tonyv Posted December 19, 2009 Share Posted December 19, 2009 I recently contacted an expert on meter at a well-known internet poetry workshop with a few questions that I had. He answered my questions and recommended that I get a book which is unquestionably the best work on the subject of meter available today. In other words, it's a contemporary standard. The book is by Timothy Steele, a professor of English at California State University in Los Angeles, and it's called "All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing -- an Explanation of Meter and Versification." (Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio, 1999) None of my local Borders or Barnes and Noble stores had the book in stock, but I did it order it through one of them (B&N), and my copy came yesterday. The book really is a fantastic treatise on the subject. It's 366 pages long, written in clear English that's easy to understand and not highfalutin. One of the questions I presented to the moderator at the workshop site concerned the scansion of line two in Philip Larkin's poem FRIDAY NIGHT IN THE ROYAL STATION HOTEL: Clusters of lights over empty chairs ... which I scanned as follows: CLUSters / of LIGHTS / ^O / ver EMP / ty CHAIRS / / trochee / iamb / headless iamb ?!? / iamb / iamb / My question went to the the third foot in the line. I knew that, generally, headless iambs can only occur at the beginnings of lines of iambic pentameter. Yet, if that was the case, then what was the peculiarity that appears in the Larkin line above? The question is answered in the book. Steele discusses the convention, starting on page 84, in a section called "6. Other variants: Divided Lines, Clipped Lines, Broken-Backed Lines, and Feminine Caesuras." Although Steele does not scan the line above, it appears that the omission of an unstressed syllable in that line does not amount to a headless iamb in the middle of the line. Rather, it's an example of a "broken-backed line." On the broken-backed line, Steele writes (on page 85) that, "Another Middle English variant is the unhappily named 'broken-backed' pentameter. Broken-backed pentameters lack a metrically unaccented syllable in the middle of the line. Generally, the missing syllable is the fifth (i.e., the line's third offbeat)." This is exactly the case in the Larkin line above! On page 87, Steele even states that Larkin uses this convention of the broken-backed line often and goes on to provide two more Larkin lines as examples. They are: /aNO / ther CHURCH / ^MAT / ting SEATS / and STONES / and i FELL / aSLEEP / ^WAK / ing AT / the FUMES / I look forward to learning much more from this book. I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to understand meter. Tony Quote Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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