Lecture 11

[e e cummings]

Week 11:

Lecture 11

Poetry: Form


English Metres:

˘ / ΄

1) iamb / iambic metre: unstressed syllable / stressed syllable

˘ ΄ / ˘ ΄ / ˘ ΄ / ˘ ΄
Whose woods / these are / I think / I know (Frost)

΄ / ˘

2) trochee / trochaic metre: stressed syllable / unstressed syllable

΄ ˘ / ΄ ˘/ ΄ ˘ / ΄
Onward / led the / road a/gain (Housman)

˘ / ˘ / ΄

3) anapaest / anapaestic metre: 2 unstressed syllables / 1 stressed syllable

˘ ˘ ΄ / ˘ ˘ ΄ / ˘ ˘ ΄ / ˘ ˘ ΄
The Assy/rian came down / like a wolf / on the fold (Byron)

΄ / ˘ / ˘

4) dactyl / dactylic metre: 1 stressed syllable / 2 unstressed syllables

΄ ˘ ˘ / ΄ ˘ ˘ / ΄ ˘ ˘ / ΄ ˘
Softly and / tenderly / Jesus is / calling (Hymn)

a foot = one iamb, trochee, anapaest or dactyl
  • four feet = a tetrameter
  • five feet = a pentameter
  • six feet = a hexameter

Common English Verse Forms:

Alliterative Verse:

We were talking of dragons, // Tolkien and I
In a Berkshire bar. // The big workman
Who had sat silent // and sucked his pipe
All the evening, // from his empty mug
with gleaming eye // glanced towards us;
'I seen 'em myself', // he said fiercely.

- C. S. Lewis, "We were talking of dragons"
Heroic Couplet:

A little learning is a dangerous thing; - A
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring - A

- Alexander Pope, "Essay on Criticism"

Ballad Metre:

They hadna sailed a league, a league,
A league but barely three, - A
When the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud
And gurly grew the sea. - A

- Anon, "Sir Patrick Spens"


Whose woods these are I think I know - A
His house is in the village, though; - A
He will not see me stopping here - B
To watch his woods fill up with snow - A

My little horse must think it queer - B
To stop without a farmhouse near - B
Between the woods and frozen lake - C
The darkest evening of the year. - B

– Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

Sonnet (14 lines)
[Petrarchan (or Italian)]

The tower’s broken, and the leafy tree - A
which shaded all the spirals of my mind - B
has withered up. How can I hope to find - B
the same again, lost on this trackless sea? - A
Death, you reached out that day so easily - A
to choke my love to dust; left life behind. - B
No earthly empire, clout of any kind - B
– gold, precious stones – will give it back to me. - A

And if Fate wants to tell me my worst fears - C
were always justified, what can I say - D
but sorry? Do, but bow to hide my tears? - C
Life can look fine from far enough away, - D
but losing in one morning seven years - C
of tenderness, is quite a price to pay! - D

– Francesco Petrarca, "Rott’è l'alta colonna"
The rhyme-scheme of the octet is invariable; the sestet, on the other hand, can take a variety of forms:


Sonnet (14 lines)
[Shakespearean (or English)]

[3 quatrains]:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? - A
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: - B
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, - A
And summer's lease hath all too short a date: - B

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, - C
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; - D
And every fair from fair sometime declines, - C
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd; - D

But thy eternal summer shall not fade - E
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest; - F
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade, - E
When in eternal lines to time thou growest: - F
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, - G
So long lives this and this gives life to thee. - G

– William Shakespeare, "Sonnet XVIII"
It's much harder to find plausible rhymes in English than it is in Italian (or in other Romance languages, for that matter), so the Shakespearean sonnet only commits you to finding one rhyme for each word, rather than the up-to-three required by the Petrarchan structure.

Concrete Poetry:

[George Herbert: The Altar.]

The Altar

A broken A L T A R, Lord, thy servant reares,
Made of a heart, and cemented with teares:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workmans tool hath touch’d the same.
A H E A R T alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow’r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy Name;
That, if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
O let thy blessed S A C R I F I C E be mine,
And sanctifie this A L T A R to be thine.

- from The Temple (1633)

[Guillaume Apollinaire: Poèmes à Lou, XXII]

[Recognise yourself]
cette adorable personne c’est toi
[this adorable person is you]
sous le grand chapeau caroline
[under the big Carolina hat]
la bouche
voici l’ovale de la figure
[here is the oval of your face]
ton cou
[your neck]

et puis
[and then]
un peu plus bas
[a bit lower down]
c’est ton coeur qui bat
[there’s your beating heart]

ci confus
[should we mix with it]
[the impure]
par le mirage
[through the mirage]
de ton buste adoré
[of your loved breast]
un comma
[a comma]
à travers un nuage
[through a cloud]

- "Poème du 9 février 1915"
[Poem from 9th February, 1915]

[Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918)]

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