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This item is taken from PN Review 83, Volume 18 Number 3, January - February 1992.

Letters from T.J.G Harris, John Greening, Paul Carey and Robin Kinross


In connexion with Mr Lomas's new letter (P·N·R 82), I suggest that readers - if they are interested at all - should re-read my original remarks on measure dnd cadence, as well as the response that has so stilllulated Mr Lomas, and try the experiment of saying aloud the lines of Yeats that I quote; they should then try the experiment of saying aloud the second of each set of lines as though it were not part of a poem, and were uttered naturally, as a phrase occurring by chance in a conversation. They should then be able to recognize that there is no 'alteration' of points between the original remarks and subsequent response, as Mr Lomas alleges, and that I am saying the same thing in a different way in the hope that this might assist Mr Lomas towards an understanding of the original point. Perhaps it is fury induced by having his fussy notations for the lines in question compared to a poor actor's delivery that lies behind the new letter, with its new charges.

I shall try again. A certain turbulence is - I speak generally in this sentence, and am well aware that there are exceptions - acceptable at the beginning of a line, but if there is such turbulence, then it is important that the iambic pulse should be reasserted strongly towards the end of the line. This is what Yeats does in the second half-lines of the first lines of the examples: the metrical pulses coincide with strong natural stresses, establishing an iambic pulse that controls how the next lines, where the metrical pulses often do not fall on naturally stressed words, are heard or read. Mr Lomas's notations for those second half-lines destroy the iambic pulse, as well as the rhythmic connexion between the lines of each set; or at least his notations take no account of these things.

I do not regard metre in general as being or providing a 'stiffening context'; I was merely pointing out that in the particular case of the second line of each of these examples, metre is used to create the cadence, and therefore might be regarded, here, as providing what I called 'a stiffening context'. If my words could be construed as making a general assertion about the nature of metre, I apologize, but one expects in what Bishop Berkeley calls 'the thinking reader' the ability to judge sensibly and fairly the meaning of what he or she reads.

There must be many times in daily life when, inadvertently, we speak a phrase that in another context would be heard as forming a pentameter. (Or fall into an iambic rhythm when writing prose: few readers, I suspect, will have noticed that the preceding sentence may be divided into three iambic pentameters and one iambic tetrameter; but this does not make the sentence iambic verse, or its parts iambic lines.) For a pentameter line does not have some kind of absolute objective existence, independent of the perception of the experienced and sensitive reader; such a line is both created and perceived on the basis of a trust between poet and reader.

Certainly, if one's ear is well-attuned, and one listens for such things, one may hear phrases or sentences whose configuration is that of a pentameter, as Tony Harrison heard 'He works for British Gypsum outside Leek' and 'Well, it's the whole world over, the unrest' as iambic pentameters. But it is worth noting, in the first of these instances, that the pulses are both natural (that is, they fall on naturally stressed syllables - yes, I know that 'outside' is one of those words, important to poets, that may be equally stressed on both syllables, or that may be spoken as having a slightly stronger stress on one or other of its syllables) and regular (yes, I know that the rhythm is not precisely regular; but it is regular enough, and irregular enough to be interesting); and I suspect that this helped to permit what Harrison describes as the 'more adventurous' second sentence to be heard also as a pentameter. I suggest that the same is true, mutatis mutandis, of Yeats's lines. I say 'mutatis mutandis' because, as some readers may wish to point out, the analogy is by no means exact; but it is exact enough for my purposes, as a heuristic device.

As for what Mr Lomas calls the 'related error' of believing that metre is not principally mimetic, it is no error at all: it is correct. Metre, like measure in music, is first of all a regularizing, device, a principle of order and coherence. Which is not to suggest that the good poet does not use metre in creating a variety of mimetic effects and a variety of movements and cadences, as Pope does in the example Mr Lomas adduces. That is all I intend to say on these matters.

Hino-shi, Japan



Having dealt with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats ('Newton, Raymond Tallis and the Three Cultures', P·N·R 81), Grevel Lindop then writes: 'We are left with Blake'.

But what of Shelley?

More than any of the Romantic poets - and as Desmond Hele-King long ago demonstrated in 'Shelley, his thought and work' - he was not only a meticulous observer of natural phenomena, but drew heavily on his own early experiments with chemistry and electricity in writing 'Prometheus Unbound'.

Hele-King quotes A.N. Whitehead: 'What the hills were to the youth of Wordsworth, a chemical laboratory was to Shelley'.

Huntingdon, Cambs.



Glyn Maxwell (P·N·R 81) says that it is incorrect criticism to say that a book of poems 'would have been better shorter'. He holds that only on economic grounds can a collection be challenged for inappropriate length. This shows scant regard for the reader, who may have better things to do than search overlong collections for the occasional good poem. Perhaps Mr Maxwell will indicate in his indexes

which poems are worth reading? If not, I shall restrict myself to reading such of his poems as may appear in anthologies.




It may just be worth correcting the surreal slip by Perry Anderson that Nicolas Tredell repeats in his conversation with Roger Scruton (P·N·R 81). The new Right ideologue called 'Ivens' is not Joris (the remarkable Dutch communist documentary film-maker), but Michael, Director of Aims for Industry and poet.

51 Grafton Road, London NW5 3DX

This item is taken from PN Review 83, Volume 18 Number 3, January - February 1992.

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