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Passions in Poetry

Syllable counting

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Brad
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25 posted 08-30-99 08:04 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Well, if someone's actually reading this, I'll continue. Besides, now, we finally get to poetry.

So, what do we mean when we meter a poem?

Go back to Nan's comments above (I think it is one of the simplest and concise explanations I have read). These are the basic terms you need to talk about meter.

To meter a poem is to arrange stressed and unstressed syllables in a predictable pattern that when combined with other factors like rhyme, alliteration, line length and so forth creates a rhythm to the poem.

So, how do you figure out the meter of a poem? You do what people call a scansion.
This is just the marking of stressed and unstressed syllables usually above the line in question. (x and / or - and / or some other marks)

There are six rules to scansion.
(this is really the same thing as the three types of stress - from Robert Hass - but this if from Lewis Turco).

And I'll put that in my next post.
Brad


Brad
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26 posted 08-30-99 11:50 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

The six rules for scanning a poem are the following:

1. In every word of the English language of two or more syllables, at least one syllable will take a stress. If one cannot at first hear the stressing, then one may consult a pronouncing dictionary.

2. Important single-syllable words, particularly verbs and nouns, generally take strong stresses.

3. Unimportant single-syllable words in the sentence, such as articles, prepositions, and pronouns (except demonstrative pronouns) do not take strong stresses, though they may take secondary stresses through promotion or demotion, depending on their position in the sentence or the line of verse.

4. In any series of three unstressed syllables in a line of verse, one of them, generally the middle syllable, will take a secondary stress through promotion and will be counted as a stressed syllable.

5. In any series of three stressed syllables in a line of verse, one of them, generally the middle syllable, will take a secondary stress through demotion and will be counted as an unstressed syllable.

6. Any syllable may be rhetorically stressed by means of italics or some other typographical play.

Anybody see any problems yet?

If everything here is 'correct', what do we do with pyrrhics and spondees?

How does demotion and promotion work?

And the joy of metered verse: the substitution?

So, do I keep talking?

Brad
Nan
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27 posted 08-31-99 02:52 PM       View Profile for Nan   Email Nan   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Nan's Home Page   View IP for Nan

Y'Ain'Lost me yit!!


------------------
Nay, if our wits run the Wild-Goose chase, I am done:
For thou hast more of the Wild-Goose in one of thy wits,
Than I am sure I have in my whole five.
~ 1592 Wm. Shakespeare ~ Romeo & Juliet ~ ii. iv. 75


traveler
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28 posted 09-01-99 10:26 PM       View Profile for traveler   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for traveler

Just sittin waitin for the next lesson ...
PhaerieChild
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29 posted 09-02-99 12:44 AM       View Profile for PhaerieChild   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for PhaerieChild

I'm waitin' for the test. Hope I can pass it.

------------------
Words lay dormant in the recesses of the mind til called forth to a labor of love. By WildChild

wayoutwalt
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30 posted 09-02-99 12:59 AM       View Profile for wayoutwalt   Email wayoutwalt   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for wayoutwalt

this is what i needed yes thank you brad!
traveler
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31 posted 09-02-99 03:13 PM       View Profile for traveler   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for traveler

Ok ... I think I am following along ... just posted my third poem ... the first were ... well it would be kind to say rough ... would you take a look ... see if I'm on the right track ... I think my limited talents would be better suited to free or blank verse ... maybe prose ... but I am persistent if not stubborn ... Thanks
Brad
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32 posted 09-03-99 03:07 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Gee, thanks for all the replies.

Nan, thanks for the support but it never even occurred to me that you would have any problems with this stuff.

wayoutwalt, thanks.

WildChild, a test? Everytime you read a poem, you can test yourself (later, I will put up examples).

traveler, well, I haven't read your poem yet but if you want to do 'blank verse', you still have to be familiar with this stuff.

Now, I want to talk about spondees (two stressed syllables) and phyrrics (two unstressed syllables). By the system so far outlined above, there aren't any. We're working in a binary relationship were one syllable always has to have more stress than the other. In Nan's explanation, she uses 'heartbeat' as an example of a spondee but when I say 'heartbeat' I actually hear a trochee. My dictionary gives the primary stress on 'heart' and a secondary stress on 'beat'. She can't give an example of a phyrric because, well, there aren't any.

There are professors of English who argue this (they also want to use a different type of scansion system).

There are professors of English who argue against phyrrics but for spondees (it's a long story).

I think they're useful because while we're using a binary system any two syllables we're talking about are still in a line within a poem and given the almost infinite amount of stress variation, it just doesn't make any sense to avoid using them.

For example:
on a green hill

it seems silly, to me, to argue that 'on a' is a trochee and 'green hill' is iambic (or you could argue it is also a trochee) so that 'on' has the 'same' amount of stress as 'green' or 'hill'.

Simply put, it's a phyrric - spondee combination and this is quite common in poetry and how we speak (and if you want even more terminology, it's called an ionic minor foot -- don't think that's all that important though).

Okay, I'll stop here but I will say from hear on in, we'll probably have people who disagree with what I say (this is a good thing). So, let's have some fun.

Brad

Brad
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33 posted 09-03-99 03:35 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I was in a bar last night (my wife still lets me out now and then) and I ordered a drink:
I'd like a Gin 'n Tonic, please.

The bartender didn't know what was in it.
So what's the meter of my request?

At this bar, I met a few guys there and I (not very subtly, mind you) brought up poetry and Milton came up. One guy (from New Zealand) argued that Milton wrote in free verse.

He may have a point (but I'll talk about that later).

Anyway, promotion and demotion -- what are these things? In any metered poem, there is a creation of a pattern that can predicted, that can anticipated by the reader. The writer, then, can put words that normally you wouldn't stress in a position that, according to the pattern, should be stressed(promotion).

"I know you are but what am I"

Pronouns are generally not stressed but how can you read the above sentence without stressing that final 'I' -- what's the meter in this sentence?

The reverse is true with demotion:

"Two roads diverged in a wood"

Within the context of the whole poem (which is iambic) 'Two' is demoted to an unstressed position. That's a pretty famous line in a pretty famous poem -- look it up if you don't trust me (I'm doing this from memory at the moment so I might have made a mistake).

But, you may wonder, are those last three words -- what's an anapest doing in an iambic poem?

This is a substitution, a tri-syllabic substitution, and a lot of people, even today, do not like these.

But that's for next time (and I'll talk about Milton as well),

Brad
Nan
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34 posted 09-03-99 09:49 AM       View Profile for Nan   Email Nan   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Nan's Home Page   View IP for Nan

...I know - I know......

Iambic Tetrameter
short-long/short-long/short-long/short-long
i'd-LIKE/a-GIN/'n'-TON/ic-PLEASE
Sue
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since 08-04-99
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35 posted 09-04-99 02:37 PM       View Profile for Sue   Email Sue   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Sue

This is fantastic! I've been away for a while, which is why I haven't responded. Brad, please don't stop!
traveler
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36 posted 09-04-99 04:00 PM       View Profile for traveler   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for traveler

I have a question as you continue ... Brad I
hope you continue! .... Promotion and demotion, are these accepted conventions or are they frowned upon ... should I try to avoid their usage or are the frequently employed ... LOL ... I guess what I am wondering is if you employ them is there the chance the the result is a 'forced' sound to the rhyme and meter ... thanks again ...
Brad
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37 posted 09-04-99 08:12 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Thanks for your support (and, gee, no one's made fun of my spelling and grammatical errors errors yet -- it's pyrrhic, Brad, pyrrhic. Not phyrric as in fyrric.)

Traveler, as far as I can tell, they are accepted conventions by most people interested in this stuff. But, be careful, it still should sound natural to your ear. I think I made a mistake in a poem a while back (which I'll post here as soon as I get through substitution) of trying to use promotion where it just sounded stupid (simply, I was trying to ryhme ring with lightning) You can do this, of course, but in my poem, I don't think it works since every other rhyme is in a stressed position, lightning's natural stress is put out of whack -- LIGHT NING versus LIGHT ning.

I still like the poem, just have to change that.

If you're just beginning (aren't we all?), use them sparingly and make sure that your meter is very CLEAR in other lines. Remember, it is the predictive pattern of meter that allows us to do these things.

Lewis Turco's rules concerning the three syllable thingey are based on iambs. This is fine because that's what most of us write. One professor (Robert Wallace) has argued that iambic is the stress pattern of English and all others are substitutions or experiments. I write in iambic (although I do experiment) and just about everyone else does too.

Except for one little thing. The most famous poem in America (sorry, I don't know about other places) is not written in iambic. Does anybody know what it is?
Does anybody know the meter?

It begins:
'Twas the night . . .

Brad
Sue
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38 posted 09-05-99 02:09 PM       View Profile for Sue   Email Sue   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Sue

Hiawatha? Trochaic.
Nan
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39 posted 09-05-99 02:44 PM       View Profile for Nan   Email Nan   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Nan's Home Page   View IP for Nan

I know... I know....

Let's see if you guys can get this one...
figure out the stress pattern...
Then
Refer back to my breakdown of those patterns...
I know someone can get it...
Brad
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40 posted 09-08-99 04:28 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Before I talk about trisyllabic substitution, I thought I'd talk about Sue's little poems:

'x' is unstressed.
'/' is stressed.

/ x / x /
Skies are turning grey
(same)
Nights becoming chill
(same)
Migrants fly away
x / x / x /
Their summer song is still


/ x / x /
Skies are turning grey
(same)
Nights becoming chill
x / / x /
The birds fly away
x / x / x /
Their summer song is still

Are they in a meter?

Well, as I read it sounds pretty regular to me so I would have to say yes.

In the first poem, we have three lines with five syllables beginning and ending with stresses. Right?
The last line, however, starts with an unstressed syllable, has six syllables, and ends with a stress.
If we divide this last line up into feet,

Their sum // mer song // is still

we have three iambs. The last line is in perfect iambic trimeter.

The other three lines, however, begin with a strong stress but then follow the same pattern (iambs) and most people argue that scansion should be done in a binary system of two syllables. How is this problem solved?

You add a silent syllable at the beginning of each line:

(x) / x / x /
Skies are turning grey

and if you do this for every line that needs it, we have a poem in (if not absolutely perfect) regular iambic trimeter.

There are a lot of names for this but I like 'headless iamb' because it's easy to remember. To my ear, this poem reads very similarly to other poems in iambic trimeter.
(Don't forget to read these poems out loud; it's much easier to see how this stuff actually makes sense).

This is a fairly common variation to the regular pattern of iambic.

Let's move to the second poem. We have one line changed and it's only a reversal of one foot so it seems logical that the basic meter of the piece hasn't changed. We still have iambic trimeter but, for me, that third line does sound different (or is it just me?)

(caution: this is getting a little academic because I'm trying to follow the rules. In a nutshell, the poem is still iambic trimeter with a weird substitution in the third line. Poets do this all the time. From a poet's point of view, do you really need to know anything else? Only if you want to.)

rule 1: feet have to have at least two syllables (debatable)

rule 2: if it's regular trimeter, it should have three feet. (broken all the time)

If I break up the line this way:


x / / x / (x)
The birds // fly a // way

we have three feet -- one iamb and two trochees. The trochee is just the mirror of an iamb and is generally considered to be a legitimate substitution. The imaginary last syllable is called truncation but to my knowledge it only works at the end of a line, not the middle (perhaps, in this case the more common sensical spot to put an imaginary syllable but only because we know the first poem and what Sue was trying to show us.)

So what am I trying to say in this rather long involved explanation:

That a poem in regular iambic can and often does have trochaic substitutions. Poets do this.

That a line in a trimeter poem can have 5,6,7 or even more syllables and still be counted as trimeter. You can have an odd number of syllables in a metered poem.

Tetrameter--same deal just with a different base

Pentameter-- same deal just with a different base

Why does this work?
Because the rhythm's strength comes from the STRESSED syllables, not the unstressed syllables.

And I'll give a concrete example of this next time.

Are we having fun yet?
Is it confusing?
If all of this is immediately clear to you, then you are far smarter than I am (of course, that's not saying much).

Brad


[This message has been edited by Brad (edited 09-08-99).]
Sue
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41 posted 09-08-99 02:51 PM       View Profile for Sue   Email Sue   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Sue

Yes, we are having fun.
Yes, it is slightly confusing.
With a bit of effort I do understand it, but that isn't intelligence, it is interest.

I didn't know the poem, but I think I found it.
" 'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house..."
If I counted right it is anapestic tetrameter.
Thanks, Brad, for the hint which made it possible to find it.

[This message has been edited by Sue (edited 09-08-99).]
Ron
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42 posted 09-18-99 11:39 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

Hey, Brad, is class over so soon? I rather sensed you were just getting warmed up...

More, please!

Brad
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43 posted 09-20-1999 08:45 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Thanks Ron.
Actually, as people get to know me, they'll realize 'class' (I prefer conversation) is never over. There are only breaks in a long process of trying to improve. I'm sharing my ideas and some of what I've read, nothing more. I just wish more people would share too . Don't whine, Brad, it's unbecoming.

Sue, you win a genuine almost gold Australian boomerang key chain with the USA flag plastered on it (made in Taiwan). You'll get it as soon I meet you in person and so soon as I can find it.

Let's see what's next:

Why stressed syllables are more important than unstressed syllables?

Why trisyllabic substitution is okay in a metered poem?

How does meter enhance meaning? (I just found a really good, simple example for this one. It's by Irving Layton. Does anybody know who he is?)

Maybe when we get into individual poems, we can actually get some disagreements going

Brad
Temptress
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44 posted 09-21-1999 04:38 PM       View Profile for Temptress   Email Temptress   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Temptress

WOW.>Geesh...I'm printing this one for later reading everyone. Thanks for the valuable input Nan. Now I'm off in search of a creative writing class to enhance my abilities and drive at this whole poetry thing I do so enjoy. : ) Seriously, I have been wanting and feeling the need to do so for a while now. I took creative writing in high school too, and paid careful attention when we covered poetry in English. He he..I'm an English nut. I loved it. : )
Ladycat
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45 posted 09-22-1999 03:44 AM       View Profile for Ladycat   Email Ladycat   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ladycat's Home Page   View IP for Ladycat

Ladies and Gentlemen,
If I knew nothing before I sure know something now.. I feel like I have just been through the Brad school of intelligent writing.. Wow Nan, I have seen someone that can talk like you.. hehe.. Thank you all.. To remember all of this I had to print it out..

Love,
Lady

------------------
Live in my world just once and you'll find yourself enraptured.


Brad
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since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


46 posted 09-24-1999 12:39 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Sorry for the delay. It does seem that some people are reading this and if that's the case, I'll keep throwing out ideas and seeing what happens. The following example comes from Derek Attridge's POETIC RHYTHM -- a book (Ron?) someone called controversial. It is different and, to my mind, very useful.

Anyway, stressed versus unstressed syllables:

Read the following sentences out loud keeping the two strong stresses at equal intervals. Start with a very slow beat (and tap your hand or foot to keep the beat):

CARL TENDS

CArol TENDS

CAroline TENDS

CAroline inTENDS

CAroline interFERES

CAroline is interFERing

CAroline is an interFERer


Now, try to do the same thing with

CAroline JONES TENDS.

If this exercise works the same way for you as it does for me, you'll see how stressed syllables are more important than unstressed syllables. Trisyllabic substitution should not be a problem. However, 'Caroline is an interferer' with a regular beat should have been a little difficult to say (for me, anyway). So, stressed syllables are the important ones but that doesn't mean you can throw in all the unstressed syllables you want. It just sounds wierd.

More later.

Hope everybody is having a good time,
Brad
Poet deVine
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47 posted 09-24-1999 01:23 AM       View Profile for Poet deVine   Email Poet deVine   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Poet deVine

I finally had to print it out to keep up...
Brad
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Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


48 posted 09-30-1999 01:05 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Okay, this is for people interested. If you don't care, no big deal.
Iloveit
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since 09-02-99
Posts 1168
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49 posted 09-30-1999 05:25 PM       View Profile for Iloveit   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Iloveit

well brad, even though I joked in critical that I didn't care, I came and was interested, thank you for sharing your knowledge. Don't know if I will be able to incorporate it into my poetry as I write free verse, but I find it very interesting and love to learn

I think free verse uses its own rythm and accents, it doesn't have any rules, but when I write, I just know when a line sounds wrong or is hard to read, and so adjust the line length or reword entirely....
glad you are here am anxious to learn more about poetry
 
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