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There are people, even intelligent people, who read verse 80 that it sounds like prose with obtruding rimes; the meaning is all they care about. I have heard people read even their own verses in this way, although the verses themselves had rhythmic possibilities. Other readers completely sacrifice the meaning of the words to satisfy a too mechanical sense of rhythm. They read such lines as these from Shelley's Alastor with a rigid alternation of emphasis,
And wasted fór fond love of hís wild éyes.
They may find these lines agreeable, or they may call them bad verse, but they do not question the correctness of their reading. They are willing, if necessary, to change the emphasis on the same word when it occurs in two successive lines, as in,
I know not aúght that Béatrice designed,
(Shelley: Cenci, II, i.)
This wrenching of accent from what would be normal in prose they call "poetic license.” A third class of readers preserve a distinct feeling of rhythm in such lines, and yet give the words their usual accents. They read,
And wasted for fond love of his wild éyes.
The writer on versification commonly ignores these differences among readers, dogmatically asserts what he thinks the only correct reading for a given line, and formulates his theories of verse accordingly. The intention of the poet might be taken as the criterion, but how shall we be sure of this intention? Each reader thinks that he himself is interpreting it. Such questions must be matters of taste; people with an appreciation of literature are to be found among all three classes of readers just mentioned.
A dogmatic attitude in matters of taste is prejudicial to any scientific study. Our first approach to the study of verse should be scientific; only when we have agreed on certain fundamentals can we profitably discuss differences in taste. Verse depends upon the ear, not the eye; therefore it must be read before it can be discussed. Let our first point of view be that anyone may read verse as he will, and that the task of the student is to observe and record how verse has been read. (Taste, of course, must determine good reading, but the principles of versification should hold for any reading. The student should train his ear to hear accurately both his own and other people's rendering of a passage. Whenever a reading is marked in the following pages it is presented as a possible one that which the author prefers—but not the only correct one.
Another preliminary point to be mentioned is the necessity for agreement in the use of terms. Since there is an unfortunate confusion of meaning over frequently used words like rhythm, meter, stress, accent, etc., the student must keep his discussions clear by adopting one definition for each and strictly adhering to it. In a recent article on vers libre occurred the statement that fixed verse depended upon rhythm and free verse upon cadence, but no definition was given for either of these words, which are sometimes used synonymously. The mathematician demands that
1 See C. W. Cobb: “A Scientific Basis for Metrics,” Modern Language Notes, May, 1913; and Verrier: Principes de la Métrique Anglaise, I, 118.