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The moon, like a flower
Sits and smiles on the night.1
By itself this excerpt may scarcely be deemed conclusive, but I conceive that no one reading the little poem through will doubt that in each stanza the first quatrain moves to duple time, the second to triple.
In these instances succession is regular. If, now, we turn to the poems before mentioned, we shall find change of time not less apparent. "Christabel " is mainly in duple metre, but some passages pass clearly into triple, as, for example, one near the end of the First Part, beginning:
In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell
Similar transitions abound in Scott's "Lay," admittedly moulded on Coleridge's metre; also in Byron's "Siege," which undoubtedly followed Scott's lead. In all three poems, however, and very many others since, the transitions come not at regular intervals, but apparently haphazard. Even this is not all. While some passages are clearly in duple metre and others as clearly in triple, a large number seem to waver between the two, and might be read as either. Take these well-known lines:
Alas! they had been friends in youth.
1 "Songs of Innocence," "Night."
And to be wroth with one we love
Doth work like madness in the brain.1
This can be easily enough read to duple time, but the third and fourth lines seem distinctly tending toward triple. They seem to strain on the leash, eager to break into more rapid measure. Such lines, rather than mere irregularity of transition, I conceive to be responsible for the "mixed" result. Coleridge, the master, indeed passes freely from one rhythm to the other, even in consecutive lines, e.g.,
For nothing near it could I see,
Save the grass and green herbs underneath the old tree.
His followers seem often more visibly to halt between the two. But in all of them this metre is characterized, not merely by frequent and irregular transits of time-though these, no doubt, aid the impression-but by what is apparently a conscious attempt to combine the effect of both. This becomes its distinctive mark. It is rightly styled "mixed metre," not because duple and triple periods blend in unity (a thing surely unimaginable), but because the poet intermingles both rhythms and does his best to assimilate their effects. Despite the reprobation of earlier critics, this form of verse has taken an assured place in our poetry.
Without question, this helps to make analysis more difficult. We must take facts as they are. Since syllables do not in themselves reveal time, and our poets are not always anxious to discriminate rhythms -may perhaps be actually trying to combine their
1 "Christabel," Part II., near beginning.
effects-we may expect to find intricacy and possible perplexity. Words may seem capable of more than one movement, and we may feel uncertain which was intended. Some illustrations of this will be given in next chapter. Poets, like Esaias, are very bold; sometimes, possibly, over-bold. They might attempt, for example, to alternate duple with triple time in successive portions of one line, as if one wrote:
With a leap of his limbs as a lion's, godhead filled with fire.
I do not think such an attempt has ever been made ; whether it could be made with success is beyond the critic's province to say. Coleridge's metre had its comic precursors, and was considered unfit for serious poetry; his genius proved this false. Other experiments may yield similarly unexpected results. We must not seek to fetter inspiration. But two things, I think, may be asserted with confidence. One is, that the actual cadences of verse depend largely on their temporal rhythm. The other, that whatever be the inter-relation of duple with triple time, and even if the period in each were of the same length, compensation by pause remains certain. Balancing two syllables against three must imply their equalization in time. Under both heads, therefore, previous contentions are justified. Time is seen to be a fact of prime import in our verse. Neglect of it cannot but be fatal to just scansion. For it remains the sole real measurer of rhythm. Temporal periods, however disguised, form the absolute units of English metre.
EXEMPLIFICATIONS OF METHOD
THE modus operandi of time-scansion has now been defined to the best of my power, and I have disclaimed all wish to invade the field of the higher critic. But some further practical illustration may reasonably be asked. After all, most theories of verse sound well in the abstract. It must be poor analysis which cannot wear a face of verisimilitude while confronted only with our commoner metres. The trial comes when it encounters difficult and unusual phenomena. Does it explain these better than other theories, make them more intelligible, more easy to follow? Unless a theory does this, it is of small use. Prosody should be a practical science, helping us to unravel intricacies of structure. That explanation is best which throws most light on the facts, and accords with them best. In this concluding chapter, therefore, I propose to select a few specimens of unusual verse, and consider how far time-measure elucidates their construction. The appendix which follows will do the same thing to some extent, though in a specially restricted field. In this way I hope to show that the method adopted
is no air-drawn fancy, but a real key to prosodial problems.
The proof of a pudding is in the eating, but much depends on the cook. A theory may be true, yet wrongly applied; good material can be spoiled by bad handling. If some of the explanations about to be offered misplease, let it not be too hastily concluded that the theory inspiring them is fallacious. Time being determined by ear, not by arithmetic, there may well be room for difference of opinion. Other theories by no means furnish infallible tests. My scansions must be taken as suggestions, not ex cathedra judgements. Acceptance of their general tenor is not incompatible with some disagreement in respect of details.
If I am asked to define the metre of this line:
From the unknown sea to the unseen shore
I cannot answer fully. It is clearly in duple rising metre, but whether it contain four periods or five it is impossible to say. If it occurred in heroic verse, there would be no difficulty in spreading it over five periods; if in "octosyllabic," none in adapting it to four. This is because the syllables are given us, but not the time. If we had the whole poem before us, time would be manifest, and would fix the metre. In Greek verse a fragment like this would reveal its structure absolutely, each syllable disclosing its quantity. The difference in our case is patent.1 As
1 "A metrical scheme which fails to inform us in what metre detached decasyllabic lines are written is really no scheme at all" ("Saturday Review," April 12th, 1902,