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INTRODUCTORY

MODERN English prosody dates from Coleridge's dictum, in the preface to "Christabel" (1816), that not the syllables but the accents of his lines were to be reckoned. This remark of a great master cannot have been intended to give a complete theory. It says nothing about the arrangement of these accents, which is at least as vital as the fact of their occurrence. Probably he assumed their order of succession as obvious. This order, however, has been ignored by very many of his successors, who speak as if mere casual recurrence of accents sufficed to constitute verse. Thus, for example, our ordinary "heroic" line' is often said to be a line carrying five stresses, as though that were in itself distinctive. But the same description applies to many a prose sentence. Prosody is bound to furnish a criterion distinguishing verse from prose. Coleridge's “new principle," as he called it-new to the critics of his

'This name belongs to the best-known of all our lines, containing normally ten syllables, used by Shakespeare in his plays, Milton in "Paradise Lost," Pope in his Essays and Satires. It may be rhymed or rhymeless, in blank verse, couplet, or stanza.

day, but old as English poetry in meaning and application-gives a starting-point to those seeking such criterion. It indicates the path, which his pupils must follow for themselves.

A step forward was taken when Coventry Patmore, in the essay now appended to his Poems, proclaimed that the accents must be separated by " isochronous intervals." This pronouncement brought him into line with our musical scansionists, to all of whom Joshua Steele ("Prosodia Rationalis," 1775) may be accounted father. Scansion by musical notation has not found much favour in this country, though Ruskin made use of it in his "Elements of English Prosody" (1880), representing the units of versetermed by him "metres "-under the guise of minims and crotchets. In America it seems to have made more way. Sidney Lanier developed it systematically in "The Science of English Verse" (Boston, 1880), a book which has received strangely little attention on this side the Atlantic. Other independent workers have pursued the subject since. One of the latest, Mr. J. P. Dabney ("The Musical Basis of Verse," New York and London, 1901), follows Lanier in general conception while criticising him in details, and seems almost to think that his leader invented the whole idea of musical scansion.

These writers naturally emphasize the idea of time. By the majority of our grammarians, on the other hand, it is completely ignored. While theoretically admitting time as an element in all verse, they practically leave it out of their account. Ordinary manuals of prosody never mention it, and usually

state that accent is the foundation of our verse.

66

'feet"

Lists of so-called
are given, yet the one
element which can really create "feet" is passed by
without mention. The facts under review are not
adequately explained by these statements. Verse-
structure must exist before it can be signalized by
accent. A more thorough-going inquiry is needed,
which will resolve our verse into its actual constitu-
ents, and assign to each its station and degree.
Accent is pretty obviously one of these, but it is
almost as obviously not the sole one. Accurate
analysis of English verse should leave no possible
factor unnoticed.

Scientific study of our verse-forms, indeed, has not been neglected. Both in England and America, during the last thirty years especially, much very valuable analysis has been made of phenomena and their grouping. But it is contained in treatises written by scholars for scholars, concerned more with points of detail than with general laws. Metrical effect depends on certain broad principles, simple in conception (for a child can enjoy verse), yet capable of endless elaboration and development at the hands of accomplished singers. In considering the latter aspect we have, perhaps, somewhat lost sight of the former. No building is secure without a good foundation. The most complex, and refined, and specialized theories of verse-structure stand or fall by compliance with certain plain, elementary, fundamental truths. A clear statement of these last is indispensable to any real understanding of the conditions which shape English verse.

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In the following study, time is taken as the basis of our verse, but music and metre are not regarded as synonymous. Measurements are held to depend on time-periods rather than syllables, while the function of accent becomes mainly directive and illuminative. An attempt is made to analyze the nature and construction of our metrical unit. The appeal throughout is to readers of English poetry, technical questions are sparingly dealt with, and acquaintance with other languages is not presumed. It were strange if the principles of English verse could not be comprehended without reference to foreign literature, ancient or modern. Indeed, it seems doubtful whether we fully appreciate the verse-rhythm of any but our native language, or one closely akin to it. Not that study of other prosodies, Classical in particular, can be held of small value. It is inestimably important in matters metrical. But even knowledge of the Classics is no substitute for knowledge of English. More harm than good seems to have been done by critics whose single idea was to compare our verse with that of the old Greeks and Romans, and to interpret our cadences by means of theirs. These chapters deal with English verse for and by itself, any reference to other literatures being made only by way of illustration.

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The elements, which blend to form a unit are noted first separately, then in conjunction. While the argument must be left to unfold itself, it may mised that the criterion before referred to is found to be indissolubly connected with time, and that scansion by time-spaces is contrasted with the crud

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