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This article is taken from PN Review 161, Volume 31 Number 3, January - February 2005.

'The scop's twang': Adventures of the monosyllable Graham Pechey

My theme is words that, when you say them, strike just once on the ear, and how they work in verse. Whilst it would be hard to go on in this vein, our tongue is, to be sure, one of the few (at least, that I know) in which one could so much as try - and, what is more, go on for so long. I will stop there: an English poem may be made up wholly or mostly of those words of just one syllable that I have used up to - and five words into - this sentence; a critical or scholarly essay like this one just beginning would not get beyond stilted, off-register banalities if such an arbitrary discipline were to be imposed upon its whole length. It is a matter of some remark, then, that no critical reflection on English poetry (or at least none that I have been able to find) has had anything to say about this most glaring of differences between the language of criticism's object and its own language. And this is perhaps the more remarkable when we find that the first literary-critical essay in English gives over a whole paragraph to the monosyllable, positively recommending its use in English verse on two major grounds: namely, its greater historical authenticity, and its greater metrical flexibility.

Here by the way I thinke it not amisse to forewarne you that you thrust as few wordes of many sillables into your verse ...


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