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Tinker

Christabel Meter

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry

English Poetry

 

Christabel Meter is named for the famous poem Christabel by English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge written in 2 parts, Part I in 1797 and Part II in 1800. Three more parts were planned but the poem was never finished.

 

In a time when iambic meter was the standard for English poetry, Coleridge was said to have stepped out of the box and threw in a slightly more interesting rhythm. Some say the poem Christabel was written in iambic tetrameter with some anapests thrown in, but Coleridge wrote in his preface that he was writing the poem in accentual verse not accentual syllabic verse. If you study the poem, you will find there are 4 strong stresses in each line regardless of the number of syllables or unstressed syllables. However the vast majority of lines in the poem could be scanned as iambic tetrameter with an occasional anapestic substitution. Shakespeare, Donne, Milton and others beat Coleridge to the punch crafting their work with similar metric variations, this can also be called sprung rhythm or the Tumbling Verse of the Scot King James VI. However you see it, writing lines with 4 strong stresses with an occasional variation in rhythm is what some call Christabel Meter.

 

Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge opening strophe

 

Tis the MID/dle of NIGHT / by the CAS/tle clock,

And the OWLS / have aWAK/ened the CROW/ing COCK;

Tu--whit !-- -- Tu--whoo !

And HARK, / aGAIN! / the CROW/ing COCK,

HOW DROW/siLY / it CREW.

 

As a side note, the poem Christabel is a narrative, a Gothic tale that has captured the imagination of some interested in the occult. The character Geraldine is thought by some to be demonically possessed others think her a vampire and others associate her with Lesbian love.

 

The Christabel is:

  • strophic. No set number of lines or regulated stanzas.
  • metric, accentual verse with 4 strong stresses per line, (and some anapests thrown in).
  • rhymed, the original poem is primarily composed in rhyming couplets(aa bb cc ….) but it occasionally breaks into alternating rhyme (ababcdcd…). Christabel Meter by Jan Haag is an unrhymed poem in Christabel meter, so obviously rhyme is the choice of the poet.

     

    Here is my attempt to write something using the rhythm of the first strophe of the poem. (which is probably the most unusual rhythm in the whole poem.)

     

    Black of the Moon by Judi Van Gorder

     

    At a time when most children are sleeping,

    when the face in its place on the moon is weeping

    there's a flap-flap of black bats

    unseen and terrible but for their peeping,

    Vampires drunk on the blood of rats.

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