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Metrical Feet -- A Lesson for a Boy -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

       
(Poem #549) Metrical Feet -- A Lesson for a Boy
 Trochee trips from long to short;
 From long to long in solemn sort
 Slow Spondee stalks, strong foot!, yet ill able
 Ever to come up with Dactyl's trisyllable.
 Iambics march from short to long.
 With a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.
 One syllable long, with one short at each side,
 Amphibrachys hastes with a stately stride --
 First and last being long, middle short, Amphimacer
 Strikes his thundering hoofs like a proud high-bred Racer.

 If Derwent be innocent, steady, and wise,
 And delight in the things of earth, water, and skies;
 Tender warmth at his heart, with these meters to show it,
 WIth sound sense in his brains, may make Derwent a poet --
 May crown him with fame, and must win him the love
 Of his father on earth and his father above.
    My dear, dear child!
 Could you stand upon Skiddaw, you would not from its whole ridge
 See a man who so loves you as your fond S.T. Colerige.
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Today's piece is not so much a poem as an intellectual curiosity, a little
poetic game that Coleridge amused himself with. Considered as a poem, it's a
pretty poor example of the genre - indeed, the second verse, where he
abandons his metrical experiments and segues into a poetic address to his
son, is downright annoying. Particularly the last couplet - unlike some
poets, Coleridge did not have the gift of making contrived rhymes seem
natural or even clever; rhyming "whole ridge" with "Coleridge" just seems
strained (ironically enough, because it doesn't quite scan properly).

Still, the first verse is an interesting demonstration of poetic facility -
the stitching together of various metres into a smooth poem is very neatly
done, as is the way the name of each foot is fit into the scansion. My
comment on strained rhymes still applies, but all in all the poem is worth a
look.

Notes and Links:

Rather than quote large sections of the Britannica article on prosody, I'll
simply supply a link to it, and then outline the metres referred to in the
poem.

Here's the article:

- http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/7/0,5716,119367+1,00.html

see especially the section on syllable-stress metres.

The metres (where /, -, s and l are stressed, unstressed, short and long
syllables respectively)

Trochee         / -
Spondee         / /
Dactyl          / - -
Iamb            - /
Anapest         - - /
Amphibrach      s l s
Amphimacer      l s l

The latter two feet are based on short and long rather than stressed and
unstressed syllables, and apply to Greek and Latin poetry.

The Glossary of Poetic Terms at the UToronto site has fuller definitions:
  - http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/terminology.html

It also has the complete scansion of the first verse of Coleridge's poem,
under the entry for 'foot'.

Coleridge on Metre:

  Here's what Coleridge had to say on the subject. From the Britannica:

  Wordsworth (in his "Preface" to the Lyrical Ballads, 1800) followed
  18th-century theory and saw metre as "superadded" to poetry; its function
  is more nearly ornamental, a grace of style and not an essential quality.
  Coleridge saw metre as being organic; it functions together with all of
  the other parts of a poem and is not merely an echo to the sense or an
  artifice of style. Coleridge also examined the psychologic effects of
  metre, the way it sets up patterns of expectation that are either
  fulfilled or disappointed:

    As far as metre acts in and for itself, it tends to increase the
    vivacity and susceptibility both of the general feelings and of the
    attention. This effect it produces by the continued excitement of
    surprize, and by the quick reciprocations of curiosity still gratified
    and still re-excited, which are too slight indeed to be at any one
    moment objects of distinct consciousness, yet become considerable in
    their aggregate influence. As a medicated atmosphere, or as wine during
    animated conversation; they act powerfully, though themselves unnoticed.
    Where, therefore, correspondent food and appropriate matter are not
    provided for the attention and feelings thus roused, there must needs be
    a disappointment felt; like that of leaping in the dark from the last
    step of a staircase, when we had prepared our muscles for a leap of
    three or four.

        -- Biographia Literaria, XVIII (1817)

More on 19th Century prosody:

http://www.bartleby.com/223/0702.html

True to his philosophy, Coleridge has written numerous poems and fragments
that are explicitly 'metrical experiments'. Sadly, I could only find one
example online:
- [broken link] http://www.emule.com/poetry/dispoem.cgi?poem=457

More on the 'whole ridge/Coleridge' rhyme:
- http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/stc/Coleridge/descriptions/pronounce_name.html

And Bob Blair explains the biographical references to Skiddaw and Derwent:
- http://www.geocities.com/~bblair/000424.htm

We've run a couple of Coleridge's more famous poems in the past; see in
particular his masterpiece "Kubla Khan":
  - poem #30

-martin

78 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Tom Kirby-Smith said...

An affectionate, clever, and playful side of Coleridge. If anyone else
has ever invented a poem that illustrates various meters by employing
them in a single poem, I haven't seen it. John Hollander entertains
himself and us with examples of various meters in poems with reflexive
comments on those meters--but not all in one poem.

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Anonymous said...

Lessons we learnt at school (Wycombe Abbey 1972-1977)
From memory, this was in the book that the head of our English department Miss Flint co-wrote - Poetry in Perspective.

Iambus comes with heavy pace;
Swift the trochee takes his place.
Follows the dactyl with pattering feet;
The amphibrach next with its stressed middle beat.
And the last in the line, but not least,
Is the rare anapeast.

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pretty poor example of the genre - indeed, the second verse, where he
abandons his metrical experiments and segues into a poetic address to his
son, is downright annoying. Particularly the last couplet - unlike some
poets, Coleridge did not have the gift of making contrived rhymes seem
natural or even clever; rhyming "whole ridge" with "Coleridge" just seems
strained (ironically enough, because it doesn't quite scan properly).

Still, the first verse is an interesting demonstration of poetic facility -
the stitching together of various metres into a smooth poem is very neatly
done, as is the way the name of each foot is fit into the scansion. My
comment on strained rhymes still applies, but all in all the poem is worth a
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