(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.
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