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grow the rashes, O," by Burns, the chorus opens with imperfectly syllabized periods
grow the rashes, O!
Green grow the rashes, O!
The sweetest hours that e'er I spend
Here the third and fourth lines fill up with syllables the blanks shown in their predecessors. And the rest of the piece repeats unvaryingly the cadence of these later lines. Metrical subtlety is not characteristic of Burns; his pauses are clear and distinct, his effects bold and natural. Simplicity seems essential to song-writing. Exquisite verse needs no aid of music, and always loses something-though it may sometimes gain much-by wedlock with its rival. The highest poetry has sufficing music of its own.
On the other hand, not all words set to tunes are rhythmical in themselves. Prose sentences can be so set, while verse-lines often put off their own music and take that of the air to which they are joined. The English version of " Adeste, fideles !" is sometimes taken for verse. Its opening lines may be rudely rhythmical—
O come, all ye faithful,
but with the second stanza deception becomes impossible.
God of God!
is in no sense English verse.
The words have no
metre in this context; they are simply prose words, which with considerable violence are accommodated to an extraneous time. Conversely, while it is easy to find four triple periods in such words as
Dear-dear-what can the matter be!1
March! march! Ettrick and Teviotdale! 2
or those others often quoted by early writers, of whose authorship I am ignorant
it may perhaps be questionable whether this effect is not in part due to the airs with which they are associated. Words can of course be set to more than one air, with different intervals and modulations; and none of the times so given need be their metrical time. When we have always heard words linked with one particular tune, it is difficult to realize that they can have any other movement. But unless they have a movement of their own, apart altogether from vocal or instrumental accompaniment, they have no claim to be accounted English verse at all.
These few hints and specimens may serve as samples of the manner in which it is suggested that time-scansion should be applied. The results may not seem very precise, but are they not real and helpful so far as they go? Can the same be said of any other system? Merely to name and classify syllables does not carry us very far; it leaves out
1 Old English song.
2 Scott, in "The Monastery," chap. xxv.
what gives character and swing to our verse. Temporal periods of some sort admittedly underlie metre; can it be right to ignore them? To me at least they seem the most important conditions of the problem. Whether they have been rightly examined and interpreted in these pages is another matter. Here as elsewhere, there is no royal road to learning, and mistakes may easily have been made. Prosodical pontiffs should least of all claim infallibility. But that the main idea of time-measurement is valid I entertain no doubt whatever. It brings verse into harmony with its sister arts. It maintains in theory rules which we all observe in practice. No one who reads English verse by rhythm fails to space it into equal divisions. Oratorical delivery, for its own purposes, may disregard these, and be justified in so doing. But the sense of rhythm remains fundamental in our minds. To translate that sense into articulated law is the real work of prosody. Some elementary contribution to that work, on however limited a scale, has been attempted in this study of metre.
THE metres which it is now proposed shortly to examine do not, in conception at least, belong rightfully to English verse. They are professed attempts to imitate the structure of Greek and Latin poetry. As such, scholars condemn them, asserting that there is no real reproduction of the measures sought to be naturalized. English readers, on the other hand, both male and female, appear to read them with enjoyment, and to find nothing repulsive in their metrical form. Some study of how this happens will usefully supplement previous discussion, and may tend to clarify our ideas as to the true nature of English verse.
Such attempts have been made on two different lines. Early in our literature, some few Elizabethan writers tried to reproduce Classic metres on a basis of quantity, accent being either ignored or thrown into opposition. This enterprise was unfortunate, if the principles laid down in preceding pages be correct. No metre which gives quantity the first place, and neglects or violates accent, is likely to succeed in English. It is opposed to all the habits of our speech and our verse. There were other reasons for failure, but they need not be particular