Metrical Considerations – 2

AG: Now (William) Blake is amazingly variable and subtle in his meters, even as a little kid.  So I just wanted to point out in the early poems, remember that “Mad Song” (on page four-oh-seven)?  “For light doth seize my brain/ With frantic pain”, which he wrote when he was thirteen or fourteen years old.  I went through and picked out some of the meters that are in that.

“The wild winds weep,”  – dig that – “The wild winds weep.” Now, what would that be?  I was digging that as epitritus primus – that’s all the way down, fourth from the bottom.  Epitritus primus? –  Duh-dah-dah-dah.  “The wild winds weep.”  Got it?

Peter Orlovsky:  I don’t see how you get that.

AG:  “The wild winds weep.” –  “Wild”, “winds”,  “weep”,  are all equally heavy, definite; both long vowel or, if you’re counting it the length of vowel – “wild winds weep” -they’re all equally long, or if you’re counting it in syllables, they’re equally accented. Dah-dah-dah.  “The wild winds weep.”  And the first syllable is a light one, because it’s unaccented:  “the”. And then the three others – “wild winds weep” – are equally accented.

The traditional thing for high school teachers who didn’t know any more meters than the two-syllable meters, like iambic,would have been to pronounce it “The WILD winds WEEP.”  Instead of “the WILD WINDS WEEP.”

Peter Orlovsky:  Do you mean the “u” is like a… is unaccented?

AG:  Yeah.  Oh yes.  For those who didn’t know.  The long, or the straight line, means an accented syllable, and the bent line, the “u” is an unaccented syllable. And that’s one standard way of marking out the syllables.  The other is the looped line for an unaccented and an up-and-down slash mark for an accented syllable.  That’s the one I learned.  But since these are modelled after Greek meters, this marking, this scheme, it’s a straight long line, because it originally takes off from long vowel, what’s long and what’s short vowel.  So these are supposed to be long and short vowels originally.  In English we’re using them for accented and unaccented syllables.  The same markings.

Peter Orlovsky:  So the curved line you don’t pronounce as loud as the …
AG:  Right.
Peter Orlovsky:  … straight line, huh?
AG:  Like, “The WILD..”  Curved, straight.  “The Wild”.   (Everybody knows that or has seen that before? Or is this new?.  I had assumed that everybody had seen this kind of scheme).

Students:  No.

AG:  Nobody has seen it ever?  I mean..

Student:  I’ve seen it but I don’t know….

AG:  Has anybody not seen it?  (a show of hands) –  Okay.  So, a few.  And everybody’s seen it?  Yeah.  Well, is there anybody who doesn’t know how to read them now?  doesn’t know how to read these now?  It’s just real simple:  the curved line is unaccented, the straight line is accented.

Student:  So “wild” (in this poem)  is unaccented.  Is that what you’re saying?

AG:  Well, “wild” can’t be unaccented because it’s wild.  Or you could say “The wild WINDS weep.”  Or “the WILD winds WEEP.”  “The WILD winds WEEP” if you were going to make it into iambicDuh-dah, duh-dah – “The wild winds weep.”  Or, if you’re going to make it trochaic, “THE wild WINDS weep.”  But it doesn’t make sense as speech.  So if you were interpreting this particular “Mad Song” as spoken  – “The wild winds weep” – and then trying to figure out, pronouncing it that way, what meter was that line, it’s epitritus primus.

And they’re very few poets who have such variable command and consciousness of meters and rhythms.  So dig what, line-by-line, the interesting lines (are) in the “Mad Song”.  The first one could be found as “The wild winds weep,/And the night is a-cold;” So that’s anapesticthe second line:  Duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah.“The wild winds weep,/And the night is a-cold.”  Right?  You got it?    Then next is – “Come hither, Sleep,” – dah-dah duh-dah.  So what is that?  Has anybody guessed that one, “Come hither, Sleep.” Long, long, short, long.
Student:  (Long, long short, long?)
AG:  Dah-dah-duh-dah.  Anybody got any idea?
Student:  Amphibrachic.
Student:  I thought that accent was on “h-i”.
AG:  Pardon me.
Students:  (“h-i”)
AG:  Well, it’s unaccented in the third.  Unaccented in the third syllable out of four:  “Come Hi-ther Sleep.”  Epitritus which?
Student:  The third one?
AG Tertius.The thirdTertius. Three.  Epitritus tertius. So epitritus primus and epitritus tertius.  In other words, he is conscious of the first line he’s got three heavily accented and one unaccented syllable.  The third line has three heavily accented and one unaccented syllable.  It’s just that he’s moved the unaccented syllable from the first to the third place.  So that’s why they call it epitritus primus, secondus, tertius, quartus.  Right?  Is that clear.

Peter Orlovsky:  No!  Not in a million years.  It’s clear to you …
AG:  No, not….
Peter Orlovsky:  … and clear to all the students …
AG:  Okay.
Peter Orlovsky:  … but to me it’s….
AG:  The problem is, for one thing, you don’t have your papers and you’re not looking at (the hand-out).
Peter Orlovsky:  I’m looking at it.  I’ve been looking at it for the last ten minutes, but it goes in one ear and out the other. It doesn’t seem to stick.
AG:  Well.
Peter Orlovsky:  So I’ll just shut up and listen.
AG:  Yeah.  Why don’t you shut up and listen.   Does anybody else not understand it?

Student:  Yeah.  I thought it sounded like “COME hither SLEEP.”  – You know, like the accent was on the beginning.
AG:  Yes, it is.  “COME HI-ther, SLEEP.”  So it’s the “ther” that’s unaccented, right?
Student:  But then it’s epitrus secondus instead of tertius.
AG:  Tertius.  Tertius means that the unaccented is on the third syllable.  Come on and look.

Peter Orlovsky:  Can I get my paper?
AG:  Yeah.
Peter Orlovsky:  You asked.  You said I didn’t have my paper.
AG:  Yeah, okay. (to class)  He gets mad if he can’t understand something. Don’t get mad, you just don’t understand it.
Peter Orlovsky:  I’m getting my paper.
AG:  Can I have some coffee?
Peter Orlovsky:  No.

Peter Orlovsky

Student:  I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be this first epitritus secondus.
AG:  first epitritus?
Student:  Yeah, second.
AG:  Okay.  The second epitritus?
Student:  Yeah.
AG:  Okay.  It’s not second epitritus because second epitritus would be –  duh-dah-duh-dah, duh-dah-duh-dah, duh-dah-duh-dah, duh– dah-duh-dah with only one accent.
Student:  The accents are the straight lines and the curved lines are….?
Student:  Yeah, “COME HI-ther, SLEEP.”..
AG:  “Come” is a straight line.
Student:  Yeah.
AG:  “HI” is a straight line.
Student:  That’s where I thought the accent was –  “Hi”.
AG:  Yeah.
Student:  (“Hi” – It’s a straight line).
AG:  No, no.  Here’s a point. Now we’ve got it. “Come Hi-ther”  – “Come” is as accented as “Hi-ther”.
Student:  “Hi-ther”.  You use….
AG:  “COME HI-ther”
Student:  (falling back on the) “ther”.
AG:  On the “ther”.
Student:  Yeah.
AG:  On the “ther”.
Student:  You come down on it.
AG:  Yeah.  So it’s unaccented. The “ther” is unaccented, right? And that’s the third syllable.  “Come” is one syllable.  “Hi” is another syllable.  “Ther” is a third syllable, right?
Student:  Um-hmm.
AG:  And “ther” is unaccented?  “Come Hi-ther, Sleep.”  And “Sleep” is accented.  The fourth syllable.
Student:  Oh, I gave the highest to the “hi” and I put the other three as equal.
AG:  Well, no, because “come” is stronger than “thir”.
Student:  Oh.
AG:  “Come, Hi-ther”.  And actually, if you said it, “Come hither….”  Come Hi-ther!
Student:  Yeah.
AG:  “Come” is just as strong as “Hi-ther”.
Student:  Yeah.
AG:  And you could say, “COME HI-ther SLEEP” and “Sleep” is even stronger then.
Student:  Alright.
AG:  But basically they’re all accented one way or the other. “Come Hi-ther, Sleep.”  The only unaccented syllable is the “ther”.  Right?
Student:  Alright.

AG:  So that’s the third (syllable).  Out of four syllables, the third syllable is unaccented, so if you look on that scheme that particular thing is called “tertius”— the “epitritus tertius”. As distinct from the first line:  “The wild winds weep,” where the unaccented syllable is in the first place, right?  You got it?  You got that?  You’ve got to look at that scheme.

Student:  Yeah.

AG:  Does anybody not understand this?

Student:  I understand it here, while we’re talking about, but I don’t think I understand (it generally)

AG:  Well, the key would be, could I give you a line and, given this thing to look at, to guide you, could you figure out what it is?

Now the only reason to be doing this, the only reason to know this, is that you’ll become more mindful of the way the thing is actually constructed.

In this particular case, it’s kind of interesting, because you’ll find that that epitritus that he’s using does come over and over throughout this little poem, until you realize that, whether or not he knows the name of it, his rhythmic sense is completely conscious of that particular rhythm, and he’s repeating it over and over again in one variety or another. So it’s just to make you more mindful of the fact that there is a structure there.  It’s an intuitive structure very often.  Like, when I do it, I don’t count them.  Except if I’m writing something and there’s one kinky line that doesn’t quite fit rhythmically that I can’t quite (get right), then I will analyze the poem and find out what’s wrong – what the main rhythms are and what it is that’s making the unfitting line unfitting, why it doesn’t fit.  See?  It’s useful to get out of a corner.  If there’s something that’s not quite sounding right, and you want to go on, you can always analyze it as, “There’s something here that’s not quite sounding it right,” – duh-dah-duh-duh-dah-duh-duh-dah-dah-duh, duh-dah-dah-duh-dah” – so then you could figure out, duh-dah-dah-dah-duh-duh-dah-dah-dah,” there’s something..maybe you wanted “duh-dah-dah-duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah-duh-dah-dah.” In other words, you can make the marks and see where you got an extra syllable where it isn’t quite fitting. In other words, you can actually analyze and then get yourself out of a box.

I did that when writing “Howl”. There were occasions when I could hear a rhythm but the words I had weren’t quite right, so I would sort of make the marks and then cut out or add in whatever number of heavy accented syllables seemed to need to be put in.

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