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sense, if read as so many lines of prose, would end with the falling slide, and this is the slide they ought to end with in verse. The member, indeed, which ends with impetuous, ought to have the rising slide; because, though it forms perfect sense, it is followed by a member which does not form sense by itself, and for this reason would necessarily adopt the rising slide, if it were prose.
In the same manner, though we frequently suspend the voice by the rising inflection in verse, where, if the composition were prose, we should adopt the falling, yet, wherever in prose the member or sentence would necessarily require the rising inflection, this inflection must necessarily be adopted in verse. An instance of all these cases may be found in the following example from Pope :
He, who through vast immensity can pierce,
May tell why heaven has made us as we are.
Look'd through? or can a part contain the whole?
Pope's Essay on Man.
If this passage were prose, every line but the fifth might end with the falling inflection; but the fifth being that where the two principal constructive parts unite, and the sense begins to form, here, both in prose and verse, must be the principal pause, and the rising inflection. The two questions with which the ninth and tenth lines end ought to have the rising in
flection also, as this is the inflection they would necessarily have in prose; though from injudiciously printing the last couplet, so as to form a fresh paragraph, the word whole is generally pronounced with the falling inflection, in order to avoid the bad effect of a question with the rising inflection at the end of a paragraph; which would be effectually prevented by uniting the last couplet to the rest, so as to form one whole portion, and which was undoubtedly the intention of the poet.
Having premised these observations, I shall endeavour to throw together a few rules for the reading of verse, which, by descending to particulars, it is hoped will be more useful than those very general ones, which are commonly to be met with on this subject, and which, though very ingenious, seem calculated rather for the making of verses, than the reading of them.
Of the accent and emphasis of verse.
RULE I. In verse, every syllable must have the same accent, and every word the same emphasis, as in prose; for though the rhythmical arrangement of the accent and emphasis is the very definition of poetry, yet, if this arrangement tends to give an emphasis to words which would have none in prose, or an accent to such syllables as have properly no accent, the rhythmus, or music of the verse, must be entirely neglected. Thus the article the ought never to have a stress, though placed in that part of the verse where the ear expects an accent.
Of all the causes which conspire to blind
An injudicious reader of verse would be very apt to lay a stress upon the article the in the third line, but a good reader would neglect the stress on this, and transfer it to the words what and weak. Thus also, in the following example, no stress must be laid on the word of, because we should not give it any in prosaic pronunciation.
Ask of thy mother earth why oaks are made
Taller and stronger than the weeds they shade.
For the same reason the word as, either in the first or second line of the following couplet, ought to have
Eye nature's walks, shoot folly as it flies,
And catch the manners living as they rise.
The last syllable of the word excellent, in the following couplet, being the place of the stress, is very apt to draw the reader to a wrong pronunciation of the word, in compliance with the rhythmus of the verse. Their praise is still, the style is excellent: The sense they humbly take upon content. But a stress upon the last syllable of this word must be avoided, as the most childish and ridiculous pronunciation in the world. The same may be observed of the word eloquence and the particle the in the following couplet:
False eloquence, like the prismatic glass,
Its gaudy colours spreads on ev'ry place.
If in compliance with the rhythmus, or tune of the verse, we lay a stress on the last syllable of eloquence, and on the particle the in the first of these verses, to
a good judge of reading scarcely any thing can be conceived more disgusting.
When the poetical accent is to be preserved, and when
RULE II. One of the most puzzling varieties in reading verse is that which is occasioned by the poet's placing a word in such a part of the line as is quite inconsistent with the metre of the verse. one of the most general rules in reading, that every word is to have the same accent in verse that it has in prose. This rule, however, admits of some few exceptions. Many of our good poets have sometimes placed words so unfavourably for pronunciation in the common way, that the ear would be less disgusted with an alteration of the common accent for the sake of harmony, than with a preservation of this accent with harshness and discord; for, in some cases, by preserving the common accent, we not only reduce the lines to prose, but to very harsh and disagreeable prose. Thus we cannot hesitate a moment at placing the accent on the first syllable of expert in the following line of Pope, though contrary to its prosaic pronunciation:
Then fell Scamandrius, expert in the chace. But it will be demanded, is the ear the only rule when we are to pronounce one way and when another? It may be answered; this is the best rule for those who have good ears; but like most of the rules given on this subject, it amounts to no rule at all. To offer something like a rule therefore, where there is none, will not be unacceptable to those at least who have not ears sufficiently delicate to direct themselves, and
those who have will not be displeased to find a reason given for such a choice of accent as they approve.
And first, let us try the different effects which these disjointed and inharmoniously accented words have on the ear, (for unquestionably they are not all equally disagreeable,) and that perhaps may lead us to something like a rule for directing us when we are to comply with the poetical accent, and when not.
In the first place, let us bring together words of two syllables, with the accent on the first, which the poet has transferred to the last.
Who now triumphs, and in th' excess of joy-
Second to thee offer'd himself to die.
Which tasted, works knowledge of good and evil.
P. L. i. 123.
Ibid. vii. 529.
Ibid. i. 159.
Ibid. iii. 33.
Ibid. vii. 543.
Ibid. ix. 290.
Preserving the poetical accent on many of these words would be merely turning them into ridicule, and therefore, every reader who has the least delicacy of feeling will certainly preserve the common accent of these words on the first syllable, and let the metre of the line shift for itself.
In the next place, let us adduce such words of two syllables as have a contrary transposition of accent,