A Disciplinary Map for Verse Study
While there are many substantial (and therefore resolvable) disputes in verse study, these issues are often overshadowed by the more encompassing problem of the intellectual (dis-)organization of the field--conflicts in methodologies, terminologies, formalisms, theoretical assumptions, foci of interest, and so forth. Because of these disciplinary difficulties, claims/results that are substantially complementary, and therefore supporting, are often viewed as competing, and therefore conflicting; and these misunderstandings often bury our cooperative progress under mounds of unproductive contention. <1> If verse study is to grow and prosper, these disciplinary problems must be confronted, and the founding of this journal presents an unusually auspicious time and place for such a confrontation. The speed and availability of an electronic journal such as Versification provides an unprecedented opportunity for a rapid, yet substantial, conversation about these disciplinary problems. What follows is an attempt to initiate such a debate. With warm appreciation, I solicit the responses of all those who share my concern.
II. The Function of Verse Form<2>
The first task of verse study, I think, should be to clarify the function of verse form. Intuitively, I think we are all drawn to verse study because we feel that verse form plays a central role in poetic expression and experience. However, our attempts to specify the nature of this role usually dissolve into a collection of unmanageably diffuse (or even contradictory) claims. More than anything else, I think that it is this inability to articulate the basic motivation for being interested in verse form that has peripheralized our discipline. The fact is: very few literary professionals today share our belief that verse form is an important part of poetic expression; and if this is so, our most pressing need is to clarify why we dispute this devaluation.
This issue depends on a number of larger issues--the nature of human sensibility, the nature of language, the underlying basis of generic differences in literature, the cultural and intellectual functions of art, and other matters; therefore this issue is very hard to contain, much less define and agree upon. But the importance of this issue to the professional status of verse study strongly suggests that it should be our first and most strenuous concern. No matter how precise, elegant, and revealing a description of a verse form might be, that description can always be dismissed summarily with the response: So what? If we are to survive professionally, we must have a strong, concerted answer to this charge.
In my view, the major roadblock to our attempts to value verse form lies in the common claim that poetry is primarily referential in intent--that, like prose and drama, it primarily elaborates fictional speakers, listeners, speeches, and verisimilar scenes to which we (emotionally, intellectually, perceptually) respond. With this view of poetry, verse form is valued mainly for (what we might call) its rhetorical effect. Like the well-constructed argument, the articulate vocabulary, and the clear and precise phrasing of a piece of competent expository prose, verse form in this view gives us a more concentrated, less encumbered, more precisely articulated, and therefore more engaging meaning. As this is usually articulated in discussions of the functions of poetic rhythm, verse form links, supports, frames, highlights, sharpens, elaborates, and in all of these ways, offers to the reader a meaning that is basically expressed in other terms (e.g., by our imaginative reconstruction of a fictional scene and the meanings presented by the fictional speech that occurs within that fictional scene). In this view, if poetry is not paraphrasable without a loss of its primary values, it is because the rhetorical effects of verse form are so concentrated and so highly elaborated that any removal of them impoverishes the fictional representation to the point that it is no longer a significant literary experience. As Derek Attridge puts this rhetorical view of verse function in his The Rhythms of English Poetry (306):
All of the functions of metre we have looked at so far can be broadly classified as modes of semantic reinforcement or modification: the rhythmic features operate in the same field as the meanings conveyed by the words, whether to strengthen or to modify them. This has proved to be the type of metrical function most amenable to critical discussion, since rhythm is thereby assimilated to a notion of poetry as an expression of certain truths about the world beyond it with a subtlety or forcefulness denied to nonpoetic language.
As Attridge goes on to explain (306-314), the only major alternative to this position has been the claim that verse form does not reinforce nonpoetic meanings but disrupts and contradicts them, impeding our attempts to provide poetic texts with stable meanings and in so doing calling attention to the inherent failure of our normal modes of communication. In this (Jakobsonian?) view, verse has only one major "truth" to tell--that language fails to communicate as we think it does. As Amittai Aviram has put this recently, poetry in this view is a "sublime allegory" that "tells" us of the failure of language to convey a full range of human experience (e.g., emotion and bodily sensation). Therefore, it foregrounds a realm of human freedom and linguistic play that transcends rhetorical gesturing.
These two views typify the difficulties in developing a strong and coherent view of verse function. These two views are contradictory and therefore cannot be maintained simultaneously, at least with reference to the same text; and even so, each of these views is only weakly defensible, if defensible at all.
The rhetorical view of verse function is certainly the more popular position, but it is just this view that peripheralizes verse study within both poetics and literary study more generally. In this rhetorical view of verse function, the "truths" that poetry tells do not derive primarily from the verse form but from what is contained within the verse form, and even so, what is contained within the verse form is not claimed to differ in basic substance from what is contained in a prose paraphrase. This position divorces an exploration of verse form from all but the most delicate sorts of literary interpretation. The study of verse form is relegated to the same status as the study of fictional "style." In this view, poetic expression has nothing comparable to the elaborately articulated elements of plot, character, and setting in prose fiction. For the most part, poetic interpretation is reduced to fictional representations and their rhetorical elaboration, and in most poetry, such fictional representations are relatively poor. Because of this, critics who take this view of verse function usually pay little attention to verse form. Attention to verse form is relegated to a pedagogical exercise that is only respectably practiced by novices (e.g., as a part of learning to read--learning the meanings of words, learning the references of literary and cultural allusions, etc.). This view of verse form devalues poetry in general, making it clearly the least complex and therefore least interesting and engaging of the literary genres.
The view of verse form as an interfering and therefore aestheticizing texture has even less to recommend it. While this view might indeed sanction a close examination of verse form (so that the nature of this interfering and aestheticizing texture can be noticed and specified, e.g., as Jakobson does), this examination will always have the same significance: to demonstrate the "poeticality" of the text and therefore the limitations of normal communication. In this view, the particularity of individual textures will only be valuable for just that: their particularity/individuality: Poets are "players," "players" with language, and we read poetry to acknowledge, appreciate, and admire their play. Perhaps some find this position satisfying, but the history of comment on poetry suggests that the majority do not. This position smacks too obviously of a narrow, modern/postmodern ideology, a suspicion that is supported by the fact that major proponents of this position have lived in this century (i.e., the modern/postmodern period). Verse forms do indeed "interfere" in various ways with other sorts of linguistic gestures, but the significance of this interference, many feel, is neither so unidimensional nor so predictable.
The more productive alternative to these standard conceptions of verse function, I would maintain, are the claims (1) that poetry does indeed "tell" us various complex and significant things about human sensibility and (2) that these things derive primarily from the verse form itself, not from the meanings arranged in these forms and the fictional representations that we infer from those meanings. The best way to articulate this position, I would maintain, is to claim that poetry is more musical than painterly, more concerned with human time than human space, human inwardness than human outwardness; and to claim that, in poetry, the most detailed and direct representation of this human inwardness derives from the poem's selection and arrangement of linguistic forms and their temporal effects rather than the selection and arrangement of linguistic meanings and their spatial implications. Poetic communication, I would maintain, is both multidimensional and a frequent success, not one-dimensional and a necessary failure; and while formal in source, the human implications of this communication are highly discussable and therefore lay a firm foundation for a poetic hermeneutics (and one that is sharply distinct from a hermeneutics of, say, prose fiction).
This view of poetry turns the standard view of verse function on its head. In the standard view, poetry "tells" the spatial significance of its meanings, with the selection and arrangement of its verse forms sharpening and elaborating these spatial significances. In the view I am suggesting, poetry "tells" the temporal significances of its verse forms, with the selection and arrangement of its linguistic meanings extending and elaborating these temporal significances. The major gesture in poetry, this theory of verse function claims, is to semanticize the temporal significances of its linguistic forms and to temporalize the spatial significances of its linguistic meanings and their fictional representations.
Elaborating a full theory of exactly how poetry can semanticize rhythm
and temporalize meaning will be quite a project. But both what this project
claims and how this project might proceed are clear. In human experience,
rhythm creates time. Different rhythms, if sufficiently distinct, entail
different times. To further this project, then, one needs to specify (1) the
structural characteristics of the rhythmic forms that create human time and
(2) the close relation between these temporal qualities and (a) the
organization of linguistic form, (b) the selection and arrangement of
linguistic forms in poetry, (c) the selection and arrangement of linguistic
meanings in poetry and their fictional representations, and (d) the
organization of human sensibility and cultural formation. When complete, this
theory of verse function would re-position verse study to the center of poetic
theory and criticism and in so doing would overcome the peripheralization of
verse study in literary study more generally.
III. Prosody, Versification, and Rhythm<3>
This centering of rhythm and time in verse study is revisionary in certain ways, but it also incorporates, furthers, and contextualizes some of the most important advances that have been made in verse study over recent years. For instance, the great advance of Attridge's work on meter is his suggestion that much of the confusion in verse study has resulted from the failure to make principled distinctions between (what I will call here) prosody, versification, and rhythm. Because of the conflation of these different phenomena, claims that more centrally involve one of these domains have often been attributed to one of the other domains, obscuring the principled relations involved. This confusion has been especially damaging to our representation and understanding of rhythm and our ability to connect the principled features of rhythmic forms with their larger textual and cultural influences.
As I will use the term, prosody deals with that level of linguistic organization that involves such things as syllabification, quantity, stress, tone, the prosodic hierarchy (clitic phrases, phonological phrases, etc.), intonation, focus, etc. If there is a level of linguistic structure that deals centrally with rhythmic organization, it seems to be here. Many linguists now recognize prosody as fully parallel in importance, coherence, and complexity to such things as phonology, syntax, and semantics. The most comprehensive view of the composition, organization, and influence of this level of linguistic structure, I think, is Kenneth Pike's notion of "language as wave." <4> In prosody, linguistic prominence is a central concern. All prosodic structures seem to order linguistic prominences and non-prominences into coherent systems of forms. If prosody is the full parallel of things such as syntax, we might also expect that prosodic concerns will be influential well beyond their properly restricted domain--and so they are. For instance, Pike claims (rightly, I think) that the importance of prominence in things such as phrasing in syntax, subordination is discourse, and deductive argumentation in rhetoric suggests that these phenomena are really just syntactic, discourse, and rhetorical reflexes of what is essentially a prosodic concern.
As I will use the term, versification deals with those conventionalized language patterns that develop in specific cultural traditions in order to enable (and constrain) poetic composition. While prosody grammaticalizes our rhythmic abilities, making them available for everyday use, versification orders and constrains these prosodic structures so that they can be used productively in poetic expression (i.e., the semanticization of rhythm and the temporalization of meaning). Given that versificational systems order different prosodic structures with different rhythmic values into one coherent system, it is reasonable to assume that they will differ sharply from both the rhythms that they maintain and the language that they order. For instance, as Attridge notes (e.g., 84-96), a versificational structure such as English common meter orders the prosody so that it directly elicits a rhythmic response that alternates four metrical beats to a line and then three (22.214.171.124). But we respond rhythmically to this versificational structure by adding a fourth "unrealized"/"unvoiced"/"silent" beat to the versificationally shorter lines, squaring up the rhythmic form into a quatrain of reiterated four-beat lines (126.96.36.199). As all work on this issue has acknowledged, the versificational forms that elicit the "realized" beats in such a versificational form are also not regularly rhythmic; they only constrain the language so that we respond to the versification with this rhythmic regularity. Normally, lexical stresses (and only lexical stresses) elicit the major beats in the line, but this is not always the case. The versification allows certain types of departures from this norm, as long as the rhythmic beating is still maintained. This is the usual situation in poetic experience. In the reading of the verse, we simultaneously experience the (linguistic/grammatical) prosody, the (traditional/poetic) versification, and the (natural/cognitive) rhythm--with each of these structures being (at least partially) distinct in origin, structure, and function.
I also foreground this distinct yet simultaneous experience of prosody, versification, and rhythm in my recent study of rhythmic phrasing in verse (Rhythmic Phrasing). Rhythmic phrasing also results from a certain versificational ordering of certain prosodic concerns in order to elicit a certain rhythmic response. As a rhythmic form, phrasing divides the verse into parts (and those parts into parts, to the limit of the text as a whole), ordering these parts into a strictly layered hierarchy in which with each part contains one and only one peak of rhythmic prominence. The basic prosodic concerns involved in maintaining an engaging phrasal rhythm are the prosodic hierarchy, syntactic focus, and discourse subordination; and these prosodic concerns are ordered versificationally by a range of (largely non- rhythmic, non-prosodic) gestures--the orchestration of linguistic parallelism, the concentration of similar linguistic forms within certain textual areas, the creation of sharp linguistic discontinuities across phrasal boundaries, and so forth. Phrasal rhythm differs sharply from rhythmic beating; therefore phrasal rhythms are achieved by a different versificational ordering of different prosodic concerns. But the basic relations among these three aspects of verse experience (i.e., prosody, versification, and rhythm), are basically the same: they are different in source, structure, and effect, but they are simultaneously presented and perceived.
Given the pervasiveness of these relations and their centrality to advances in our understanding of verse form and function, next to our first concern with verse function, the second focus of our effort, I think, should be to highlight the structural differences and modes of interaction between these separate domains. Work that focuses on one or another of these three domains should be recognized as such and should not be placed in opposition/competition with something that it is not. Representations and theoretical generalizations elaborated in one domain should not be conflated with representations and generalizations elaborated in another. In fact, whenever possible, work that focuses of one of these domains should be coordinated with work that focuses on the other domains, with the intent of defining the modes of interaction among them. For instance, in the light of these distinctions, the many debates over such things as the status of the metrical foot might be mollified by noting that the metrical foot is primarily versificational rather than prosodic or rhythmic. The debates between stressers and timers might also be viewed as just talking at cross purposes. In general, stressers are more interested in versification; timers are more interested in rhythm. In the light of these distinctions, the contributions to verse study by the structural linguists might also be seen as entirely conjunct with more traditional approaches to verse. The major contribution of these linguistic approaches to verse has been to sharpen prosodic representations and therefore to increase both the delicacy of versificational claims and the breadth of rhythmic representations. Within this system of distinctions, the conflicts between phrasalists and metrists might also be reconceptualized. For the most part, phrasalists have not been interested in versification; their interest has been either prosodic or rhythmic.
V. Rhythm: Hierarchy, Componentiality, and Preference<5>
In the light of our first concern with verse function (i.e., the semanticization of rhythm and the temporalization of meaning), the major benefit of distinguishing between prosody, versification, and rhythm is to isolate the forms and functions of rhythmic structures independent of their prosodic and versificational sources. If it is indeed the features of rhythmic forms, not their prosodic and versificational sources, that shape the poem's form and function more generally, then it is just this purification and clarification of our rhythmic representations that will draw us closer to this end. If I am right about verse function, rhythmic organization is the major key to an understanding of poetic expression.
This task of clarifying and purifying rhythmic representations might have other significant benefits as well. For instance, within verse study historically, there has been great suspicion of attempts to look for help from work on other rhythmic media (e.g., music), and some of this suspicion has been entirely justified. If much of verse study has focussed its attention on prosody and versification, rather than on rhythm, as it has, it is understandable that representations of rhythm in other media have been considered a distraction rather than a help. Music is not language; therefore, there is no reason to expect that music will contain structures comparable to a linguistic prosody or systems of constraints comparable to a poetic versification. However, given the naturalness of rhythmic organization and its foundational position in human cognition, there is much more likelihood that music might elicit rhythmic forms that are highly comparable to the rhythmic forms elicited by poetry.
This likelihood is valuable in itself; but it becomes especially valuable given the methodological and conceptual sophistication of contemporary music theory vis-a-vis verse study. Because of the nature of music as an essentially non-referential, temporal medium, the task of clarifying and purifying rhythmic representations has always had great prestige within music theory and analysis. Within music theory and analysis, this task is not peripheralized, as it is within poetics and literary theory. Therefore, throughout scholarly history, the best students of music have expended their most intense effort on this task, something that has not come close to happening within literary study. Within poetics and literary criticism, highest prestige has been granted to efforts that explore what poetry shares with the other literary genres--i.e., fictional representation and its linguistic and rhetorical elaboration--rather than to efforts that explore how it differs-- i.e., the semanticization of rhythm and temporalization of meaning. Work on rhythm in verse has largely been carried on by a peripheralized few rather than by a field of study as a whole. While these developments are relatively recent given the tradition of comment on music, over the course of this century, music theory has developed very strong and sophisticated ways of representing rhythmic response and the kinds of perceptual and cognitive processes that mediate between this response and a rhythmic medium. If we could clarify and purify our representations of rhythmic responses to verse, we might be able to take advantage of this sophistication, and this might result in a quantum leap in our understanding of these phenomena in verse. Over the last twenty years or so, some linguistic prosodists have indeed started looking to music theory for possible insights into the organization of rhythmic prominences in language, but within verse study proper, this interdisciplinary gesture has still been strongly resisted. Given our preoccupation with versification and prosody, rather than rhythm, we have consistently let this opportunity for interdisciplinary insight slip away.
In my opinion, the most important insights into rhythm in contemporary music theory are (1) that rhythmic organization is (a) steeply hierarchical and (b) dialectically componential and (2) that the relation between a rhythmic response and a rhythmic medium is more preferential than categorical. <6> Within music theory, rhythmic response is represented as a complex interaction among a small number of internally coherent, but strikingly different and dialectically related, hierarchies of prominence; and the elicitation of each of these dialectically related forms comes from an interpretive gesture based on the convergence of many sorts of structuration in the rhythmic medium, not from a transparent internalization of the patterning of just one (or a small number) of structural events. Both of these insights differ significantly from the most prestigious work on verse rhythm; therefore, if music theory has indeed reached a higher level of sophistication than verse theory, these insights should give us pause. In verse theory, rhythm is most often portrayed as a structurally flat and essentially unified phenomenon (e.g., a one-level beating); and even to the point of overt contradiction, enormous effort has been expended on trying to formulate categorical constraints on the linguistic sources of these rhythmic responses (e.g., reducing these sources to the periodic repetition on just one prosodic structure--stress, tone, quantity, syllabification, etc.). If this work in music theory is right, our collective failure to develop a strong theory of verse based on these assumptions follows as a matter of course.
For instance, to take the most dramatic instance, throughout the history of comment on verse, the most prestigious work in verse theory has tried desperately to reduce the very different structures of rhythmic beating/meter and rhythmic phrasing/grouping into just one, structurally flat form that achieves its effect by pitting a rhythmic norm against various unstructured (and equally one-level) departures from it; and in most cases, the structure of this rhythmic norm has been given a representation that is heavily conjunct with, or even identical to, the structure of the prosodic and versificational patterning to which it is a response. If work in music theory is correct, and I think it is, this gesture has been seriously misguided. In music theory, meter and phrasing are indeed related in various ways and are indeed more saliently perceived at certain levels rather than others, but they are both steeply hierarchical in structure and in many essentials, dramatically oppositional in form. They create their major effect by their structural heterogeneity, not by their structural similarity. Meter is continuous, strong-initial, repetitive, physicalistic/gestural, participatory/communal, reactive/passive, retrospective, proximate, and relatively fixed; phrasing is divisive, strong- final/medial, shaped/proportional, emotive/affective, reciprocal, flexible, and only loosely constrained. When juxtaposed as the most prominent "components" in a rhythmic experience, meter and phrasing tend to polarize in significant ways, and it is this polarization that creates the structural energies within their product--what we might call the phrased measure or measured phrase. In general, meter tends to initiate the phrased measure with a strong beat that projects a relatively inflexible measure of rigidly alternating and similar events; phrasing tends to conclude/cadence the phrased measure with a strong grouping peak that brings to a close a coherently shaped and proportional segmentation. In the most prestigious work historically, nothing like this has ever been suggested for our rhythmic response to verse.
As many have felt in the history of comment on verse, this conflation of meter with phrasing and phrasing with meter has been extended to even the basic levels of linguistic structure most closely associated with these two rhythmic forms. While prosodic structures in language seem to be a strong input to all rhythmic responses to language, it is evident that, rhythmically, these forms are primarily phrasal rather than metrical. From morae, to syllables, to stress and tone, to the prosodic hierarchy--all the way up to grammatical focus and larger levels of vocal paragraphing, prosodic structures in language follow the basic logic of phrasing rather than meter. While they are often ordered into quasi-metrical forms, they are not physical, continuous, repetitive, rigid, local, and retrospective, like meter, but emotive, divisive, shaped, flexible, and centering/climactic, like phrasing. As a result, while the center of the tradition of comment on verse has always claimed that a poem's meter is primarily concerned with its sound/voicing and with that voicing its linguistic prosody, this has been seriously misguided, a category mistake of major proportions. As all close descriptions of metrical experience in poetry have had to acknowledge, metrical beating in a poem often does not follow closely the linguistic prosody to which it is a response. Strong metrical beats can co-occur with weak prosodic events and weak metrical beats can co- occur with strong prosodic events. And most tellingly, many sorts of metrical beating can co-occur with no prosodic events at all (e.g., Attridge's "unrealized" beats).
This departure of
beating from voicing can become very severe indeed, so severe that any
claim that the meter is--in
voicing/prosody becomes an affront to the observed facts. The fact is: the
stronger the meter, the more radically it departs from voicing, exactly
the opposite of what one would expect if meter were a normative prosody.
were a normative prosody, one would expect that the strongest meters would
occur in response to the most continuous and rigidly repetitive phrasings,
but just the opposite is the case. In forms such as rap, where meter is very
the linguistic prosody is often wildly discontinuous, flexible, and non-
repetitive, running in high syncopation to the meter. It is also just the
metrically strong tetrameter meters in versificational forms such as common
meter that can have prosodically "unrealized" beats. In fact, the most
canonical form of metrical beating in both poetry and music, the declining
and alternating four-beat measure, is so different from anything that occurs
naturally in a linguistic prosody that it is almost impossible to construct
of linguistic prosody that follows its curves of prominence. Even the best
cases that one can suggest, e.g., the songs of W.S. Gilbert, fail miserably. <7>
In this line, there are a couple of textual spans at low levels in which meter and phrasing are congruent, but for high levels of meter and phrasing to be congruent, the line would have to read something like "A general, the major (modern), model (very) am I of." That is, the contours of prominence in the meter of the original line run in almost exactly the opposite direction from the contours of prominence in its voicing/prosodic phrasing. Notice that the phrased measure that results, while energetic, is not at all "tense," either, in the sense of being laced with defeated expectation or the feeling of strong departure from a rhythmic norm. Given this result, any claim that the meter is essentially a normative phrasing simply overlooks the facts of the case.
It is largely this conflation of meter and phrasing, I think, that has severely impeded efforts to expand the scope of verse theory--for example, to the construction of a strong and coherent poetic history. By conceiving of all rhythmic structuring as either a reinforcing or loosening of meter/beating, verse study has tended to tell the history of verse as merely a negative process. In verse, so the story has been told, meter imposes rhythmic order; all other rhythmic structuring just challenges or, in the end, dissolves that order. Thus, the rise of a more personal voice in the Renaissance (with the development of the pentameter, the sonnet, etc.) is usually interpreted negatively as a rise in metrical "variation," rather than being interpreted positively as the establishment of a dominant phrasal order. Because meter has been considered the only true rhythm, phrasing has been considered only quasi-rhythmical. The establishment of a dominant phrasal rhythm has been considered a contradiction in terms. In any rhythmic organization in which a meter is present, so the story has been told, no other rhythm can be more influential. Any rise is phrasal order is just a loosening of "constraint." Meter is the one and only rhythmic norm; all other rhythms just "depart" from this norm.
At this point, some of my readers may be guffawing that I am just splitting hairs, but given what I have just outlined above, I would maintain that these hairs are large indeed. If meter is not a normative phrasing and if it is phrasing rather than meter that is predominantly associated with the voice, then it follows as a matter of course (1) that the rise of a personal voice in the Renaissance was a rise in phrasal rhythm and (2) that the logic of these phrasal rhythms are not just a "loosening" of meter but a whole new rhythmic organization, complete with its own structural features, ones that are (in many ways) diametrically opposed to the features of a metrical order.
When put together with the claim that verse is largely a semanticization of rhythm and temporalization of meaning, this implies the further claim that Renaissance verse in toto is largely a semanticization of phrasing and phrasalization of meaning--and this claim is indeed a powerful one. "Told" out into the available form of verse expression--sound, intonation, syntax, meaning, rhetoric, argument, etc.--the definitional features of phrasal form do indeed give us most of the characteristic features of Renaissance poetry. As opposed to meter, phrasing represents not continuity but partitioning, not similarity but difference-in-similarity, not occurrence but correspondence, not physical repetition but vocal prominence, not succession but proportion/shaping, not participation but obligation, not reaction but affection, not the passive but the reciprocal, not the past but the present, not the proximate but the local, not the initial but the medial, not a fall but a rise- and-fall, not the fixed but the constrained.
From these rhythmic features, the predominant features of Renaissance poetry emerge as a matter of course--its predominant concern with deductive argument, synecdoche, hyponymy, analogy, simile, and allegory (difference-in-similarity, correspondence) rather than with synonymy, myth, and metaphor (similarity, participation); its rich use of exclamation and an exclamatory, rise-fall intonation; rather than factual/ narrative statement and a more falling intonation; its use of phrasally accentuating end-rhyme (syllabic middles/nuclei, cadencing) rather than metrically reinforcing alliteration (syllabic onsets, initializing/projecting); its preference for a subordinating syntax (difference-in-similarity, structural prominence) rather than for apposition (similarity, repetition); its mannered rhetoric (proportion, shaping) rather than its use of more formulaic schemes (repetition, fixity); its use of the pentameter, the sonnet, rhyme royal, etc. (proportion, flexibility) rather than the quatrain, the tercet, the couplet, etc. (repetition, fixity); its preoccupation with love, friendship, worship, patronage, and the like (reciprocality, obligation, affectivity, the present) rather than with fate, heroism, kinship, hubris, myths of origin and the like (passivity, reaction, the initial, the past); its use of the present tense rather than the past; its rich use of adjectives and copular clauses (difference-in- similarity, quality) rather than nouns and intransitivity (similarity, quantity); its rich use of morphological derivation (difference-in-similarity, subordination) rather than morphological compounding (similarity, juxtapositioning/complexing); its innovative development of the stanza and verse paragraph (locality, flexibility, correspondence, proportion) rather than the foot, hemistich, and line (the proximate, repetitive, and fixed); its concern with the person, value, ethics, honor, and the like (difference-in- similarity) rather than with the physically and psychologically archetypal (similarity); its rich use of nominal gender, possessive and reciprocal pronouns, and indefinite reference (difference-in-similarity, reciprocality, correspondence) as opposed to nominal number, demonstrative pronouns, and generic reference (similarity, repetition, occurrence); its preference for closed, climactic forms, the sonnet, etc. (locality, difference-in-similarity, divisiveness, prominence) rather than more paratactic and extensional forms (ballad, epic, Romance, song, etc.); its preference for lyric (the present, affectivity) over narrative (succession, occurrence); and so forth.
The moral is: once we separate phrasing from meter in a principled way and feather out the structural features of each as they stand in a positive and equal relation as opposing rhythmic "components" rather than as they stand in a negative relation as metrical norm vs. metrical variation, the rhythmic features of each become available for productive use in other areas of poetic description and explanation. And if I am right in my claim that poetry is largely a semanticization of such rhythmic features as they are used in the temporalization of fictional representation and its rhetorical elaboration, achieving a fully "componential" analysis of rhythm should be one of our primary concerns.
Attempting to develop a preferential approach to versification might also lead to significant advances, especially when coordinated with a componential approach to rhythmic response. Within verse study, verse rhythm has normally been viewed as a kind of Platonic template/ideal form to which prosodic forms are versificationally constrained. For some considerations, this approach is entirely adequate. Rhythmic response is indeed affected by the versificational control of a text's prosody. However, this Platonic conception of rhythmic response necessarily conflates rhythm, prosody, and versification; therefore, if what we have just reviewed above is the case, it necessarily excludes many considerations that may be of central importance in mediating the sharp differences among these domains. If versification, prosody, and rhythm are not necessarily similar forms; if they can differ significantly in source, structure, and effect; then any approach to rhythmic response that demands--axiomatically--that they be similar might be expected to run into difficulties. In particular, if versification, prosody, and rhythm are not similar forms, (1) prosodic forms may differ significantly from the rhythmic forms that they elicit, (2) at any one point in a text, very different (and even conflicting) prosodic forms may cooperate to elicit a rhythmic response, (3) at different points in a text, different sorts of versificational considerations may elicit the same rhythmic response, (4) many non-prosodic considerations may bear significantly on the elicitation of a rhythmic response, and (5) rhythmic responses might be significantly influenced by their own intrinsic texture, irrespective of their prosodic and versificational contexts. While various aspects of these situations have been recognized in verse study, the assumption that versification, prosody, and rhythm are essentially the same in source, structure, and effect has both stigmatized their occurrence and peripheralized their notice. Given the predominant assumptions in verse study, such phenomena can be given no principled justification.
For instance, as I mentioned above, it seems evident that certain sorts of metrical strength do not derive at all from an approximation to prosodic strength. In fact, it seems evident that certain sorts of metrical strength can be significantly strengthened by prosodic weakness (and vice versa). While there might be a regular explanation for this, one thing is clear: this explanation must exist outside of the axiomatic preconceptions of the field of study at present. A preferential view of rhythmic response would accommodate such an explanation with no difficulty.
Structurally, the important consideration that enables an escape from these methodological difficulties is a more careful attention to and representation of prosodic and rhythmic hierarchies. If prosodies and rhythms are most centrally concerned with prominence, structurally, they are most essentially hierarchical forms. In fact, given the essential relation between prosody and hierarchy, the tendency of linguists to associate hierarchical form primarily with syntax might be a significant mistake. If it makes sense to claim that syntax is a more advanced cognitive ability than prosody, and I think it does, it is to be expected that syntax would make significant use of hierarchy, if hierarchy is essential to prosody. But as opposed to prosody, the major orientation of syntax is linear. It is primarily an action-based, future-oriented, goal-directed structure that moves from subject to predicate, operator to predication, predicator to complement, complement to adverbial, etc., within and among which many other sorts of linear dependencies are also present (e.g., prefix-root-suffix, specifier-pre- modifier-head-complement-post-modifier, etc.). It is exactly this qualitative elaboration of linear dependencies, one might argue, that is the great structural innovation of syntax within language structure as a whole. In prosody, at least as we understand it at the moment, there are no such linear dependencies, or if there are, they are all strongly associated with syntax (e.g., theme and focus). The coda of a syllable does not "complement" the nucleus and the onset does not "specify" it. The weak syllables that precede and follow the more weakly stressed syllables within clitic phrases are not linearly dependent in qualitatively distinct ways on the lexically stressed syllable with which they are prosodically grouped/phrased. A second mora does not "modify" a first mora. A prosodic focus is not "predicated" of a prosodic theme. One stress within an alternating stress contour does not establish some qualitatively distinct linear relationship from other stress within the same contour. The major components of an intonational contours--onset-head- nucleus-tail--are not connected by qualitatively distinct linear dependencies. And so forth. Prosody has nothing like the rich system of linear dependencies that we find in syntax. Rather, with their center in the orchestration of prominence, the parts of a prosodic structures seem to be determined primarily by their hierarchical relationships, with linear considerations simply making those parts available for hierarchical ordering. As a result, it makes sense to claim that, if hierarchy has a primary locus in language, it is in prosody, and if prosody is the grammatical reflex of our rhythmic abilities, it makes sense to claim that the primary locus of hierarchy in human cognition lies in rhythm.
Perhaps because of its ideological roots in Ancient culture with its ideological orientation toward the body and sculptural form, perhaps because it achieved its most prominent codification in Victorian culture with its strong linear biases, perhaps because it has been given the most intense consideration in modern/postmodern culture with its orientation toward the eye and perceptual surfaces, perhaps because of the dominance of the more linear senses (ear and eye) and their psychological reflexes (action and intellection/memory) in human cognition, most likely because of all of these-- verse study historically has overlooked, underestimated, and in the end thoroughly peripheralized a close consideration of hierarchical form in prosodic and rhythmic structure. In verse theory historically, prosodic and rhythmic structure have been structurally flattened--localized, linearized, and spatialized--and with this flattening, the primary consideration in prosodic and rhythmic structuration--hierarchical prominence--has been thoroughly peripheralized, if not considered theoretically taboo. While various prosodists historically have noted and promoted the importance of hierarchy in prosodic and rhythmic structuring, the proposals of these prosodists have been repeatedly rejected as unnecessary complications and elaborate digressions. Within verse study, the primary assumption has been that prosodic and rhythmic order is most primarily a local weighing; a linear acceleration, deceleration, and pausing; or a spatial counting--most often on one level of structure. All of the most prestigious concepts in verse theory--the syllable, the beat, the foot, the foot-substitution, pause, the pause-unit/ intonational unit, the measure, the caesura, the line, enjambment, the stanza, the poetic form, rhyme, etc.--can all be represented without even mentioning hierarchical form. All of these concepts can be represented formally with points, lines, and spaces standing flatly on the page. As a result, not one of these primary concepts can represent the global, dynamic, and essentially vertical energies that result from the hierarchical structuration that is the essence of prosodic and rhythmic form. The foot is considered to be merely a "collection" and "arrangement" of syllables and stresses; the line, a "collection" and "arrangement" of feet or beats; the stanza, a "collection" and "arrangement" of lines; the poetic form, a "collection" and "arrangement" of stanzas; the caesura or pause, a "break" in the line; enjambment, the "continuation" of the voice/sentence over a line "break"; the effect of a pyrrhic, the "acceleration" of the verse; the effect of the spondee, a "deceleration" of the verse; the effect of a trochee, a "reversal" of the normal "arrangement" of syllables and stresses "collected" in the foot. And so on and so forth through all of the primary concepts in verse study. If the "life" of both prosodic and rhythmic structure derives from time and prominence rather than space and linear arrangement, as it seems evident that it does, this flattening of prosodic and rhythmic representations has been literally murderous. It has nailed the temporal dynamics of prosodic and rhythmic organization in a wooden coffin of spatiality.
At this point my readers might again be guffawing: there he goes again, splitting hairs. But, again, I would maintain that these hairs are very large indeed. It is exactly this spatial flattening that prevented for so long the massive advances in music theory that have been accomplished in this century--the work on musical syntax by Heinrich Schenker et al., the work on musical phrasing by Leonard Meyer et al., the work on meter by Fred Lerdahl et al.; and the work on non-linearity by Jonathan Kramer et al. If I understand these matters sufficiently, before this century, musical rhythm was also conceived of largely as a structurally flat and therefore linear affair. Measures were conceived of as "numbers" and "collections" of beats and quantities (4/4 time, etc.); melodies and harmonies, as "collections" of linear "progressions"; and rhythmic phrases, as the orchestration of greater and lesser "breaks" and "ties." Most of the significant advances in music theory in this century--and these advances have been many--have been enabled by the supplanting of these linear representations with hierarchical forms. Ironically, it is still the old linear representations of music that most prosodists refer to when they reject the use of musical representations in verse theory. Verse is not composed of absolute quantities and pitches, they say; therefore, representations of musical rhythms have no place in the representation of verse rhythms. Well, things such as quantities and pitches no longer have a central place in the representation of musical rhythms, either, and those who reject these linear representations of music for verse should become aware of why. As the music theorists throughout this century have long since realized, to think rhythmically, one must get beyond a preoccupation with linearity and think vertically. The essence of prosodic and rhythmic organization lies in prominence, and in human cognition, the primary structure that creates a well-ordered and therefore articulate universe of relative prominences is hierarchical form.
It is largely this avoidance of hierarchical representation that has led to the other two problems we have mentioned: componentiality and preference. When the different components of rhythmic and prosodic organization are flattened out, they lose their distinctive features--their different directional motions, their different scopes of operation, their different levels of complexity, their different powers of segmentation, their different modes of connection, etc.; and without these distinctive features, the sources of what remains can indeed be approximated with one-dimensional, categorical constraints on the rhythmic medium (a beat can be a stress, etc.). The problem is: the poverty of such flattened representations obscures both the essential structure of rhythmic form and the major sources of its elicitation.
The way to advance our knowledge of verse form and function, I would maintain, is to follow the music theorists of this century and develop an explicitly hierarchical, componential, and preferential theory of verse rhythm. Next to a first concern for articulating a more defensible theory of verse function and a second concern for developing a clearer understanding of the relation between prosody, versification, and verse rhythm; this should be our next concern.
V. Rhythm and Linguistic Form<8>
As I mentioned in II. above, even if we develop strong rhythmic representations and clarify their function in verse experience, major tasks will still remain before these representations can be used productively in poetic criticism. In particular, it will still need to be demonstrated how the distinctive features of rhythmic forms can be embodied in other uses of language, both formal and functional. That is, this enriched conception of verse rhythm will need to be elaborated into a full account of poetic language. Historically, studies of verse rhythm have usually been pursued in relative isolation from studies of the form and function of poetic language more generally--e.g., studies of poetic syntax, poetic rhetoric (tropes and schemes), poetic meaning, and so forth. A fourth focus of our concern should be to overcome this disjunction.
If time is the form of human inwardness, rather than its content, the major gesture that will be called for here will be to reorient our analyses of poetic style from function to form as well--and this will be difficult. To this point at least, our understanding of linguistic and rhetorical function far exceeds our knowledge of linguistic and rhetorical form. While most of our linguistic theories begin with form and pay significant attention to this point of departure, in the end, they all subordinate formal concerns to a pursuit of semantic and pragmatic/referential value. In linguistic theory, form serves function; not function, form. Linguists and rhetoricians have developed no strong theories of why language has the forms that it does. Linguists can catalogue and describe the linguistic forms that they observe, but the motivation for the inventory and organization of these forms has remained a mystery. If I am right about the relation between poetry and temporality, this neglect of form in our theories of language and rhetoric veers away from what we need in order to observe, describe, and explain the major uses of language in poetic expression. Therefore, if we are to advance, we will need to steer our theories of language back toward the major focus of our concern. In accomplishing this task, a strong, componential theory of rhythm, if we can achieve such a theory, will be a significant aid. One of the most obvious facts about linguistic form is that it is also organized componentially: phonology/paralanguage, prosody, syntax, semantics; word, phrase, clause, sentence; number, gender, case, and person; voice, aspect, modality, and tense; compounding, derivation, inflection, and conversion; apposition, coordination, correlation, and qualification; head, modifier, complement, and specifier; noun, adjective, verb, adverb; subject, verb, object, adverbial; and so forth. As these lists suggest and as some linguists have pointed out (e.g., Kenneth Pike, with his theory of tagmemic "cells"), like rhythm, this formal organization seems to be predominantly quadratic, with the members of each quadratic complex standing in parallel to the corresponding members of the others quadratic complexes. That is, linguistic form seems to be some sort of fractal elaboration of our "component" sensibilities, with each of these "component" sensibilities represented again and again at different scales, from the largest levels to the most minute. If the basic form of our inward sensibility is time, if time is created by the components of rhythm and their interactions, and if language is a fractal elaboration of these inner forms, then we might expect that the basis of this fractal elaboration of linguistic form is rhythmic. The "components" of rhythmic organization, this argument suggests, are embodied in the "components" of linguistic form itself. While the relation is indirect, this suggests that language itself is rhythmic in design!
As has been pointed out more frequently (e.g., by Northrop Frye, Hayden White, Kenneth Burke, et al.), it is also evident that both rhetorical gesturing (tropes and schemes) and literature itself are componentially organized and that this componentiality also seems best represented as rhythmic in basis and quadratic in organization: metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, irony; alliteration, rhyme/assonance, consonance, pararhyme; repetition, pattern, progression, variation; epic, lyric, narrative, dramatic; romance, comedy, tragedy, satire; song, poem, novel, play; etc. <9> As with studies of linguistic form, this rhetorical and literary componentiality is often explored independent of a concern for rhythm, but as in Frye's treatment of the literary genres in his Anatomy, it seems to be rhythmic form that captures the formal centers of these literary phenomena most accurately and elegantly.
Needless to say, if we could elaborate an explicit "grammar" of this relation between rhythm and linguistic, rhetorical, and literary form, we would have exactly the tool that we need to bridge the gap between verse form and verse function--and it is just our collective expertise that is in the most privileged position to develop such a "grammar." With their intense concern for poetic form, our great poets intuit with special intensity and delicacy this close relation between rhythm and language, rhetoric, and literary form. As a result, the major authorial and period styles in a poetic tradition provide both the richest and most empirical evidence for this relation. If this hypothesis about the relation between rhythm and language, rhetoric, and literature is right, a large body of close analysis of the stylistic practice of our major poets, if coordinated with rich and explicit analyses of their rhythmic practice, should yield such a rhythmic "grammar" as a matter of course. Given the significance of such a "grammar" to a full poetics, next to the issues of verse function, the dynamics of rhythmic interpretation, and the organization of rhythm itself, elaborating such a rhythmic "grammar" should be a major focus of our concern.
VI. Rhythm, Nature, and Culture: Toward a Temporal Hermeneutics
The ultimate gesture in this temporal approach to verse would be to elaborate this orientation toward rhythm and time in poetry into a new temporal hermeneutics of both human nature and human culture that could be used to underpin a full poetic criticism. Because of the various confusions that have surrounded rhythmic representation historically, the most far- reaching attempts to connect poetry and its natural and cultural contexts have made little use of rhythmic forms. As with Jakobson's<10> theory of metaphor and metonymy (and its links with the syntagmatic and paradigmatic), most recent attempts to develop a poetic hermeneutics have used trope and syntax, not unreasonable choices, but choices that also peripheralize verse form, and even so, must ground their claims in matters (i.e., the nature of syntax and trope) that are just as indeterminate as the conclusions that they draw. If what I have suggested above is reasonable, the inner forms of both syntax and trope are best considered rhythmic; therefore, it is rhythm, rather than syntax and trope, that should provide a broader, deeper, and clearer view of the synthetic relations between language, human nature, and cultural formation.
Developing such a temporal theory of mind and culture will be a large task indeed, but given what we know of these matters, the possibilities of such a theory are very promising. While both literary criticism and cognitive studies continue to be distracted by space and reference (e.g., Langacker and Lakoff's cognitive linguistics, Turner's cognitive rhetoric, and literary theory's general preoccupation with action, image, and ideation), as some have begun to argue explicitly, many of the major results of recent studies of mind and culture can be incorporated directly into such a temporal view. As the various volumes published by The Society for the Study of Time now document, temporal phenomena have been linked in various ways to most of the central concerns of a hermeneutics of mind and culture: neural architecture, sensory perception, faculty psychology, psychopathology, cultural difference, cultural development, and so forth. <11> While the results of these studies have not been couched in temporal terms, it is also evident that many of the constituent features of the "cultural logics" that have been explored in the recent explosion in cultural studies are also closely related to the definitional features of rhythmic and prosodic forms: linearity, simultaneity, connectivity, networking, hierarchy, part-whole relations, difference, division, correspondence, teleology, freedom, constraint, locality, analogy, iconicity, succession, proportion, fragmentation, cooperation, peripheralization, passivity, reciprocality, creativity, improvisation, direction, primatizing, transformation, repetition, clock-time orientation, progression, figuration, participation, symmetry, dynamism, stasis, binary contrast, indeterminacy, ambiguity, perspective, novelty, openness, closure, activity, volatility, centering, objectivity, etc.<12> Given the close relation of these cultural features and the structure and function of rhythmic forms, it is not unreasonable to suggest that a temporal perspective might be able to give these many cultural features a principled description and explanation.
Again, my readers might be guffawing that such a "naturalizing" and "totalizing" gesture is just what recent work in cultural theory has deplored. Such a scientistic systemizing of our cognitive and cultural life, it might be assumed, can only destroy the values that most work in the humanities seeks to promote--creativity, uniqueness, insight, unpredictability, difference, freedom, etc. Such explanatory systems, current thinking assumes without question, will always have an ideological bias that will violently impose itself on such complex and indeterminate material, unconsciously and illegitimately constraining, and therefore victimizing, just the spiritual values that we cherish most highly. For instance, intellectual projects such as Frederick Turner's "natural classicism" might legitimately be questioned on just this basis.<13> It is fine to claim that nature provides us with certain predispositions, needs, and cognitive abilities, but it is unreasonable to suggest that whole cultures can develop that run counter to these natural materials, as Turner claims for modern/postmodern culture. To be acceptable, any "natural" explanation for our cultural and cognitive life will have to be rigorously ecumenical rather than exclusive. Classical values are not the only values; trance, ritual, and the like are not the only cultural practices. If cultural logics are indeed reflexes of human nature, all cultural practices must be explicable in these terms, not just one or some select few. Given that we are biological beings, arguments from biology can be used to develop the most imperious ideologies, and any biological explanation for cognitive and cultural phenomena that results in the valorization of one cognitive and cultural texture over another is necessarily suspect.
A richly hierarchical and componential theory of rhythm might be just the theoretical instrument that could unpin such an inclusive, flexible, and ideologically neutral theory of mind and culture, especially if this theory of rhythm also entails a theory of language, whose fundamental structure changes very little from from cultural period to cultural period. Language might be considered the most ideologically neutral component of all cultural formation. As a rhythmic structure is more richly represented, its structural features are enriched, too, and this structural richness expands its scope, breadth, and therefore flexibility as a theoretical tool. It is exactly reductively simplistic representations of rhythm, whose distinguishing features are therefore reductively simplistic as well, that are in most danger of imposing a narrow ideology upon a recalcitrant complexity. A componential theory of rhythm would have other theoretical advantages, too. The most important of these advantages, certainly, is its intrinsically dialectical organization. As we explored above with meter and phrasing, the structural features of each rhythmic component within a componential theory of rhythm are oppositionally arrayed. Because of this, a rhythmic texture that fronts one of these components makes available structural features that are very different from a rhythmic texture that fronts some other component. While it is reasonable to assume that these rhythmic components developed in some linear, evolutionary order and therefore, given the nature of biological evolution, stand in some determinate relation of complexity and representational power, the unique feature of neurological organization in the biological world is that it preserves its evolutionary history. As a result, any valorization of one rhythmic ability over another is highly questionable. Our evolutionarily later, and therefore more complex and powerful, rhythms are sustained by our evolutionarily earlier, and therefore simpler and more fundamental rhythms; and our simpler and more fundamental rhythms have survived because they have been supplemented by their more complex and powerful successors. If our human nature is indeed componentially rhythmic in basis, this nature cannot be traced to just one or another of its components; it is a complex product of them all.
As I turn to close, I sense that my readers' guffawing might be loud indeed. What I have suggested here is both immense in scope and speculative in content, and while these qualities often co-occur, in the scholarly world, this co-occurrence alone is often grounds for dismissal. On the other hand, I would claim that it is just such large and speculative thinking that our field of study most desperately needs. The relative peripheralization of verse study in the scholarly world has not resulted primarily from the energy of our activities, the care of our observations, or the clarity of our descriptions (although we have certainly had some difficulties in these areas as well). This peripheralization has resulted exactly from the larger issues that I have taken up here. In my opinion, verse study does not need more results, if these results are couched in the same terms and directed to the same ends as the results that it has accumulated to this point. Rather, our field of study needs some larger and more inspiring vision of its basic rationale, its basic theoretical and practical aims. It is to this more fundamental need that I offer this appeal.
Attridge, Derek. The Rhythms of English Poetry. London: Longman, 1982.
<1> The most extensive documentation
of this confusion is Brogan. For the
most recent commentaries, see Holder and Wesling.