Linguistics 001      Fall 2001      Homework 6     Due Mo11/12

Scansion of English accentual/syllabic verse.

In the lecture notes on Song, verse and language games, two (of many) English accentual-syllabic metric forms are exemplified.

One, based on alternate half-lines (or lines) of four and three beats, was shown in variants due to Robert W. Service, Lewis Carroll, and Aerosmith--Run/DMC. This form is closely related to a meter known as fourteeners, since the iambic version of the seven-beat line -- the iambic heptameter -- has fourteen syllables. Its most famous early use was in Chapman's translation of Homer, published in 1611, the same year as the King James Bible. Chapman's translation begins (in modernized spelling):

21 Achilles' baneful wrath resound, O Goddess, that imposed
22 Infinite sorrows on the Greeks; and many brave soules loosed
23 From breasts heroic: sent them far, to that invisible cave
24 That no light comforts: & their limbs, to dogs & vultures gave.

The second metrical form exemplified is the iambic pentameter, which has been the dominant form of "art poetry" in English over the past 500 years.

For both forms, we produced examples of scansion, in which the abstract metrical pattern is aligned with the concrete syllables of the poem. We did this by using the sharp sign # to indicate which syllables correspond to the "beats" or strong positions of the line, and then using periods to mark the metrically weak syllables in between. Note that this notation was chosen for typographical convenience in plain text, and is not the way that English scansion would normally be written; but the content would be exactly the same if we used (for instance) acute accents for the strong syllables and breve marks for the weak ones.

Your assignment is to scan the five selections below. A reasonable way to do this is to cut and paste the poems into a word processor (such as Microsoft Word), using a fixed width font, such as Courier. Use an additional line above each line of the verse to indicate the scansion, in the style of the examples in the lecture notes.The use of a fixed-width font will make it easier for you to line up the sharp signs and periods over the nuclear vowels of the verse syllables, in a way that is guaranteed to be preserved when you print the result, or send it by email, or whatever.

The first four selections are examples of the fourteener, at least if we stretch this term to cover mixed anapestic/iambic forms -- the first two from other parts of the same poems already analyzed, and the second two from Rudyard Kipling and Emily Dickinson.

The last selection is a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, one of forty four that she wrote during her two-year courtship with Robert Browning in 1844-46. The most famous is sonnet 43, which begins "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."

Note that in the sonnet reproduced below, EBB makes use of a convention whereby the syllabic nasal in words like rhythm, baptism, heaven is not treated as a separate syllable, so that e.g. heaven acts like a monosyllable and baptism like a disyllable.

For extra credit, describe how the meter is used metaphorically in (line 7 of) this poem.

1. Robert W. Service
[Part of "The Shooting of Dan McGrew",
from The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses (1907)]

17 His eyes went rubbering round the room, and he seemed in a kind of daze,
18 Till at last that old piano fell in the way of his wandering gaze.
19 The rag-time kid was having a drink; there was no one else on the stool,
20 So the stranger stumbles across the room, and flops down there like a fool.
21 In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
22 Then he clutched the keys with his talon hands -- my God! but that man could play.


2. Lewis Carroll
[Part of The Hunting of the Snark, Fit the Second (1876)]

5 He had bought a large map representing the sea,
6 Without the least vestige of land:
7 And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
8 A map they could all understand.

9 "What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators,
10 Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?"
11 So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
12 "They are merely conventional signs!

13 "Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
14 But we've got our brave Captain to thank:"
15 (So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best --
16 A perfect and absolute blank!"


3. Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
[part of "The Sea-Wife" 1893, from Selected Poems]

17 The good wife's sons come home again
18    With little into their hands,
19 But the lore of men that have dealt with men
20    In the new and naked lands;

21 But the faith of men that have brothered men
22    By more than easy breath,
23 And the eyes of men that have read with men
24    In the open books of Death.

25 Rich are they, rich in wonders seen,
26    But poor in the goods of men;
27 So what they have got by the skin of their teeth
28    They sell for their teeth again.

4. Emily Dickinson
[from Poems (1890)]

1 If you were coming in the fall,
2 I 'd brush the summer by
3 With half a smile and half a spurn,
4 As housewives do a fly.

5 If I could see you in a year,
6 I 'd wind the months in balls,
7 And put them each in separate drawers,
8 Until their time befalls.

9 If only centuries delayed,
10 I 'd count them on my hand,
11 Subtracting till my fingers dropped
12 Into Van Diemen's land.

13 If certain, when this life was out,
14 That yours and mine should be,
15 I 'd toss it yonder like a rind,
16 And taste eternity.

17 But now, all ignorant of the length
18 Of time's uncertain wing,
19 It goads me, like the goblin bee,
20 That will not state its sting.

5. Elizabeth Barrett Browning
[ Sonnets from the Portuguese, VII (1844?)]

1 The face of all the world is changed, I think,
2 Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
3 Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
4 Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
5 Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
6 Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
7 Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole
8 God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,
9 And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
10 The names of country, heaven, are changed away
11 For where thou art or shalt be, there or here;
12 And this . . . this lute and song . . . loved yesterday,
13 (The singing angels know) are only dear
14 Because thy name moves right in what they say.

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