PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Kei MillerIn the Shadow of Derek Walcott
1930–2017

(PN Review 235)
Alejandro Fernandez-OsorioPomace (trans. James Womack)
(PN Review 236)
Drew MilneTom Raworth’s Writing
‘present past improved’: Tom Raworth’s Writing

(PN Review 236)
Kate BinghamPuddle
(PN Review 236)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Anna JacksonDear Epistle
(PN Review 235)
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Gratis Ad 1
Gratis Ad 2
Next Issue Michelle Holmes on ‘Whitman, Alabama’ Les Murray Eight Poems Gabriel Josipovici Who Dares Wins: Reflections on Translation Maureen N. McLane Four Poems James Womack Europe (after the German of Marie Luise Kaschnitz)

This article is taken from PN Review 142, Volume 28 Number 2, November - December 2001.

More on Memes Chris McCully

'...To take a new acquaintance of thy mind'

William Shakespeare


In the last essay I tried to show how English metres might function as memes, and how the set of memes might contain the sub-set of metres. Metrical patterns would seem to be a priori candidates for memehood. Memes, whose existence was first postulated by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, are cultural replicators whose purpose is to survive: so, on this view, are metres. Memes must be memorable; so must metres be. Memes are transmissible; so must metres be. Successful memes must have high copying-fidelity; so - at an abstract level - must metres.

Tantalising though this is, the easy identification, 'metrical patterns are memes', has to be resisted. In particular, one might ask 'if a metre is a line, is a line then a meme?' Clearly, metrical lines are analytical primes - the formal objects within which constructional constraints hold - and they will be among the least startling candidates for memes. But then again, are stanzas memes? Are the halflines of Old English poetry themselves memes, or is the long-line of alliterative verse a meme?

I suggest that there's an interesting opposition between a metrical meme and a metrical scheme. The relevant opposition is summarised below:

Memes opposed to schemes

  • A meme is a metrical constituent within which constraints obtain. (Alternatively, and more carefully, 'A metrical constituent within ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image