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Skeltonic Verse / Tumbling Verse / Sprung Rhythm


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English Verse

It's about the rhythm.  The following metric lines all seem to be attempts at deformalizing the line.

  • Skeltonic Verse which today is sometimes also referred to as Tumbling Verse, is thought by some to have its roots in Anglo Saxon prosody.  Both terms refer to short lines of irregular dipodic meter with tumbling rhyme created in the 15th century by English poet John Skelton (1460-1529). It is a subgenre of Georgic, didactic verse, the verse usually being instructional in nature. The short clipped lines create a fast paced energy which can sometimes be considered terse.  It is all about the line.

    The elements of Skeltonic Verse are:

    1. written in any number of dipodic lines without stanza break.
    2. dipodic, a line with 2 heavy stresses and any number of unstressed syllables.
    3. rhymed, tumbling rhyme is any number of monorhymed lines until the rhyme runs out of energy then the lines switch to a new mono-rhyme series.

      The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng
                        by John Skelton (L1-L11)                                        

      Tell you I chyll,
      If that ye wyll
      A whyle be styll,
      of a comely gyll
      That dwelt on a hyll:
      But she is not gryll,
      For she is somewhat sage
      And well worne in age;
      for her visage
      It would aswage
      A mannes courage.


      Dipodic What?
      by Larry Eberhart

      Dipodic Verse
       it will be Terse.
      Stress used just twice
      to keep it nice,
      short or long
      a lilting song
      or sounding gong
      that won't go wrong
      if you adhere
      to the rule here,
      Now is that clear
      My dear?
  • Tumbling Verse, the term used by King James VI of Scotland in the 16th century  when he composed lines of with 2 hemistiches of Skeltonic lines, using tumbling rhyme. The 2 hemistiches gave the line a more musical sound and made it more appropriate for  lyrical poetry rather than the terse instructional sounds of  Skelton Verse.  The lines are made up of 2 hemistiches (half lines that end in caesura).  The accentual meter might be referred to as "loosely" anapestic. It was originally written in strophes (non uniform number of lines) made up of any number of tumbling rhymed lines. King James thought it suited to Flyting. The rough rhythm crossed over easily from verse to prose. An example of the evolution of meter and poetic form.

     The elements of Tumbling Verse are:

    1. written in strophes with any number of lines made up of 2 hemistiches.
    2. accentual, 4 strong stresses per line, 2 strong stresses in each hemistich with any number of unstressed syllables.
    3. rhymed, mono-rhymed until the rhyme loses energy then change to a new mono-rhyme series.

      Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie
      by Thomas Tusser (1527-1580) (ch. XIV, st. 5)

      Tide flowing is feared, for many a thing,
      Great danger to such as be sick, it doth bring;
      Sea ebb, by long ebbing, some respite doth give,
      And sendeth good comfort, to such as shall live.

  • Sprung Rhythm is a term coined by English poet Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) for a "new" meter drawing on his knowledge of Welsh and Old English Verse such as King James' Tumbling Verse. Tennyson, Swinburne and some others had already experimented with strong stressed meters but Hopkins made a point of defending his experiment and theorizing its importance. A little later Coleridge appears to have used a similar cadence and called it Christabel Meter.

    The meter is designed to imitate natural speech. It often begins with a stressed syllable and is followed by variable unstressed and stressed syllables creating a line of mixed irregular feet similar to free verse. However unlike free verse, a poem written in sprung rhythm generally maintains lines with the same number of metric feet throughout. It is only the rhythm of the feet that supposedly changes.

    The following poem is an example of sprung rhythm.  In fact this poem hits the jackpot, meter, genre and verse form. It not only demonstrates the Sprung Rhythm but also is written in the genre of a List Poem or Catalogue Verse and in the verse form of a Curtal Sonnet.  

                              Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

                              Glory be to God for dappled things—
                              For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
                              For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
                              Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
                              Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough
                              And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

                              All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
                              Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
                              With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
                              He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
                               Práise hím.

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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Skeleton Takes a Tumble

Skelton was the first
to write lines so terse.
He claimed the new verse
with meter diverse.
A means to traverse
words to converse
instructions immersed,
a blessing or curse.
The energy high,
even thought spry,
short lines that's why.

In Scotland he reigned, King James VI of old
also a poet, he wrote something bold,
with Skeltonic lines, he doubled the mold,
more musical sound, two parts, I'm told
with tumbling poesy, end-sounds that hold
until complete, then changing the rhyme.
I play with the meter, it isn't a crime,
this Tumbling verse, a pleasant pasttime.
                                  ~~ Judi Van Gorder

Skeltonic and Tumbling Verse

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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