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A history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) online

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1 And in its marriage robe the heavy body wound.


Marmion or Chamberlayne fs improved by such a little
plunge and arrest as the triplet —

What taste of purer air hast thou to soothe

My essence ? What serener palaces

Where I may all my many senses please

And by mysterious sleights a hundred thirsts appease ?

Even in the mere single line he has got the real Drydenian
vigour, as in

To dull the nice remembrance of my home,
while such a couplet-paragraph as that beginning
. As men talk in a dream

I hardly know where else to find.

But there was another agent, also set at work by
study, in the strengthening of the prosodic quality of
Lamia, in addition to Drydenian rhythm and line-scheme.
This agent was Miltonic phrase, not seldom arranging
itself into Miltonic rather than Drydenian measure, as in
" Surely high inspired," " the brilliance feminine," and

Whereat the star of Lethe not delayed
His rosy eloquence.

It was not, however, in Lamia that Keats displayed Hyperion and
to the full this other influence, but in Hyperion. The '^^ ^^^"'*^

• • verse

mterestmg minor question of the order and relations of
the two versions of that poem concerns this part of the
matter, but not in a very important degree. It is not
surprising that Lord Houghton, after hesitating whether
The Fall of Hyperion : a Dream was revisal or draft,
should have inclined to the latter supposition ; for the
prosody of the Dream ^ is much nearer to that of Endymion
than the prosody of the " epic fragment," as they call it.
It is evident, however, even without the external evidence
that has been produced," and without seeing in it any

1 Influence of Dante has been suggested in it ; and if Keats was suffi-
ciently exposed thereto, he would pretty certainly have caught something
from it.

'^ For the whole question the places of study are, of course, Professor de
Selincourt's editions of Keats generally, and of the recovered MS. of the
Dream in particular.


decline of power, that Keats might very well have per-
ceived that his magnificent pastiche is, after all, a pastiche.
Those who, like Mr. Sidney Colvin, call this " hardly
Miltonic " in any stricter sense than that part of it is
modelled on the debate of the Fallen Angels seem to
exhibit something of the common inability (which, how-
ever, is strange in Mr. Colvin) to separate matter and
form. Whether the matter be Miltonic or not is a
question with which I have nothing to do ; but the form
of Hyperion is almost always caique upon Milton, and
occasionally, though not always, produces a copy as
magnificent as a copy can be. The first three lines
Milton might have written ; then the tracer's hand slips
a little ; and the sequence of hit-or-miss continues through-
out. It might be contended that this blending of styles
is itself of the highest interest ; and certainly if, as Mr.
Arnold was pleased to say, it is " not a success," one
might be very fairly content with a Corpus Poeticiim full
of such non-successes. But both forms are rather too
full of that " student " character which we are mainly
developing in Keats.
The Eve oj The natural man, however, very excusably shares that

the Spenserian, preference of achievement over tentative, which the
maxim rather invidiously limits to an inchoate stage and
a special development of humanity. And what we have
left to mention of Keats's prosodic work is all achieve-
ment, and achievement right marvellous. The Eve of
St. Agnes is almost faultless both in diction and metre.
It is closer to the actual Spenserian norm — of which,
with Adonais and the induction to the Lotos-Eaters, it
makes the First Three followings — than Shelley's great
poem, and yet it has almost as much idiosyncrasy as the
Spenserian will brook. If any one will give himself the
delight of reading again that great picture-stanza ^ — where

1 Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline's fair breast,
As down she knelt for heaven's grace and boon ;
Rose-bloom fell on her hands together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst.
And on her hair a glory like a saint :


the late Professor Bain thought there was " little attempt
at giving a picture," and on which some of the ineffables
have debated whether moonlight can carry colour, — he
will see how perfectly Keats has got the motion of the
«(3Z/^««-pause — given, withheld, varied, so as to score the
symphony. And he may compare it, if he likes, with
stanza xxxii., where a more cumulative effect is aimed at
and achieved by frequent end-stops. There is never a
stanza, and hardly a line, wrong or insignificant in move-
ment throughout the whole piece.

This at last complete mastery of stanza shows itself The vartous
no less in the famous " Odes," ^ especially in the consum- ^ ^^ anzas.
mate " Nightingale " and " Grecian Urn." Beautiful things
though there be in " Psyche," I cannot think it successful
metrically, the author having allowed himself to be
tempted to his besetting sin of prolixity by a very loose
and wandering arrangement of stanza. But " Autumn "
recovers the elect grace of the two opening pieces, and
Keats's " sevens," always good, are better than ever in
" Fancy " and its fellows.

Still, the quintessence of pure prosody in Keats is La Beiie Dame
perhaps to be found in La Belle Dame sans Merci, which and "The Eve
the late Mr. Palgrave thought " an imitative ballad," " of St. Mark."
where the poet was " not quite himself," and in that " Eve
of St. Mark," which for some incomprehensible reason he
did not give in his " Golden Treasury " edition at all.
The marvellous composition, which has such interesting
variants, and respecting which Keats wrote with such a

She seemed a splendid angel, newly drest.
Save wings, for heaven : — Porphyro grew faint-
She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.
To stop the bark of Momus-Cerbcrus with appropriate earth, it may be
observed that " amethyst " takes the rhyme-benefit of "ever "and "river,"'
"given" and "heaven," etc., these e and i sounds approaching close
enough to be interchanged.

^ It should hardly be necessary to dwell on the position of these in the
long sequence of elaborate stanza - creations which begins with Spenser's
Prothalamion and Epithalamion.

2 I do wish he had been good enough to tell us what Keats imitated here.
I thought I knew something of English poetry, and not a little of English
ballad and romance, but where the original of La Belle Dame sans Merci is,
except in heaven, I do not know.

VOL. Ill K


delightful absence of posing and posturing, might serve,
like one or two other things cited previously in this
history, as a special and for the time exclusively sufficient
text of a sermon on what prosody can do. To say that
it is all prosody would, of course, be the idlest of pro-
fessional vanities. But the loss in poetic effect which
would be effected by extension of the fourth line from
two feet to the usual three would be too horrible to think
of, if it were not for the compensating joy of knowing
that it has not been experienced ; and the perfection of
this miraculous monometer would be less if the trisyllabic

And her eyes | were wild

and the twice-repeated

On the cold | hillside

were regularised. There is much else for prosody in it —
the slow dream-motion of the whole, for instance — but it
is perhaps better to dwell, in such a crucial instance, on
clear and indisputable certainties. La Belle Dame sans
Merci is one of the great poems of the world : it would
not be one of them if the cleverest poem-mender in that
world put an additional foot, however exquisitely selected,
in its fourth lines. Try, and see.

In a certain sense, however, though in a certain sense
only, " The Eve of St. Mark " is of even more prosodic
importance than La Belle Dame sans Mcrci. The magic
of this latter is, to a great extent, actually due to the use
of a certain prosodic device. But it is not exactly every
poet who could produce the effect by the application of
the means— there is no general secret taught. In " The
Eve of St. Mark," on the other hand, Keats has achieved,
and has left for others to use — in one instance already
with wonderful success — what is practically a new variety
of almost the oldest and one of the most commonly
practised of English metres, the regular octosyllabic couplet,
only sometimes cut down to sevens, not (or very seldom)
equivalenced trisyllabically, and daring, but conquering,
the old danger of mellifluous monotony. This is not the


octosyllable of Wither, or of Milton, or of Dyer ; it is, of
course, not the octosyllable of Butler, or of Prior, or of
Swift. It is still less that of Coleridge and Scott and
Byron. It is most like the early seventeenth -century
examples, but is crossed^ to a wonderful effect of excellence,
with something that comes from the fourteenth — from the
few very best examples of Gower and the rather more
numerous, but not quite similarly applied, examples of
Chaucer. It would be extremely interesting to know
whether Keats had read that great Medea passage ' which
shoots so far above the insignificant amenity of the
average Confessio prosody. Any one who looks at the
lines quoted below ■^ will see at once how not merely the
simple but very powerful device of stopping the couplet
heavily in the middle or at the end of its first line, but
the much more cunning one of weighting the word-values
variously, is employed. The octosyllable is so short that
you cannot do much with actual pause ; in fact it is much
better neglected. But you can do a very great deal by
fingering the middles, and overlapping as well as sharply
stopping the ends. All this Keats showed in miniature
by these few lines, and half a century later his indication

' V. sup. i. 141.

- Upon a Sabbath day it fell ;
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell,
That called the folk to evening-prayer ;
The city streets were clean and fair
From wholesome drench of April rains ;
And on the western window-panes
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmatured green valleys cold,
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,
Of rivers new with spring-tide sedge,
Of primroses by sheltered rills,
And daisies on the aguish hills.
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell :
The silent streets were crowded well
With staid and pious companies,
Warm from their fire-side orai'ries,
And moving, with demurest air,
To even-song and vesper prayer.
Each arched porch, and entry low,
Was filled with patient folk and slow,
With whispers hush, and shuffling feet,
While played the organ loud and sweet.


was put in delightful practice by the author of " The Ring
given to Venus " and " The Land East of the Sun." ^

The "Inter- jj^ |.j^g group which has been called "the Inter-

mediates. .11 17- 1 -r-

mediates — who were born between Keats and lenny-
son, and who exhibited the comparatively abundant
second crop of not quite first-rate poetry to be expected
in the circumstances — the spread of prosodic craftsman-
ship, and the tendency to exercise it in as varied a fashion
as possible, are distinctly present. The weaker of them,
such as Haynes Bayly and " L. E. L.," exhibit the
slipshod facility derived from Moore and Monk Lewis,
and pass it on, rather disastrously, to Mrs. Browning.
The strongest of them, such as Beddoes, Darley, and
Hood, take to the greater modes and transmit the follow-
ing of these to their own betters, Tennyson himself and
Robert Browning ; while a special " scholarly " subdivision
is illustrated by Praed and Macaulay. We must not say
much of any of these ; but Beddoes and Praed are very
remarkable prosodically, and hardly one of the seven,
even the weakest — these being, as usual, the most popular,
— could be missed in one sense, without being missed in
the other, from a history of English prosody.
" L. E. L." The engaging and unfortunate lady' who lent "Miss

Bunion " her titles and her poetic tone, but did not in
the least resemble her in person, was something of a
poetris pica no doubt ; but she chattered in rather melodious
verse, and, in particular, seldom or never committed the
appalling rhymes which Mrs. Browning permitted herself,
and even tried to defend. Her Muse is not exactly a
slattern, but she is rather carelessly dressed. There is,
for instance, a very lazy and stingy allowance of rhyme
in such a stanza as

^ For some general remarks on the prosodies of Keats and Shelley and
their contrast, v. inf. Interchapter i.x.

'•^ The late Sir M. E. Grant-Duff" once, in conversation, fell good-naturedly
foul of me for being unjust to Mrs. Hemans : and perhaps somebody may
think the injustice repeated, in the way of omi.ssion, here. She is possibly a
better poetess than Miss Landon, but part of her merit is a considerable
prosodic regularity, which leaves little to be said. She can be praised, but
must be left out in the cold of a note.


I have gone east, I have gone west

To seek for what I cannot find,
A heart at peace with its own thought,

A quiet and contented mind,

especially when — to any one emulating the steering of
Lord Bateman, but scorning the rhyme-barrenness of his
chronicler — " breast " suggests itself most conveniently in
such a context. And she will write long narrative or
semi-narrative poems with these meagre trimmings. The
couplets of the Golden Violet are not much enjambed —
which is probably due to the fact that her model was
Byron, not Hunt or Keats, rather than to any preference
for the succincter form. But she must have read her
proofs with singular inattention, for in one rather well-
modulated poem ^ —

He sleeps — the night wind o'er the battle-field

Is gently sighing — -
Gently, although each faint breeze bear away

Life from the dying,

the second line once, and once only, telescopes itself out
by a whole foot :

Anojther field | before him.
The author of " I'd be a butterfly," " O no ! we never Haynes
mention her," " She wore a wreath of roses," and other ^^y'y-
poor things that have passed from the garland to the
rubbish heap, mixed his Moore-and-water not unpleasantly,
or (to take the round of the senses still further) adjusted
the tink-a-tink of his instrument regularly enough. But
he could sometimes permit himself a rhyme more
absurd, though less excruciating, than the worst of Mrs.
Browning's own. In a rather pretty piece, for instance,
of which the refrain is

You'll love me, won't you ?
he mates this (after describing " demonstrations ") with
Did that affront you ?

1 It will be observed that here again is the singular stinginess of rhyme.
I believe it not extravagant to suggest that this is partly due to that sickness
of the rhymed couplet which we find everywhere felt, and sometimes
expressed, at this time.


Now " wunt you " does not, somehow or other, seem to
suit kisses and roses and butterflies and marble halls and
anguish-causing mothers and the rest of it.^

But to understand the popularity of such work as
Miss Landon's and Mr. Bayly's on the prosodic side, we
must still remember the recent — almost actual — domina-
tion of couplet, and the monotony even of lyric measures
in the eighteenth century. Here was at least an attempt
at a karole, at the flash of the tinsel slipper, and the
revel of the varied line.
Macauiay. The inclusion of Macaulay in such a history as this
will only surprise second-hand echoers of the not very
wise depreciation of the Lays made by Mr. Matthew
Arnold, and perhaps one or two others, at first-hand.
But even some persons of better taste and instruction
may not, unless they have paid special attention to the
subject, have fully estimated his prosodic importance.

This is not best shown in the best thing that he ever
did, the famous and exquisite " Jacobite's Epitaph " — one
of the pieces that, out of Landor, most perfectly re-
produce, in modern English, the classical limpidity and
chastity which Mr. Arnold himself — that angelic but
ineffectual rebel to Romanticism — never could attain.
The poetry is here well served by the prosody, but
nothing more. Even in this, however, as well as in the
fine, though less fine, " Lines Written in August," there
emerges the note which is more strongly heard in the
Lays themselves — a note which is one of the characteristics
of the prosody of the century, and which, considering
Macaulay 's birth-date, must be allowed very early appear-
ance in him. It is that of scholarly, of literary, of intel-
ligent, conscious, and, to a great degree, successful
following of this and that example in older English verse.
His chief forerunners in this, and that not by much, had
been Hartley Coleridge and Lockhart," again putting

' I am of course aware that some modern phoneticians think it ought to be
" wwnt."

- These names are instances of the application of a self-denying ordinance
which must henceforth pinch me. I would much rather talk about them than
about "L. E. L."' and Haynes Bayly, but they are not so much "for me."


Buccaneer. '

Landor aside ; but neither had " standardised " anything
in quite the same fashion as that wherein the Lays
standardise the adaptation of the common measure,
which, on the pattern of the ballads and of Spenser's
Februaty, the first Romantic school from Chatterton to
Byron had endeavoured. In The Armada he applied
this same process of standardisation to the z^wbroken
eight -and -six — the fourteener — and with equal success.
That there is standardised and scholastic quality about it,
that it bears much the same relation to its originals as
very perfect Etonian hexameters or elegiacs bear to
Virgil or to Propertius, may be admitted ; but this does
not diminish the interest.

And that interest is much increased by another, and ^' The Last
at first sight almost contradictory, phenomenon which
shows itself in his second best and most original thing,
"The Last Buccaneer." ^ He begins it with a sort of prelude

Hartley's sonnets are excellent, but not excellently remarkable as prosody.
Lockhart's chief prosodic triumph is the extraordinarily beautiful " Wandering
Knight's Song" of the Spanish Ballads; perhaps his next, "Captain Paton's
Lament " — an unusual adaptation of the trochee to playful-pathetic purposes.
So also I must only glance at J. H. Reynolds, that curious link between Keats
and Hood in matters prosodic and other, especially (as regards prosody) in the
new Pindaric.

^ This striking piece may be cited and analysed at some length, especially
as I have known persons, well acquainted with the Essays and the Lays, to
whom it was quite strange. It opens :

The winds were yelling, the waves were swelling,
The sky was black and drear,
When the crew with eyes of flame, etc.

The other stanza cited above begins :

To-night there shall be heard on the rocks of Cape de Verde
A loud crash and a louder roar.
And there is a fine one before it :

From a shore no search hath found, from a gulf no line can .sound,

Without rudder or needle we steer ;
Above, below, our bark, dies the .seafowl and the .shark
As we fly by the last Buccaneer.

Now it will be noticed that you can scan some of the longer lines (which
present, anapjestically or iambically taken, hypermetrical syllables) trochaically
in pairs :

From a | shore no | search has | found.

From a | gulf no | line can | sound.

But not all. "Above, below,"' etc., has a syllable too little, and another
not yet quoted —


or overture of curiously truncated character for the first
couplet of his first stanza ; but immediately opens this
out, and establishes the rhythm which he means to use
throughout. Now this rhythm, when taken to pieces and
arranged — as in regularity it should be — as a six-line
stanza instead of a four-lined one, is quite simple, and
very like what possibly suggested it, " The Battle of the
Baltic." That is to say, it is regular anapaestic threes
usually allowed to run out to the full in lines two, four,
and six, usually equivalenced back to iambs in one, three,
and five.

But, as Macaulay has chosen to print it, it contains
a suggestion which has been frequently echoed since in
poetry both serious and comic, and has, I think, led some
astray. I said long ago that I see no necessity in
English poetry for four-syllable feet, or even for the
heavier trisyllables — those in which there is more than
one long, or where the long is in the middle. To this
principle I adhere, and it was stated with full knowledge
of the facts which will be indicated here and in some
other cases. These facts may be classed either as sugges-
tions of " syzygy," — of coupling two feet into a measure,
or on the other hand, as allowing tetrasyllables. Thus,
though I do not need, I should not utterly bar the
tetrasyllable scansion of such a couplet as

When the crew with eyes of flame brought the ship without a name

Alongside the last Buccaneer,
or as

And to-morrow shall the deep with a heavy moaning sweep
The corpses and wreck to the shore,

with two paeons or ionics a minore in the first lines, and

And Severn's lowering mast securely now flies fast,

has two too little. Only a very loose anapaestic norm, or the occasional
tetrasyllables above suggested, will fit the whole. I have not much doubt that,
besides Campbell, Macaulay had Scott (v. sup. p. 8i, 7io/c on " The Eve of St.
John ") in his mind. " The Battle of Naseby " is of the same general stamp,
but more regularised. It is perhaps best to say of the "Buccaneer" itself
that it eddies between trochaic and anapaestic rhythm. On mere accentual
scansion it becomes simply a welter.


two amphibrachs in the second.^ I must, however, point
out that these scansions, however much they may suggest
themselves now and then, will not suit all lines, and that
the plain anapaest and iamb will, as will also a shift from
trochee to iamb.

These occasional syzygies,"- however, as a kind of extra
equivalence, viay suggest themselves not infrequently to
some ears. In songs set to music there is no doubt of
them, as, for instance — an instance which I trust will not
be taken as " flippant," — in the notorious case of " Vilikins
and his Dinah," where the third paeon base is unmistak-
able, and its shutting up, for emphasis and solemnity,
into something very like molossi is most interesting : —

Now as Dinah | vos a valking | in the garding | vim day

Her papa he | came to her | and thus he | did say.

But this is music, not prosody. And I am not sure that

the temptation to scan the great legend of The Bogle in

four-three time —

He accompa|nied each blow | with a Ha ! or | with a Ho !
And he always | cleft his foe |
To the waist, |

as well as those poems of Mrs. Browning's which may be
not quite unconnected with that glorious and mysterious ^

1 When the ; crew with | eyes of | flame || brought the • ship with | cm a name

Alonglside | the last ; Bucjcaneer;
the dotted scansions being, as before, alternative. The " plain anapoest and
iamb " would give

When the crew | with eyes | of flame || brought the ship | without | a name

Along] side the last | Buccaneer].
- The word has been rather abused lately, but abus-ns non tollit, etc. It
has a good old prosodic warranty in this sense.

3 I have sought in vain, from persons intimately acquainted with the
history of the city of Bailie Jarvie, information as to the possible origin
of this, the greatest work existing in connection with the Regius Professor-
ship of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in the University of Edinburgh, and one
which will occupy us again. But nobody, not even Sir Theodore Martin,
seemed to know who George of Gorbals was, or the redoubtable Neish, or
that not unworthy Lancelot, the Bogle himself, or what was the occasion on
which, with such suicidal industry,

They [were] working at the mum
And the gin !


ballad, ought not to be resisted — trochaic scansion
throughout being far preferable and not at all anomalous.
But the subject is a really interesting one, and I should
like the present digression on it to be read in company
with other past and, if it may be, future references to

Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburyA history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 12 of 50)