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Syllabic form poems.


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I recently tried to stress the difference between syllabic verse, the kind where not only the line length but a certain stress pattern as well is governed by example, and the syllabic form poem, the kind of syllabic verse where the line length has to vary according to some prescribed pattern (often where the line length varies gradually) but stress pattern is of no special import.

 

The syllabic form poems are a special case of syllabic verse seem, to me, to be replacing, in a way, the so called shape poems.

Tip-of-me-cap to tinker whose compenium of forms seems to cover all the readily known types.

 

Probably the more famous such is the Crapsey or the cinquain invented or first created, practiced and perfected by one Adelaide Crapsey.

 

Like the haiku and that cinquain, syllabic form poems, noted for one by their relatively shortness can suffer due to the precept that the syllable count per line is more important than the assurance that line breaks are made to enhance, strenghthen, complete (by isolation) the key thoughts and the individuality and value of the line as the epitome of how essential poetry differs from plain, everyday prose. Of course, this in no way applies to prose poems

 

The classical perversion of a haiku is, of course, writing some neat and clever statement/observation of 17 syllables and then dividing it into 3 lines of 5/7/5 syllables, rather than doing the classical approach of formulating each line in turn but separately struggling not just to make each have not only the right syllable count but be a logical complement of the other two and the whole poem.

 

I hope others chime in, for what I say has a great deal of personal opinion in it, and, though be it ameliorated by experience and the sifting of tens of tens of volumes treating on poetry, I can still learn how to improve, extend and correct those 'opinions'.

 

THE BREAD OF LIFE

--------- Adelaide Crapsey

 

Jesus

fed five thousand

on the grassy hillside,

and there was enough left over

for me.

 

For those interested, I can provide my takes on the reigning cadence , alternate rhythmic patterns (depending on a individuals preference for syllable stresses, an analysis of the grammatically significant parts of the sentence and the fulcrum point that makes this simple statement poetic.

Edited by waxwings
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Ikars, I know very little about syllabic verse, and I can only parrot what I've read from others. I tend to agree with what Bertrand Russell writes on the subject on pages 243-244 of his book How to Read a Poem (New American Library, 1984). I'll copy what he wrote, as I can't express it any better myself:

 

 

"There is another approach, more theoretical than practical, to rhymeless poetry that is not traditionally metrical. Known as syllabic metrics, this sort of poetry organizes its lines according to the number of syllables contained therein. No reference is -- in theory -- made to the number of stresses or to any other prosodic indicator. The trouble is that, English being an accentual language, there is in practice no way for a reader (or speaker) of the language to actually hear or in any way take note of the syllable count. And what this means is that no matter how real syllabic metrics may be to those who employ them, they can have no reality to readers or to listeners. Indeed, unless they are warned that a poem employs syllabic metrics, the reader or listener is more likely than not to be unable to perceive any such prosodic system. This is a linguistic rather than a poetic fact: it is impossible for any utterance in English not to be governed by the rise and fall of stressed and unstressed syllables. Let me repeat: this is not a matter that can be debated, nor is it a matter of syllabics being merely difficult. Syllabics are literally impossible in English, poetry being no more exempt from basic linguistic rules as is any other artifact of language.

 

"In spite of these indisputable facts, there are, and probably will continue to be, poets who insist that their verse is governed by what they call syllabic metrics. They can point to their poems and count the syllables -- and indeed, once alerted to the game, one can find the proper syllable count. Again, the rub is that the syllable count does not govern the verse: no matter how sensitive your ear, you cannot hear syllabics, you cannot in any way be aware of their sound or their music, and they cannot influence -- much less govern -- the musical organization of any line written in our language. It's a bit like a hidden puzzle: it may be there, in one sense, but unless you know in advance that it is there, you will not discover it, and even once you discover it, it will not make any difference in how you read or understand the line. The writers of syllabic verse may be content with a pattern which achieves literally nothing, but the English language denies them anything more significant."

 

 

It's important to note that Mr. Russell is talking about syllabics in English verse. There's a reason the Chinese and Japanese write haiku in syllabics: they hear the syllables; their language is conducive to it. Take a look at Lake's "Sounds of Nature" haiku. See the Chinese characters? Those are syllables. I had a Chinese person read those haiku to me in Chinese, and yes, I heard the syllables. The form makes sense in that language. In English, we hear accents (stresses), not syllables. This is true even in free verse and in prose. (A good prose writer is aware of this.) I don't hear any syllables when someone reads a 5-7-5 haiku to me in English.

 

Tony

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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Ikars, I know very little about syllabic verse, and I can only parrot what I've read from others. I tend to agree with what Bertrand Russell writes on the subject on pages 243-244 of his book How to Read a Poem (New American Library, 1984). I'll copy what he wrote, as I can't express it any better myself:

 

 

"There is another approach, more theoretical than practical, to rhymeless poetry that is not traditionally metrical. Known as syllabic metrics, this sort of poetry organizes its lines according to the number of syllables contained therein. No reference is -- in theory -- made to the number of stresses or to any other prosodic indicator. The trouble is that, English being an accentual language, there is in practice no way for a reader (or speaker) of the language to actually hear or in any way take note of the syllable count. And what this means is that no matter how real syllabic metrics may be to those who employ them, they can have no reality to readers or to listeners. Indeed, unless they are warned that a poem employs syllabic metrics, the reader or listener is more likely than not to be unable to perceive any such prosodic system. This is a linguistic rather than a poetic fact: it is impossible for any utterance in English not to be governed by the rise and fall of stressed and unstressed syllables. Let me repeat: this is not a matter that can be debated, nor is it a matter of syllabics being merely difficult. Syllabics are literally impossible in English, poetry being no more exempt from basic linguistic rules as is any other artifact of language.

 

"In spite of these indisputable facts, there are, and probably will continue to be, poets who insist that their verse is governed by what they call syllabic metrics. They can point to their poems and count the syllables -- and indeed, once alerted to the game, one can find the proper syllable count. Again, the rub is that the syllable count does not govern the verse: no matter how sensitive your ear, you cannot hear syllabics, you cannot in any way be aware of their sound or their music, and they cannot influence -- much less govern -- the musical organization of any line written in our language. It's a bit like a hidden puzzle: it may be there, in one sense, but unless you know in advance that it is there, you will not discover it, and even once you discover it, it will not make any difference in how you read or understand the line. The writers of syllabic verse may be content with a pattern which achieves literally nothing, but the English language denies them anything more significant."

 

 

It's important to note that Mr. Russell is talking about syllabics in English verse. There's a reason the Chinese and Japanese write haiku in syllabics: they hear the syllables; their language is conducive to it. Take a look at Lake's "Sounds of Nature" haiku. See the Chinese characters? Those are syllables. I had a Chinese person read those haiku to me in Chinese, and yes, I heard the syllables. The form makes sense in that language. In English, we hear accents (stresses), not syllables. This is true even in free verse and in prose. (A good prose writer is aware of this.) I don't hear any syllables when someone reads a 5-7-5 haiku to me in English.

 

Tony

 

You have made some truly compelling points that should keep this discussion going for more than a feww entries, provided others dig in.

 

More generally, we are likely to find that things are not as clear cut as people, esp. the Greeks would like to have it.

 

I cannot take BR as highly competent in the area of metrication. He is a fine phylosopher, an expert on matters of logic/mathematics, but his and others take on 'syllabic metrics' is disputable as being the final word. Linguistically, much has been sifted re speech emphasis and the experts do not seem to be unanimous, as googling quite extensively on syllabic verse does show.

 

Among all said, the idea that Baltic tongues are syllabic is wrong, as I should know. The truth seems to lie in that all languages show emotion, when speaking, by rhythmmic patterns of varying emphasis. The argument remaining is how emphasis is made noticeable, i.e., by stress (as in loudness), duration, pitch or intonation. One only has to hear Japanese, French etc. spoken to realize that no language is entirely syllabic in prosody.

 

One of the poorest claims is that Japanese is syllabic. Yes, as several souces state, Japanese are sensitive to the onji, a realistically non-translatable concept, something in the shape of their speech sounds we cannot discern or our ears to differentiate. Their so called syllabaries refer to what translates into speach/sound signs, romaji, in Roman letters and for which we must use the concept of 'syllable' for lack of any other alternative.

 

It should be of value to looka t examples of syllabic verse in English, but first we should have others present their takes/opinions on the topic, because I have already caught myself in slipping upin what I have said to this point, and due to that I have read other sources that seem to make things simpler.

 

I sure hope daedalus speaks up for his familiarity w/ Japanese is ten- if nut hundred-fold greater than mine. tinker too has done some deep reading on haiku, which could be another worth while topic by itself.

 

And then there is French which, at least in poetry, favors syllabic 'metrication', even though they do show speech emphasis that I can discern.

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