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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Prosodic analysis

[content warning: prosody, nerdiness]

First, the poem:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Now, it should be clear that the first 3 lines of every stanza have the same structure, divided into two parts. The first part looks like this:
I will arise and go now
And a small cabin build there,
Nine bean-rows will I have there,

And I shall have some peace there,
Dropping from the veils of the morning
There midnight’s all a glimmer,

I will arise and go now,
I hear lake water lapping
While I stand on the roadway,
All the lines have 7 syllables, except this one: "Dropping from the veils of the morning." So, we can see that it is an iambic trimeter with a feminine ending, with that one line having two anapestic substitions. In the first line of each stanza, there is slightly heavier syllable in that extrametrical position; those I have italicized.

Now the second half of those lines:
.. and go to Innisfree,
...of clay and wattles made;
...a hive for the honey-bee,

...for peace comes dropping slow,
... to where the cricket sings;
.. and noon a purple glow,

...for always night and day
...with low sounds by the shore;
...or on the pavements grey,
6 syllables, except for the 7 of "a hive for the honey-bee." Another anapestic sub there. Iambic trimeter.

Now the last lines of each stanza:
And live alone in the bee-loud glade. (9)

And evening full of the linnet’s wings. (9)

I hear it in the deep heart’s core. (8)
So iambic tetrameter, with anapestic substitutions again in two of the lines.

The rhyme scheme is ABAB, CDCC, EFEF.

The complexity comes from stress clashes, like "nine bean-rows," "bee-loud glade," or "deep heart's core." The anapests.

The reduplicative structure: "I will arise and go ... and go" "peace now ... for peace..."

The alliteration of the ells: "lake .. lapping ... low."

A high degree of parallel structure, but a great amount of variation within this structure.

I can't really explain what makes this poem so extraordinarily musical. It is a tiny miracle.

















2 comments:

Vance Maverick said...

Was it Empson or Richards who tried the experiment of taking a poem with a particularly beautiful rhythm ("On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" if memory serves) and replacing the words with nonsense having the same stress pattern? The result lacked the rhythmic character of the original entirely. The same goes here -- lexical-semantic matters feed back into the rhythm, contributing to that characteristic delicate quaver. Repetition, archaism, the fusion of decadence and pastoral, and the surreal figuration of the second stanza.

(There was a French movie, I think based on "The Talented Mr. Ripley", called "Plein Soleil" -- translated in English as "Purple Noon", and I've often wondered if those lines lay behind the odd choice.)

One might also look into vowel patterns. But my point, to the extent I have one, is that the secret of the rhythm doesn't lie precisely in the rhythm.

Jonathan said...

The long vowels help. One of the people you mention might have said that "the murdering of innumerable reeves" did not have the same effect as the "murmuring of innumerable bees." But, of course, he made a bone-headed mistake there.