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Monday, March 31, 2014

A Lie

It is a lie that the rhythm of haiku is based on the syllable. Actually, it is based on the mora. A syllable can have one or two morae. I'm unsure whether it can have three? So the word yube (twilight) has three morae but two syllables. So if you have been taught that certain Japanese line have to have 5 or 7 syllables you have been seriously misled.

A syllable with more than one vowel will have a long vowel, a diphthong, or the final consonant n.

The confusion comes because people don't now what a mora is, and because the 1-mora syllable is the most frequent type in Japanese.

18 comments:

Vance Maverick said...

The English haiku is a hotbed of bogosity. I was quite surprised when Ron Silliman picked a volume of them for some prize. (As I recall, the examples he gave were actually more interesting than this sort of thing.)

Jonathan said...

Well Ron can be surprisingly tolerant of things you wouldn't think he would tolerant of. I agree that the English haiku in general is lame.

Vance Maverick said...

And I meant to agree with your comment on the rhythm. Part of what's so irritating about the form is that its popularity, what everyone knows about it, is simply false. I remember being taught it in the 1970s, and it rolls on undisturbed.

Jonathan said...

Right. The second lie is that it is meaningful to count syllables in English, and meaningful to count them as though that were equivalent, some how, to Japanese morae.

j. said...

i think these things are actually pretty well known in english-language haiku circles

Vance Maverick said...

So are there a lot of people in English-language haiku circles who write according to rules other than the one summarized in the classic Ron Padgett poem?

I protest, though, Jonathan, that it is indeed meaningful to count syllables in English. Not common, but Marianne Moore gets real effects that way.

j. said...

yes, that is what i am saying. as i understand it, because of the difficulty translating the convention into english without the results being clunky, they tend to opt for very short lines with free rhythm. lots of monosyllables, one-word lines, etc.

Vance Maverick said...

That makes sense. Then "IN A STATION OF THE METRO" is a haiku after all!

Vance Maverick said...

Or, less dismissively: who are these people who identify what they're doing as haiku, but write "very short lines with free rhythm. lots of monosyllables, one-word lines, etc."? Rae Armantrout does that, but doesn't call it haiku.

Jonathan said...

Marianne Moore, yes, but though I like her poems written in syllabics, I don't like them because of the syllabics. Nobody can hear a line of 17 syllables as that. It is phonologically meaningless in English.

Vance Maverick said...

Poetry is not only meant to be heard. It's meant to be heard and read. (Next you'll be telling me that line breaks don't matter! ;-))

I've been thinking about this in connection with Simon Jarvis. Some of his recent verse is pretty jingle-jangly on the page. But if you hear him read it, it sounds pretty good. (http://www.enitharmon.co.uk/audio.asp, scroll down to reading.) In other words, the text on the page has sound qualities he manages to suppress or override in the reading.

Jonathan said...

Well yes, but reading it silently does not make the syllabics more prominent. I mean if you can't hear it when read aloud how are you going to hear it in your mind's ear? Line breaks are heard either way if the speaker pauses, Creeley-like.

Line breaks have a special significance in strictly metrical verse, where they increase metrical complexity. And in free verse where the poet decides.

Your other example is interesting. I will go listen and report back.

Jonathan said...

I do find a good deal of metrical complexity in his poetry even on the page. The reading he does confirms that sense. He read well, slow and thoughtful sounding, deliberate. When you say it sounds sing-song on the page that means that you imagine the performance of it would be so, but how do we come to that conclusion?

I think his use of rhyme is salient. Lines are end-stopped.

(speaking of Jarvis here).

Vance Maverick said...

That piece has the same stanza as "Among School Children", which is maybe my yardstick for such things. The grid is present in both -- clear rhymes and regular rhythm within the line. Now even without hearing a reading (and I'm not sure I'd like the way Yeats read it) a line like

Did Quattrocento finger fashion it

has a high built-in tension, from the awkward yoking of (our sense of) Italian rhythm to English -- it's impossible to read smoothly in one's head.

Here's some of Jarvis's text. Lines like "a lasting silence fills me, and I rest" lodge for me too squarely.

But the fact that I enjoy hearing him speak them suggests that I'm mentally speaking them wrong.

Jonathan said...

I find quite a few lines that are metrically complex, whereas the one you cite feels like a simpler resolution after several such more complex lines:

... my head
shakes and reverberates, while, less and less,
the waves of sound diminish, and, instead,
a lasting silence fills me, and I rest.

Yeats' line is an interesting example. The weaks and strongs line up pretty well, uncomplexly, though the secondary stress on quatt is weaker than a secondary stress on an equivalent English word:

Did secondary finger fashion it?

"It" is also a weakish stress, for line-final position. It's a weird-sounding line and does not go down smooth.

"shakes and reverberates, while, less and less,"

is complex. The inverted foot at the beginning, and then the secondary stress on "ver" is weak for that position. The word "while" in a weak position is relatively strong.

Vance Maverick said...

I'm coming around. In the meantime, "Lessons and Carols" is excellent on the verse front. I'm not sure what to make of the Christian aspect, but he can write.

Same goes for Francis Spufford, whose site that is -- I don't know if I could stand to read that book of quasi-apologetics, but Red Plenty is excellent.

Jonathan said...

Jarvis has an ear, that's for sure. I didn't know him before yesterday. I don't know Spufford either. I have no interest in what these people are saying, either, but no matter.

Andrew Shields said...

I just read Jarvis's "Lessons and Carols" this morning and was floored by the sound of it on the page!