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CONSTITUTION by time is the first note of our unit of verse-measurement. But perception of this fact does not explain what gives substance to metre, what lends it character and colour. The period is not a mere space of blank time; it is occupied by words or the intervals between words. These words possess qualities of their own-sensuous, intellectual, emotional-which are turned to due account by the poet. Even in dealing with words, however (in doing which it is usually convenient to break them up into syllables), we never get far away from the primal condition of time-measure. The first necessity felt by the poet is apparently to use his words as indices of time. After that, other qualities come into play, which make his verse rough or smooth, languid or vivacious, and so forth. But his first care-certainly in English, and one is disposed to conclude necessarily in all verse-is to marshal his words so that they shall impress on our ear the sequence of periods, emphasize temporal uniformity, and thus gratify our sense of rhythm. Powerful aid in achieving this is supplied, in our verse, by what is usually called
No term, indeed, is more loosely used either in books or in common talk. It seldom means the same thing in different writers, often not in different pages of the same writer. Some critics identify it with change of tone, some with prolongation of sound, most (of late years, and in reference to English speech) with increase of loudness. It is subdivided under many heads-syntactic or logical, subjective or rhetorical, rhythmical, etymological. Yet, in broad outline at least, we all know what is meant when a syllable is said to be accented. In the few samples of verse already quoted it is easy to see that—as a rule-each period contains one pretty strongly accented syllable, and that when more than one syllable is contained in a period the less strongly accented either precede or follow the more strongly accented with approximate regularity. This brings under review a very important factor in English verse.
So important is it that recent English prosody usually proclaims it the sole law of our verse. In such alternations of accented with unaccented syllables our metrists claim to find "feet as definite as those which existed on a different basis in Greek and Latin verse. It will be argued later that this conception is untenable and misleading. At present it may be enough to point out that the regularity postulated is much less complete than these theorists assume, as appears from the fact that they are frequently unable to say which feet are which! No certainty, no
1 Schipper, "Grundriss der englischen Metrik" (Vienna, 1895), i. 1, 3.
2 See chapter iv., p. 51.
finality, rewards their efforts. Our best grammarians are continually found at variance one with another. Carey and Lindley Murray, Clough and Conington, Prof. Masson and Dr. Abbott, Mr. A. J. Ellis and Prof. Mayor, break lances over the nature of particular feet." The first line of "Paradise Lost
1 As the names of these feet occur in most metrical discussions, as it is convenient to use them, and as they have a real meaning (to be explained later) in English pros ody, a list of the chief ones is appended.
Principal Classic Feet, with descriptions and symbols.
The last two names are reversed by some authors. The name choree, which simply means a foot used in choric metre, is most commonly a synonym for trochee, but sometimes for pyrrhic or tribrach. Ruskin uses trochee as a substitute for pyrrhic.
Feet of more than three syllables may be treated as combinations of the above. Thus a choriamb (-~~-) is a trochee
is a veritable crux to prosodists. Dr. Abbott scans a particular line in Tennyson's "Idylls" one way, and the poet promptly repudiates the scansion. Prof. Mayor finds iambs2 where the scheme of metre requires spondees, and trochees where most readers will prefer to detect iambs. Indeed, the untutored reader as well as the expert will often be at a loss to say why a particular sequence of syllables should be classed as one "foot" rather than another. Such nebulousness of result is surely proof of failure in the working of any theory.
To what is this failure due? A full answer to this question would involve exhaustive analysis of the nature and function of accent or "stress." Such analysis might probably reveal undue narrowness and artificiality in the definitions of our schools, and in my belief would exhibit English accent as compounded usually of both stress and tone, while duration of sound shows a strong inclination to keep the others company. But it is needless to wade in such deep waters. A sufficient answer will perhaps be found if we assume-as for practical purposes it
(choree) followed by an iamb. English writers rarely refer to these, and the feet most frequently mentioned are spondee, iamb, trochee, tribrach, anapaest, and dactyl.
1 Philological Society's "Transactions," 1873-1874, p.
2 The references are to Prof. Mayor's "Chapters on English Metre" (first edition, 1886), where (p. 123) only iambs and anapaests are recognized in the first line of Tennyson's "Alcaics," and (p. 188) five trochees are said to exist in a line from "Enoch Arden." The new edition (1901) retains these passages unaltered.
seems safe to do that accent is the emphasis,1 however produced, which selects one or more syllables out of a group of syllables, one or more words out of a group of words. This distinction at once suggests a difference. Roughly speaking, the accent we put on syllables is constant, that we put on words variable. When we pronounce the word "lonely," we always accentuate the first syllable; when the word "alone," always the second. But such fixed accent is a small part only of our speech-cadence. Over and above this, there is the grouping of a sentence, the weight we put on words according to their meaning, "logical accent" if we like so to term it. This is variable, uncertain, differing in different speakers, or in the same speaker according to his mood. Without reflection, one hardly realizes how vital this is, even in common talk. Think of the significance given by tones of anger, scorn, complaint, affection, interrogation, exclamation. It is often less what we say, than how we say it, that matters. This accent can override the other, can reverse the word-accent, as when we say "to bear and forbear," "to please or displease," and so on. Logical accent moulds our speech as a potter his clay. Englishmen are said to use it less than most, but a single sentence pronounced with only syllable-accent will show how widely that differs from normal utterance. The
Emphasis and accent are distinguished by some critics. Their application may differ, the former being concerned chiefly with sentences; but their physical constitution is surely identical. Are they not merely two names for one thing?