Allen Ginsberg’s 1979 Naropa William Blake class focus on metrics continues from here
AG: Tom (sic) gets really into… it’s like pull one string from the sweater and you wind up taking the whole wool sweater apart. It all began years ago, according to Ezra Pound. His explanation is the most interesting – that, originally, Greek and Latin languages’ lines – (verses, verse means a line) – were measured by the length of vowel – vowel-length. An eye-opener. An…eye…o…pen…er. Those are relatively long vowels. “It’s an eye opener.” “It’s an eye opener.” “It’s an” are short” – “eye” “o” are longer. “Malest Cornifici tuo Catullo/ malest, me hercule et laboriose et magis magis in dies et horas“ That would be Catullus — vowels. – ‘et magis magis in dies et horas’
So they had a definite system of notation, where certain vowels were long, and certain vowels were short. Half and whole. And so they could make up, say, a line measuring four long vowels out of eight short ones – the equivalent of eight short vowels or half-vowels would make the equivalent of four long. So they could mix them. So they would measure by the length of vowel. Right? And the notation that I’ve seen used – I don’t know if it was their own notation – was for long (and) short. And that is sometimes used for measuring English language.
However, in English we measure by accent. One doesn’t actually any more, but there was a period of several hundred years — a brief period — when people measured by accent, which is what we’re doing here. Anybody with a real ear really doesn’t measure totally accent, but also measures intuitively by length of vowel. That’s part of it. And Ezra Pound re-introduced the idea of measuring by length of vowel, so (in) a lot of his poetry, including the entire Cantos, the verses are measured by vowel length. So the Cantos are worth studying for that.
He reintroduced (them) in the sense that there was a great argument in the time of Thomas Campion – Shakespeare’s time and later. Since people were accustomed to reading Latin and Greek, they were aware of that measure, and since some musicians, like (Edmund) Waller, Campion, (John) Dowland and others, wrote music and were the Bob Dylans of their day, or pop songwriters of their day, and were also learned intellects who studied classic languages, they had great debates. I think this would be (from the time of) Sir Philip Sidney and beyond, when there were debates in how to measure language – whether it should be done by length of vowel or by accent.
I think some early verse -Sidney or (Edmund) Spenser – is measured by the vowel-length. Does anybody know? Do you know that? Spenser is it or Sidney?
[Edmund Waller].. “Go, lovely rose”. You could measure it as “go LOVE-ly ROSE” — if you wanted, but it’s actually “Go, lovely rose.” The ear is hearing the length of the vowel. Or “Rose-cheek’t Laura, come” is Campion, I guess. “Rose-cheekt Laura, come.” If you look over the entire poem you’ll see that there’s some kind of equivalence in vowel-lengths, line-to-line, rather than accentual count.
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-seven-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-two-and-a-quarter minutes in