.  “Half a league half a league,half a league..”.  – Well, I guess that’d be dactyl. “Half a league, half a league,/ Half a league onward…Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred.  I forgot. Anapest is puh-dah-dum puh-dah-dum puh-dah-dum puh-dah-dum. More like, duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah dah dahThe Lone Ranger music.

Peter Orlovsky:  Do you know all these by heart?

AG:  No.  Uh-uh.  Well, yeah those.  The anapest, dactyl.  Those are common.  But what are interesting are when you get into the other three-beat meters.  Dah-dah-duh.  Dah-dah-duh, dah-duh-dah, dah-duh-dah, dah-duh-dahOr Duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah.  That’s the amphribraic.  Duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah.  The next to the last on the three-syllable meters.  Duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah. Dah-duh-dah.  Dah-duh-dah, dah-duh-dah, dah-duh-dah would be amphimacer or cretic.  And a lot of the writing I do fits into some of those meters like “Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows”:  Dah-duh-duh-dah-duh-duh-dah- duh-duh-dah-duh-duh.

Peter Orlovsky:  Which one is that?

AG:  “Moloch whose eyes are a….”  I think amphribraic.  Dah-duh-duh.

Peter Orlovsky:  Does that just hold for one line in “Moloch” or is that throughout the whole?

AG:  Well, they’re variable.  It doesn’t hold throughout any single line, but the lines are built up of varieties of these kinds of meters.

Peter Orlovsky:  Um-hmm.

AG:  Mostly I hear them in my ear, but just to analyze them in case anybody’s interested, they’re good to know.  You could actually artificially build a poem by following through and attempting to construct lines out of the meters.

When you get to the four-beat meters, or the four-feet, four-syllable meters, you get some really interesting things. Like that choriambic is “bom-puh-dah-tah, bom-puh-dah-tah, bom-puh-dah-tah. They’re all originally dance meters, too.  These were danced to by the Greek chorus as they went across the stage in, I think, Aeschylus, or Sophocles.  And I think (Ezra) Pound in translating the Women of Trachis attempted to reproduce some of the meters.  To reproduce some of that dance foot.

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