[LMB] Levels of Bafflement

Harvey Fishman fishman at panix.com
Thu Jan 18 04:47:41 GMT 2018


What an interesting thread. Thanks everyone.

Harvey


On Thu, 18 Jan 2018, M. Haller Yamada wrote:

> Thanks, John! I think I'm going to make a little chart, and post it on my computer for the next month or so, and see what kind of feet swim by naturally.
>
> One more rather silly question. The adjectival form is -ic (iambic, trochaic, etc.). Is there a noun form of pyrrhic, or does it serve double duty as both the noun form and the adjectival form?
>
>      From: John Lennard <john.c.lennard at gmail.com>
> To: lmb-list <lois-bujold at lists.herald.co.uk>
> Sent: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 10:42 PM
> Subject: [LMB] Levels of Bafflement
>
> Micki: I think this must be true. We had some poetry, but very little
> memorizing, and while words
> like "iambs" and "trochees" flit inside my head like little bats, they
> don't land and make actual
> sense.
>
> John: For 99% of English metrical poetry you only need to remember six feet:
>
> 1. iamb -- ti-TUM, and 2. trochee -- TUM-ti
>
> conTRACT, the verb (the rock contracts as it cools), is an iamb ; CONtract,
> the noun (he signed a contract), is a trochee.
>
> 3. pyrrhic -- ti-ti, and 4. spondee -- TUM-TUM
>
> These never occur as basic metres, because speaking all spondees is to talk
> like a Dalek, and speaking all pyrrhics is to whisper like a Dalek. They
> do occur as variant (or distinguishing) feet in both iambic and trochaic
> metres, and may occur as such elsewhere.
>
> 5. anapaest -- ti-ti-TUM, and 6. dactyl -- TUM-ti-ti
>
> Relatively few English words are anapaests, but many phrases are -- hence
> "a young man" and equivalents in limericks, and in those mixed metres
> Catherine mentioned, "to the sea", "and the sky". Conversely, a lot of
> words are dactylic -- EARN-est-ly, MENT-or-ship, HAP-pen-ing.
>
> What's interesting about it all is the interplay between a fixed pattern,
> set as a template, and actually words. So Milton, frex, has a line in
> *Paradise Lost* --
>
> With mazy error under pendant shade
>
> that contains four trochaic words in a row -- MA-zy, ERR-or, UN-der,
> PEN-dant -- and yet Milton's line is a wholly regular iambic pentameter,
> because every one of those words is split between two feet --
>
> With MA- / zy ERR- / or UN- / der PEN- / dant SHADE
>
>
>
> John: With metre, there is correct and incorrect.
>
> Micki: AH! so if someone tells me "That doesn't scan," to some extent it
> might be just a personal or dialectic difference. "It doesn't scan to me."
>
>
>
> John: Ye-es, but. Personal and dialectal matters may indeed matter, but
> there are still things that do not scan.
>
> Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate correct and incorrect metres is to
> speak a line aloud, wildly exaggerating the stresses a metre
> would prescribe. Sticking with Hamlet, for now, let's say someone claims
> it's really trochaic pentameter ; so we take a line
>
> O what a rogue and peasant slave am I
>
> and if this is trochaic pentameter, then the supposed pattern of stress
> would be
>
> O what / A rogue / AND peas- / ANT slave / AM i
>
> and that's clearly nonsense. All else aside, peasant, a naturally iambic
> word, PEASant, becomes a trochee, peasANT ; and the stresses on A and AND
> are absurd. Oh, says our someone, I misspoke, and meant its anapaestic
> trimeter with a hyperbeat. We try again.
>
> o what A / rogue and PEAS- / ant slave AM / I
>
> Nope. Also nonsense. So let's revert to iambs.
>
> o WHAT / a ROGUE / and PEAS- / ant SLAVE / am I
>
> And that's more like it. Nothing here is impossible -- but that does not
> mean one has to scan the line as wholly regular -- "O what" might well be a
> spondee, and so might "am I".
>
>
> When someone says of a given line, "that doesn't scan", what they usually
> mean is that rigidly observing the prescribed metrical pattern is wrenching
> the natural spoken accents of one or more words in ways that are
> unacceptable to their ears, and they may have very good reason to say so.
> Thus, if you present me with a limerick beginning
>
> A dilapidated old man from Peru
>
> I can say it does not scan, because dilapidated (di-LAP-i-da-ted) cannot be
> made to fit within an anapaestic pattern. We either have to stress 'ted',
> which produces nonsense down the line
>
> A diLAP- / i-da-TED / old man FROM / peRU
>
> or we have to accommodate dilapidated as a row of medial hyperbeats
>
> A diLAP- / i-da-ted old MAN / from peRU
>
>
>
> Micki: INDEED! This difference between scansion and meter is difficult. You
> say it's not necessarily wrong to scan something differently from the meter
> but . . . . Is an actor supposed to use the meter, or are they allowed to
> scan things to add nuance to their interpretation of the words?
>
>
> John: It may well be the poet who introduces the variation quite
> consciously. In *Macbeth*, frex, he has a line (Folio text) --
>
> Listning their feare, I could not say Amen
>
> and there is no way the first foot can be scanned as an iamb (listNING) ;
> it has to be a trochee (LISTning), and that's not personal interpretation
> -- the terminal -ing of present participles is almost never stressed in
> English, and to do so is perverse.
>
>
> In the middle ground, take our old friend Richard III, who says in
> his famous opening soliloquy --
>
> But I that am not shaped for sportive tricks
>
> Now, the formal iambic metre would prescribe
>
> but I / that AM / not SHAPED / for SPOR- / tive TRICKS
>
> which is perfectly speakable ; but surely not right, because "not" is
> screaming for a stress, and so is "but"
>
> BUT I / that AM / NOT SHAPED / for SPOR- / tive TRICKS
>
> Is an actor who speaks it thus interpreting? Yes. Are there serious
> Shakespearean and other cues for that interpretation? You bet.
>
>
> And finally, if scansion were never distinct from metre, then by definition
> every line of iambic pentameter in Shax would go exactly ti-TUM ti-TUM
> ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM, as undeviatingly as a metronome, and we should
> shortly all begin swaying in place as we listened, before becoming
> increasingly bored.
>
> There is a metrical structure, as there are in music time signatures, but a
> great deal of the fun comes with deviation/syncopation. The whole point of
> establishing a pattern, and hence a set of rolling expectations, is to
> play variants against it, to advance a beat, or retard one, or add
> or subtract one ; not so much as to destroy the underlying pattern, but
> nevertheless. So it isn't that "it's not necessarily wrong to scan
> something differently from the meter", but rather that it is essential to
> do so, and every poet other than Daleks and Vogons always has. The fun for
> readers is in following them.
>
> -- 
> John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)
>
> Associate Member & Director of Studies in English, Hughes Hall, Cambridge
> General editor, Humanities-E-Books Genre Fiction Sightlines and Monographs
> www.humanities-ebooks.co.uk
>
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