Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Basic Poetics - (Meter and Emphasis)

AG: "All this the world well knows; yet none knows well"  (Shakespeare) - Well they [the anthologists] have got two different ways. There's two different ways of pronouncing it. As they say (as you'll notice) - "Most practiced readers of verse will carry the first pattern in their minds, while actually reading along with and sometimes in contrast with the first" - while actually reading in contrast to the first. So.."All this/ the world/ well knows/yet none/ knows well" would be the iambic pentameter. "All this/ the world/ well knows/yet none/ knows well" would be the formal regular count. Does everybody understand that?

– Iambic pentameter, meaning five feet – Iamb – light and then heavy – the light iambic accent, a light accent, and then a heavy –“All this”, “I go”, “I deal”, “Ideal” (“Ideal" is a word with an iambic meter, right?). Is everybody... Is that clear for everybody? I mean there may be some people who have never heard of iambic and trochaic, but, starting off at that foot (starting off at our feet!), iambic feet.

So – “All this the world well knows yet none knows well" - (But) you wouldn’t really say that, you’d say,  “All this the world well knows yet none knows well.” – “All this the world well knows..” (because  you’re saying basically, “all this the world knows well”). So, if you were an actor, on stage, you’d say “All this the world well knows..” So “well” would take an accent, right?

Now. in neither of their interpretations has it occurred to them that the word “well” might take an accent there – dig? – are you following?

The classic example of that is.. (that I’ve used teaching in school here before)  - “The Ship of State..”  who wrote “The Ship of State”?  the American poem, “Thou too, sail on, O ship of state” [Editorial note - the actual title of the poem is, in fact, "The Building of the Ship"] (the poem) that Winston Churchill quoted in his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946

AG: Oliver Wendell Holmes or something? [Editorial note - it was actually Henry Wadsworth Longfellow] -  “Thou too sail on, O ship of state” – That was always used in the college high-school textbooks back in the (19)20’s as an example of -  “Thou too/, sail on/ O ship/ of state” - Iambic again. However, if you pronounce it, it's “Thou too/, sail on/ O ship/ of state” – In other words, you see,  the “O” is an exclamation.. Except, they’ve made an exclamation.. they’ve counted an exclamation, as an unaccented syllable.  So it gets really goofy  - meaning, really, the degeneration of the whole system, actually. And that’s why people abandoned the system , this kind of system of measurement around (Walt) Whitman’s time and began working on a different system of measurement, because it ran so far counter.. the actual system of measurement ran so far counter to the way American conversational vernacular rhythmic (bopping)  tripped along that it was not really a reliable guide and that it was better to listen to speech and then begin to construct your own rhythm than construct your own system of measurement (which is what William Carlos Williams did). And so, at the end of this long.. the light at the end of this long tunnel of the whole of of English Literature would be (going to a study..towards the end of this term)..will be, (at least), checking out systems of home-made Operation Bootstrap measurement of the line.

However. .. So [back to  "I Syng of A Mayden"]. I would say… “King of all Kings for her son, she chose” would be just as good as "for her son she chose" - “For my son, I’m gonna have the king of all kings! - that’s the vernacular  -“King of all Kings for her son, she chose”. So it could be – or it could be “King of all Kings for her son, she …" but that.. already that begins to get corny or rhetorical - “King of all Kings for her son, she chose” – Does that make any sense? Corny or rhetorical if I emphasize the word “son” rather than “her son”? Maybe, or either way  - “King of all Kings for her son, she chose”  
So it'd probably be (ok either) way you put it.

So, you have that much (just like a pianist interpreting a Beethoven score, or a little Chopin Nocturne, in this case), you have the possibility of interpreting it as you want, as you understand the poem, and interpreting it rhythmically, as you understand the poem, and shifting emphasis, just as a pianist does when he’s.. there are certain..when he’s interpreting a little Nocturne, or little piece of music. Depending upon what emphasis, what accent, what speed, he wants to do it, it gives it a different emotional tone, slightly different body-English. So you have the same possibility of varying the body-English in reading these poems – and that’s what makes them really interesting, I think. It gives them musical possibilities – And actually that’s what (Bob) Dylan does with his own songs, he’s constantly shifting the accents around., as you notice, from year to year, as he reinterprets how to pronounce “Just Like A Woman” or "Like A Rolling Stone” or “Idiot Wind”…   

to be continued

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately ten-and-a-quarter minutes in  and continuing to approximately sixteen-and-a-half minutes in]

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