Page images

changes constantly from time to time (except where a repetition brings emphasis);13 that the closer the verse keeps to the iambic rhythm the more frequent are the pauses;" and that the kind of pause whether masculine or feminine-is subject to variation.16

The question of how much to break the rhythm with internal pauses is determined by the character of the blank verse. The more colloquial or dramatic it is, the more will it be interrupted by cesuras. The meditations of Browning's Caliban or Milton's Satan are broken by four or five times as many pauses as the smooth eloquence of Henry V or of Swinburne's John Knox.16

This classification and discussion of the effects possible in blank verse seems a wooden treatment of the most flexible and most subtle of English forms. But any analysis

13 E. g.,


Fainter by day, but always in the night,
Blood-red, and sliding down in the blacken'd marsh
Blood-red, and on the naked mountain top
Blood-red, and in the sleeping mere below

(Tennyson: Holy Grail). 14 Cf. the passage quoted from Tennyson on p. 208 with that from Noyes on p. 211.

15 The difference in the effect of masculine and feminine cesuras is not so significant in iambic verse as in trochaic. Iambic movement is stable enough to resist the slight trochaic impulse given by a pause before a stressed syllable. Compare the effect of the two kinds of cesuras in both iambic and trochaic pentameter:

"I yield it just,” || said Adam,"“and submit.” (Masculine in iambic.) “Their Maker's image,” || answered Michael, “then.” (Feminine in iambic.)

(Paradise Lost, XI, 526 and 515.) Wrote one song-|| and in my brain I sing it. (Masculine in trochaic.) Says the poet- 11 “Then I stopped my painting.” (Feminine in trochaic.)

(One Word More, 200 and 49.) 16 Cf. Paradise Lost, IV, 105-113 with Henry V, III, i, or Bothwell.

of technique is, I fear, open to that charge. The student of poetry who cares to read critically must form some quite definite basis for his analysis, then familiarize himself so perfectly with his scheme of approach that this purely intellectual understanding of technique may not interfere with his emotional æsthetic appreciation. Similarly, the young verse writer may be repelled or frightened-according to his degree of assurance or of humility-by all this talk of enjambment, of cesuras, of failing stresses and the like. But this discussion of technique is intended, for him, merely as a basis for revision and correction and self-criticism. Poets must write by ear, not by rule. However, an analytic reading of models and a habit of intelligent self-criticism may do much to tune one's ear.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

The sonnet is the most difficult of all the well-known lyric forms. The exigencies of the rime scheme hamper the originality of the poet, and the limitation as to length often forces the unskillful to pad or pare an ill-fitting thought. These difficulties have been responsible for so much poor verse that many readers look askance at the form. In the hands of poets with skill in technique, however, the sonnet has given exquisite pleasure to the reader appreciative of the subtler phases of poetry.

The sonnet is an Old Provencal form, perfected and made popular by Petrarch, in the great sequence addressed to his perhaps mythical Laura. Sonneteering raged in Italy through the fifteenth century and spread to France, Spain, Portugal, and England in the sixteenth. In English literature the sonnet has taken two forms, the Italian, or true sonnet, and the Elizabethan adaptation.

As Rossetti is our greatest master of the Italian form, one of his will best serve as a model:

When do I see thee most, beloved one?
When in the light the spirits of mine eyes
Before thy face, their altar, solemnize
The worship of that love through thee made known?
Or when in the dusk hours, (we two alone).
Close-kissed and eloquent of still replies
Thy twilight-hidden glimmering visage lies,
And my soul only sees thy soul its own?
O love, my love! if I no more should see
Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee,
Nor image of thine eyes in any spring, -

How then should sound upon Life's darkening slope
The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope,
The wind of Death's imperishable wing?

(House of Life, IV.) This type of sonnet consists of fourteen iambic pentameter lines, the first eight, called the octave, always rimed abba abba, and the last six, the sestet, with three rimes variously arranged. The sestet of the above sonnet is rimed ccdeed, but almost every other possible combination, except three couplets, may be used. The following sestets are used by the greatest English sonneteers, in this order of frequency:1

[blocks in formation]

The type of sestet that ends in a couplet is very unusual in Italian poetry, and many English writers on the sonnet have arbitrarily decided against it. It is to be found, however, in the work of most of our best sonneteers.

Another form of sestet, almost as popular with the great Italian sonnet writers as that just mentioned, has two rimes instead of three, e. g.

Sometimes thou seem'st not as thyself alone,
But as the meaning of all things that are;
A breathless wonder, shadowing forth afar
Some heavenly solstice hushed and halcyon;
Whose unstirred lips are music's visible tone;
Whose eyes the sun-gate of the soul unbar,
Being of its furthest fires oracular

The evident heart of all life sown and mown. 1 This list is taken from the table of sonnet forms compiled by Professor L. T. Weeks (Modern Language Notes, Vol. 25, p. 179), based on an examination of 6,283 sonnets.

Even such love is; and is not thy name Love?
Yea, by thy hand the Love-god rends apart
All gathering clouds of Night's ambiguous art;
Flings them far down, and sets thine eyes above;
And simply, as some gage of flower or glove,
Stakes with a smile the world against thy heart!

(Rossetti: House of Life, XXVII.) This form of sestet is much used by Wordsworth, Rossetti, Mrs. Browning, and Swinburne. Keats and Arnold also wrote a few sonnets of this kind. It may take the following rime schemes: cdcdcd2

cdcddc cddccd

cdccdd ddcdc



Wordsworth was fond of one other variation, the introduction of a new rime in the sixth and seventh lines of the octave,

e. g.

Once did she hold the gorgeous east in fee:
And was the safeguard of the west: the worth
Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.
She was a maiden City, bright and free;
No guile seduced, no force could violate;
And when she took unto herself a Mate,
She must espouse the everlasting Sea.
And what if she had seen those glories fade,
Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
When her long life hath reached its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great, is passed away.

(On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic.) Though a number of other individual variations from the strict type may be found, none but these two have gone

According to Professor Weeks this form of sestet is used even more frequently in English sonnets than any of those with three rimes,

« PreviousContinue »