Ginsberg on Blake 1979 (Metrics – 3)

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

Allen Ginsberg’s 1979 Naropa William Blake class focus on metrics continues from here   

AG: T..So now the Greeks had a great variety of feet, or units.  The iamb, (for instance).  I think they had the same names as ours, but I’m not sure.  Yeah, they had the same names.

This might be interesting to get down, because it applies both to Greek vowel-length and English accent.  So why don’t I give you a complete paradigm of all the possible, or most of the possible, Greek meters?  It’s rare you’ll get it in any book.  I have it from an old Greek dictionary.

[Allen goes to the blackboard and proceeds to write out metrical notation]

That’s called a pyrrich line.
Student:  Is that two unstressed?
AG:  Two unstressed, yeah.  Actually you could say, this might be the pyrrich line.  Pyrrich.  P-Y-R-R-I-C-H.

Spondee.  I’m using the older system.


Trochee.  Puh-dum, puh-dum, puh-dum.

Student:  (I see you’ve just) reversed it.
AG:  Bah-dum, bah-dum, bah-dum, bah-dum.  Tyger, Tyger, burning bright/In the forests of the night.”  Yeah.

So those are the two-syllable meters.  Is anybody taking this down?  It might be interesting if you actually write it down.  I’ll xerox up a whole set for you, but meanwhile.

Then there are three syllables (meters).  The equivalent here would be the Tribrach.  Three –   duh-duh-duh – duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh.  Let me finish this out for a second.  You’ve got three unaccented syllables in a row there.  “Chambers of the East.”  “Or in the chambers of the East,” if you want.  The CHAMbers of the SUN, THAT NOW.  That NOW.  So it’s possible to see a number of unaccented syllables in a line in a row.  Tribrach.

(Then) Molossus, (notated) in our own system of what I’ve been using here.  Is that clear?  Anybody confused by that? They’re interchangeable to use.  The way that they’re used is interchangeable.

Then Dactyl –  “Whether on” –  if you want to count it that (way).  “Whether on” or “This is the forest primeval.…” Dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh.  What is “Once upon a midnight dreary.”  Dah-duh-duh-duh.  Midnight dreary.  “While I pondered.”  Well, dactyl.- (No), Anapest.  Oh, I’m mixing them up too much.  I’m sorry.

Student:  I know a good dactyl line.

AG:  Okay.

Student:  Life is the lust of a lamp for the light that is dark till the dawn of the day when we die.

AG:  Life is the lust of a….?

Student:  Life is the lust of a lamp for the light that is dark til the dawn of the day when we die.

AG:  That’s pretty good.  Dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh-dah.

Student:  For example….

AG:  So back to bom-puh-bum.  Anapest:  duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah.

Now we get into something interesting:  The Bacchius. Rarely used in English consciously.  I myself use almost all of these, at one time or another.  Bum-bah-bah.  Duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah.

AntibacchiusDah-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh.  Duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah.  Bacchius, antibacchius.  Duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah.  Or, Dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh, dah-dah-duh“Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows.”  Moloch.  “Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows” could be taken as some mixed bacchius meter.  Or Antibacchius.

AmphibrachysBum-bah-bum, buh-bom-bum.  Duh-dah-duh, duh-dah-duh duh-dah-duh duh-dah-duh duh-dah-duh duh-dah-duh duh-dah-duh.  Is there anybody here who plays percussion?  Duh-dah-duh duh-dah-duh duh-dah-duh.  There is probably a parallel to a number of rhythms taught in percussion classes.

And the Cretic or Amphimacer – amphimace or Cretic  –  Cretic meter –  Bom-buh-bah.  Bom-buh-bah.  Bom-buh-bah.  Bom-buh-bah.  Is that all clear?  Bom-buh-bah.  Bom-buh-bah.  “Under love.”  “Under love”, “heart of ice”, “door-to-door,” “floor-to-floor.” That would be the Cretic meter. “Door-to-door”, “floor-to-floor,” “under love”, “heart of ice.”  Dah-duh-dah, dah-duh-dah.  You can actually write like that if you want.  And probably lots of rock songs or punk rock are –  Dah-duh-dah, dah-duh-dah. 

Then, shall we continue?  So, so far, actually, if you want, we have this vocabulary.  You could check this out so far.  I’ll get to the four-syllable meters in a minute.  That’s a little more interesting, actually, because then you can get to “pah-dom-pah-pah, pah-dom-pah-pah, pah-dom-pah-pah, pah-dom-pah-pah“, or “pah pah pah-duh, pah pah pah-duh, pah pah pah-duh, pah pah pah-duh.”  They are actually originally dance meters from the Greek.  The foot originally measured the dance step.

So what have we got here?  What was your proposition?

to be continued

Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-two-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in

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