W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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An old man dwells, a little man, —
Tis said he once was tall.
(Wordsworth: Simon Lee, the Old Huntsman.)

Find examples of padding in verses that you have read.

5. Describe various stanzas with which you are acquainted by
the number and kind of feet in each verse and by the rime-scheme.
Where there are refrains, show the relation of the ideas in each
refrain to those of the poenu


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Forms of verse and poetry. The foregoing brief and
elementary account indicates tiiat verse may be described,
and hence classified, according to the character of the lines and
the various ways in which the lines are bound together as
blank verse, or as couplets, or into stanzas. But such de-
scription does not fully account for verse as actually written ;
since the content, or the sense of the verse, has much to do
with the matter. We are popularly much more likely to speak
of sonnets, dirges, epigrams, poetic dramas, triolets, limericks,
ballads, epics, idyllic verse, pastorals, and so forth, than to
characterize verse by the number and quality of the feet or
the rime-scheme. This is only natural, since verse has to say
something as well as to follow more or less flexible schemes
of meter and rime. Consequently, other kinds of classifica-
tion must be spoken of, which deal with the general purpose
and form of verse rather than with its technical features. In-
deed, one cannot think of verse without suggestions of poetry,
*and as poetry is a more important matter than verse, the
classifications of poetry are of correspondingly greater mo-
ment. Nor can the movement and style of verse be made clear
without some explanation of the various forms in which poetry
manifests itself.

Poetry has been variously classified and, like prose, it may
be classified in many different ways. Thus, there is no reason
why poetry may not fall into the groups of narration, de-
scription, exposition, and argumentation, except the fact that
such a scheme would be likely to neglect real differences be-
tween poetry and prose, and also because it might cause some



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452 English Composition and Style

wonder as to why anything should be said in verse if prose
would do as welL In like manner a classification of poetry
according to the states of mind represented thereby would
hold also, if not equally, for prose ; since prose may evidently
busy itself with the presentation of sensations, perceptions,
feelings, thoughts, and actions. The most usual and useful
classification of poetry is, however, something like this last:
(i) poetry deals with events and facts of life and nature,
and hence there is the form generally called epic, the poetry
of the past; (2) it deals also with present states, usually of
personaJ emotion, and hence we have lyric poetry; and (3)
it represents in dramatic form events as if they were actually
taking place.

It is evident that each of these general modes of poetry
has a variety of forms. Thus epic poetry, which deals with
events and is most typically seen in the great epics, like the
Odyssey and Paradise Lost, in the more common and less
momentous narrative tales, as Palamon and Arcite, Lamia, and
Enoch Arden, and also in ballads of more or less erudite or
popular origin, The Ancient Mariner, say, on the one hand,
and some simple folk-ballad or nursery-rime, on the other,
may very evidently be specialized for various purposes,—
allegorical, as in The Divine Comedy; satirical, as in The Rape
of the Lock and A Vision of Judgment; descriptive, as in
The Deserted Village; reflective, as in parts of the Excursion.
So also lyric poetry, dealing with the feelings of the poet
rather than happenings, may represent personal joy or per-
sonal grief, as in My Heart Leaps Up or in Geist's Grave;
it may be more impersonal, standing for the common senti-
ment, as in Gray's Elegy; and in any of these and other
moods, it may have to do with love, with religious subjects,
with patriotism, with death, with reflections on life, with sin
and wrong, with festive occasions, and about an3rthing con-
cerning which the poet has some feeling. Dramatic poetry,
in like manner, may be tragic or comic, and it, too, m^y tell
of events and express feelings, or describe things and give


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Structure and Style of Verse 453

utterance to thoughts. A glance at the Golden Treasury or
the Oxford Book of English Verse will at once suggest the
great variety of forms of which lyric poetry, say, is capable,
but a further study would call for the examination of many
volumes of verse. In like manner, only a full examination of
narrative and dramatic poetry in many different epochs could
reveal the forms which other poetry, in different ages, has
tended to assume. A historical account of various forms is
the only one that can pretend to any completeness, since a
view of contemporary verse would obviously ignore many
once flourishing forms.

As a matter of fact, what happens with prose is true also
of poetry: classifications, however useful for the purposes of
general description, cannot account for the specific quality or
excellence of particular poems. Again, as in prose, there are
no pure types; narrative, lyric, and dramatic are likely, ac-
tually, to be mixed. Hence arise such hybrid names as lyrical
drama, serio-comic, and the like. Thus a moderately full de-
scription of a poem includes not only (i) an account of the
verse in which a poem is written and (2) the general state-
ment of its class, but also (3) its content and (4) its occasion
and (s) its specific virtue. Only the reading of a large num-
ber of poems of different kinds can develop the sense for these
values, and this acquaintance must be accompanied by an
open-mindedness to discover new excellences. Such matters
cannot be enlarged upon here, nor can anything be said upon
that oft essayed and almost as often futilely drawn distinction
between poetry and prose. In general, we recognize the fact
of the supreme place of certain poetical creations and we
should agree that a difference exists between a thing said in
verse and the same facts presented in prose, or, to put the
matter more accurately, that a body of facts in prose and the
same material presented in verse are not the same thing.
Wherein lies the difference, it is rarely possible to explain ex-
cept by taking refuge in such general and uncertain terms as
" fancy," " imagination," " emotion," and the like.


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454 English Composition and Style

Resisting the temptation to draw any profound and funda-
mental distinction between prose and poetry, the question of
real importance which confronts us is this : " What can verse
do that prose cannot do equally well? " or this, " Why should
one write verse if prose will answer all purposes?*' The
question is a fair one ; this bode, like almost all text-books of
composition, assumes prose to be the usual means of com-
munication. That assumption is borne out by the actual con-
ditions of writing and publication, where prose has very much
the upper hand, verse being largely relegated to the mere
function of occasion or space filling, the production whereof
is not infrequently stimulated by special prizes. One answer
to the question is contained in the assumption: verse writing
is primarily a fine art which one cultivates for the satisfaction
or the fun that one gets from it, and in the light of fine art
almost all extant poetry is to be regarded. Prose, too, may
be a fine art, capable of great perfection in the hands of a
master, and often is a source of deep satisfaction to him and
his readers, but it is also more commonly the great handy
means of communication, and as a practical art it is most
likely to be treated.

Now, ideas expressed in verse and ideas expressed in prose
have much in common. For example, verse narrative and
prose narrative may evidently move in much the same way,
and the general analysis of prose composition already made
(PP« 53-^4) would probably apply to poetry, though a com-
paratively small amount of verse would be of the argumentive
or expository type. Again, there is no apparent reason why
prose drama and poetic drama should differ in structure from
each other. One is right also in demanding frcMn things
written in verse many of the qualities called for in prose
pieces — order, commcm sense, good observation, a sense of
fact — indeed, Ruskin in a famous discourse on the " Pathetic
Fallacy " holds that some of these things are necessarily pres-
ent in poetry of the highest order. It is a wholly fair criti-
cism of much actual verse to say that it is wanting in solid


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Structure and Style of Verse 455

intellectual qualities. Or again, the knowledge of human
character or of events manifest in a great poet, say Shakspere,
is akin to the knowledge of such matters displayed by a great
novelist like Meredith or Balzac, though obviously tiie epoch
or the sentiments may be different, for they are alike in no
two men 6i moment. In seeking an answer to the question,
" What can verse do that prose cannot do equally well ? "
one must not only recognize the supreme quality of great
poetry, but the many things that good verse and good prose,
considered as processes and results, have in common. The
answer in any case cannot be complete, but, for our purpose,
it will be sufficient to offer a few general remarks on the
movement of verse, particularly in lyric poetry, — which from
its personal nature has less in common with prose than have
other forms, — and on the style of verse.

The movement of l3rric verse. Anything written or spoken
has movement of some kind; that is to say, it begins some-
where and ends somewhere. The ending is the full expres-
sion of the idea or feeling, as well as the last word of the
composition ; the beginning consists of the facts which engender
these conclusions. The theory of lyrical structure — that a
train of observations or facts stimulates a feeling, which it is
the main purpose of the lyric to express — is, by and large,
actually the case with very many lyrics. So many of Words-
worth's best lyrics illustrate this direct structure — The Sol-
itary Reaper, To the Highland Girl of Inversneyde, The Ode
on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early
Childhood, to name but a few — that an example may be quoted
from this great poet :

I wander'd lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills.

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host of golden daffodils,

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.


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456 English Composition and Style

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way^
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: —
A Poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company I
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
* What wealth the show to me had brought;

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills

And dances with the daffodils. (The Daffodils.)

This excellent example of the simple direct movement wiD
be seen to contain two parts: The first, which goes through
the fourth line of the third stanza, is a poetic description of
certain facts ; the remaining lines state the poet's simple reac-
tion to these facts. Another example of this r^ular and
precise structure, on a more courtly subject and done into
more metaphorical language, is Sir Henry Wotton's

You meaner beauties of the night.

That poorly satisfy our eyes
More by your number than your light.

You common people of the skies,
What are you, when the moon shall rise?

You curious chanters of the wood
That warble forth Dame Nature's lays.

Thinking your passions understood
By your weak accents ; what 's your praise

When Philomel her voice doth raise?


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Structure and Style of Verse 457

You violets that first appear.
By your pure purple mantles known

Like the proud virgins of the year,
As if the spring were all your own, —

What are you when the Rose is blown ?

So when my Mistress shall be seen

In form and beauty of her mind,
By virtue first, then choice, a Queen,

Tell me, if she were not designed
Th' eclipse and glory of her kind ?

(Elisabeth of Bohemia,)

The structure in this is evident: Three stanzas, each intro-
ducing a particular comparison, prepare the way for the final
stanza. In both poems the movement is obtained by the state-
ment of successive details, and in both poems, also, affairs are
brought up to a point, — a remembrance of pleasure in Words-
wrorth, resulting from a succession of images, a climax of
comparisons with Wotton, resulting from a series of analogous

These are pretty simple examples of lyrical movement; it
must not be supposed that all lyrical poems have this structure.
Indeed, there are about as many kinds of lyrical movement as
there are lyrical poems; the one thing of importance being
that the poem should come out. Shakspere makes the ad-
mirable sonnet, already quoted in part (p. 430) come out by
devoting each one of the eleven lines after

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry —

to some general abuse, summing up and reacting on the enu-
meration in the couplet, '

— Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my Love alone.

But, though it is common with him, in the sonnets, to throw
into contrast his state of mind, described in some three quat-
rains, with the ever-recurrent elation that he feels when


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458 English Composition and Style

thinking of his friend, — the subject for the closing couplet,
— yet the detail or arrangement is, like the substance, by no
means always the same. Thus, again, Milton's Ode on the
Morning of Chrisfs Nativity derives its movement from a
series of growing enthusiasms, successively checked by his
knowledge of sin, and yet again rising, at the prospect of the
redemption of the world. His Lycidas, a pure lyric, — if such
there be, — moves from the sense of personal sorrow, through
glowing indignation that one so much worthier perished while
the "blind mouths'* still fed, to the finding of a greater
faith. " Avenge, O Lord I Thy slaughtered saints " is an ac-
cumulation of indignation which continues wrathful to the
end ; the sonnet on his blindness moves from personal sorrow
to the counsels of Patience. Or again, Shelley's famous
Skylark is a salutation, moving through a number of joyful
descriptive passages culminating in the wish of the poet to be
taught the secret of that gladness. It is with him very often

The desire of the moth for the star,

Of the night for the morrow.
The devotion to something afar

From the sphere of our sorrow.

And yet, constant as this feeling is in many of his l)rrical
poems, though they often move through a series of images
and beautiful reflections and rarely fail to convey the sense
of yearning, they arrive at their goal by no constant formula.
So Keats may, as in the Ode to Autumn, convey the sense
of the season by a series of characterizing epithets and de-
scriptions; or he may, as in the Ode on a Grecian Urn, so
describe the figures thereon as to fuse his whole poem with
the sense of permanence in beauty ; or he may, as in the Ode
to a Nightingale, follow the course of his own moods in the
changes begotten by the song of the bird. Or the lyrical
movement may follow the course of an event, as with Cole-
ridge's Love or Dryden's Alexander's Feast, may deal in con-
trasts and balances as often with Prior and the most famous


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Structure and Style of Verse 459

of Lovelace's poems, or in the touches of light melancholy
characteristic of the close of many of Herrick's most exquisite
verses ; but it is likely to make its point, to gain its movement,
in many different ways.

Returning for a moment to the general question, one readily
perceives that none of these poems would be the same thing
if expressed in prose. Even the most elegant paraphrases
would probably be much inferior, however well pointed. On
the other hand, it is extremely doubtful if the matter of such
great prose pieces as, say. The Speech on Conciliation or The
Gettysburg Address would be improved if put into very ex-
cellent verse. It would be more accurate to say that in no
case would the results be the same. Probably the nearest
kinship of verse and prose that we have occurs in Scott,
whose Marmion and The Lady of the Lake might, from this
point of view, be compared with, say. The Abbot and The Fair
Maid of Perth. The general and specific differences would
be hard alike to enumerate and to phrase, but some indication
of them may be had from the further observation that a neat
transposition of the former pair into prose, keeping dialo^e
and description in their present places and retaining the present
order and division, would result in two very second-rate novels,
whereas the reverse process applied to The Abbot and The
Fair Maid of Perth would produce long, cumbersome, and
very tedious poems in the place of two fine novels.

Perhaps the best suggestions for the answer to the question
come from an account of certain of the more artificial forms
of verse — the sonnet, the triolet, the sestina, and other exact
forms. Such an account is worth while, also, because these
forms very well illustrate verse movement and, by their very
preciseness and rigidity, offer the best field for practice.
Perhaps blank verse may seem the best form for practice, but
as a matter of fact it is very hard to write well. The reason
may be that it lacks all verse supports but rhythm. Hence
the restricted forms, which are extremely different from
prose, are probably the best for the beginner. It is a pity,


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460 English Composition and Style

one may add, that they are not affected by college students
instead of the more punning and confined limerick or non-
sense verse, the point of which too frequently lies in finding
queer episodes and grotesque rimes for "some far-off, alien
geography." These forms are of Italian or Provengal origin,
and are only partly and variously acclimatized in English
verse. In aU, form and rule are very dominant, to a d^ee
not known elsewhere.

I. The Sonnet. This form is the best known and has
been used with g^eat skill in English poetry, where it has,
on the whole, been confined to serious and grave emotions.
Normally, it consists of fourteen pentameter lines in iambic
measure. The strict Italian form is divided into two parts,
the octave, riming abba abba, and the sestet, which rimes
variously 2ls c d c d c d, or c d e c d e, or in other ways. Keats
furnishes one of the best examples :

Much have I travel'd in the realms of gold
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen ;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne :
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

— Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken ;
Or like stout Cortex, when with eagle eyes

He stared at the Pacific — and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

(On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.)

The octave here states the circumstances which lead to the
personal reaction expressed, by means of similes, in the sestet,
which is introduced by the emphatic ringing line,


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Structure and Style of Verse 461

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies.

It IS to be noted that in the foot then felt, the normal iambic
accent is upset ; the accent is placed with at least equal emphasis
on the first syllable then, which also gives greater force to the

There is also the Shaksperian sonnet, so-called because of
its constant employment by the poet. Here three quatrains
riming abcb, cdcd, efef, are followed by a couplet, g g,
at the beginning of which the break usually occurs. But an-
other change may also occur earlier, as at the ninth line of the
following incomparable sonnet :

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state.
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.
And look upon myself, and curse my fate ;

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possest,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope.
With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising.
Haply I think on Thee — and then my state.
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate ;

For thy sweet love remember'd, such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

It may be noted that each quatrain does a different sort of
thing, though the change from the first is not sufficient to
cause a contrast with the second, such as occurs at the be-
ginning of the third. Note, also, the presence of a few run-
on lines. Such run-on lines are particularly common in
[Milton and may also be found frequently in Wordsworth,
Keats, Rossetti and many other sonnet writers.


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462 English Composition and Style

What is done in this fine form of verse is, in short, very
rigidly to restrict the length of what is said — usually to 140
syllables — and to arrange the idea in pretty definite order.
The type of movement is predetermined, ready-made, as it
were, and it must be more rigidly observed than in any prose
forms, none of which have to submit to any such external
compression. But — within "the convent's narrow room"
how varied and often powerful an utterance of "things tin-
attempted yet in prose."

>^2. The Repeating Type — the triolet, the rondel, the ron-
deau, the vUlanelle, the ballade, the sestina. These forms are
not well acclimated in English verse; they suggest hot-house
cultivation. Still they are admirable illustrations of lyrical
movement of a fixed type and much enjoyment may be had
in writing them. Usually they are best adapted to light, witty,
occasional verse, but graver subjects are not unknown. Al-
most all gain their point by repetition, the first five of the
same phrases, the sestina of the same end words without rime.
These repetitions are not refrains but are woven into the
structure of the verse. The repetition emphasizes the im-
portant phrase or throws it into different lights. Thus, spe-
cifically :

The triolet consists of eight lines, of two, three, or even
four feet, rimed as follows : ABaAabAB, where A,A,A,
and B,B, stand for identical lines and a,a, and b for lines
riming with A and B. Probably the best published triolet
that we have in English is Mr. Austin Dobson's

Rose kissed me to-day;

Will she kiss me to-morrow?
Be that as it may
Rose kissed me to-day.
But the pleasure gives way

To a savor of sorrow:
Rose kissed me to-day;

Will she kiss me to-morrow?


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Structure and Style of Verse 463

The point evidently lies in giving different intonation and
meaning to the successive repetitions. The first line merely
states a fact, the second merely asks a question. But the
fourth line is triumphant, whereas the seventh and eighth are
reflective and uncertain. The intervening lines indicate the
force of the major lines and the differences between them.
These differences in meaning, without which a triolet would
lose the sparkle essential to it and become quite flat, may
evidently be obtained in other ways as, for example, by a
clever system of punctuation. Evidently prose cannot do
things like these ; the repetition would be deemed tautologous.
The rondel, the rondeau, and the vUlanelle are poems of
a slightly different kind from the former, in that the repeated
lines, also woven into the structure of the verse, are for em-
phasis quite as much as for variety. Following the same
system of indicating rimes used for the triolet, we may de-
scribe the rondel as a poem of fourteen lines usually riming
ABba, abAB, abba AB; the rondeau as of thirteen lines
with the first half of the first line repeated as a refrain after,

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 39 of 43)