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

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^ It can be done, mathematically and constructively, by prefixing a syllable
to the odd lines of the one —

\And'\ have I forgot, my only love, to love thee,
and to the even of the other —

[ 71'//] of that new life when sin shall be no more.
But of course the reshaping interferes with the beauty in the particular cases.

- Originally in the Cornhill Mas^aziiie for September 1876. Reprinted
in A Marria<:;e of Shadows and other Poems [on the back simply Poems']
(London, 1888). The whole book is worth reading, but "A Game of
Piquet " is the chief other piece noticeable from our point of view.

CHAP. II OTHER POETS OF 1850-1900 381

gravity, the sardonic passion, of the piece as these soberly
running trochees, with the sharp alternation of long and
pulled -np -short lines. The suggestion is, of course.
Browning's in " Love among the Ruins," but the modula-
tion is different, owing to the shortening of the odd lines :

Though to talk too much of Heaven

Is not well,
Though agreeable people never

Mention Hell,
Yet the woman who betrayed me,

Whom I kissed,
In that bygone summer taught me

Both exist.
I was ardent, she was always

Wisely cool,
So my lady played the traitor —

I, the fool.
Oh ! your pardon ! but remember,

If you please,
I'm translating : this is only


The citation of " Fata Morgana " above connects itself
with that difficulty of this chapter with which I began.
From the work of its author — a poet too commonly
undervalued, though, by refusing to criticise himself, he
provoked criticism from others — especially in the early
Wanderer and the late Marah, I could, of course, draw
endless prosodic examples, but none others that need
be drawn for my special purpose. So, again, with his Lord De
companion in the unwritten volumes of Horace Walpole's ^ ^^'
book. Lord De Tabley (Mr. Leicester Warren), on whom,
too late, after some (not unfit, but very few) had admired
his work for nearly a lifetime, two volumes of excellent
selections ^ drew something more like general attention.

1 It has been a great pleasure, and a small surprise, to me to see how some
of those who have been good enough to read these volumes have picked up
my little prosodic suggestions. It may amuse a few of them to consider just
the difference which the shortening of the longer lines makes between " Love
among the Ruins" and "A Japanese Fan." But it must be admitted that
both hit the guileless but not guiltless head of the Reverend William Crowe
rather hard, for his objection to this pull-up of verse.

- Poems Dramatic and Lyrical, First and Second Series (London, 1893
and 1895). Of " Owen Meredith " (Lord Lytton) there are two selections, one
a small volume published during his lifetime in the "Canterbury Poets," and


I could illustrate this subject of later nineteenth-century
prosody well and delightfully from him — if it had not
been done already. I think his most original schemes
prosodically, among scores poetically beautiful, are the'
" Serenade," ^ with its quaint checks and returns, and the
curious musical " Nuptial Song," " which, by the way,
shows a tendency towards assonance farther on.
Mr. Henley. \;yg have heard a good deal of " new prosodies " for

some decades past, and I suppose those who believe (or
would fain believe) in them would claim the late Mr.
Henley as a new prosodist. Yet in turning over the too
few volumes (some of them his own gift) from A Book
of Verses to the charming Hawthorn and Lavender and
the much-extolled Speed, I find very little of anything
that offers any real innovation. From almost the first
he liked rhymelessness ; but rhymelessness is about as
new as the New Inn at Bideford, which used (whether
innocently or humorously I do not know, but I believe
quite truly) to advertise itself as " the oldest in the town."
He was fond of stanzas tailed into an actual monosyllable,

as in

Shadows gleam on the downland

Under the low spring sky,
Shadow and gleam on my spirit —

another made most carefully after his death (London, 1894) hy his daughter,
Lady Betty Balfour. This latter does not include the Wanderer, which had
been previously republished in full, and in which the poem cited above will
be found under its earlier title of " Astarte."

^ Peace, where my love reposes,
A shrine of slumber gray —
Let sleep repair her roses

Torn by the stress of day.
Sleep, till orient skies

Misty peaks discover,
Calling back thy lover.
Where afar he lies —
Thy lonely lover.
^ Sigh, heart ! and break not ; rest, lark ! and wake not ;
Day I hear coming to draw my love away :
As mere-waves whisper and clouds grow crisper,
Ah ! like a rose he will waken up with day.
(It should be observed that " mere " is not mere " poetic diction," for Lord
De Tabley was a Cheshire man and had a special right to use it.)

CHAP. II OTHER POETS OF 1850-1900 383

But though this may have been directly suggested to
him by modern French poets, he need not have gone out
of English for it. The " Speed " piece itself is essentially
— I must yet again repeat, it may be by no means con-
sciously — the motive of Kingsley's " Freya," crossed with
Arnoldian suggestions, and carried out Whitmanically.
A passage from it will show the danger of all these
things. I print it as it stands in the book, and as prose,
side by side ; and I ask any one, on his honour and
conscience, whether it does not go more naturally as
prose ?

Roads where the stalwart
Soldier of Caesar

Roads where the stalwart soldier

,^ , , . , , of Cassar put by his bread
Put by his bread j i- t j • j-

. , /. ,. , • J- and his garlic, and girding

And his trarlic, and girding , . ° . ' j^ i-

° . ' J ° his conquering sword to his

His conquering sword j ^u- 1, 1 j

„, , . ^ ° , , . , unconquered thigh, lay down

1 o his unconquered thigh, . .^ j .. ..

. 7- in his armour, and went to

Lay down m his armour, u ,- j v. .u ^u ^ u

•% u- n A "'^ Gods by the way that he

And went to his Gods

By the way that he'd made.

had made.

But, on the whole, from In Hospital and Life and Death
{Echoes) — echoes which started for some of us some
five-and-thirty years ago — his poems simply avail them-
selves, with the originality which every poet should show,
and no more, of the frank accommodation which the
earlier nineteenth century had provided in the prosodic

Another still more recent loss, Mr. John Davidson, John
not only emitted prosodic heresies, but might have been Davidson,
expected to be heretical in practice. Henley, though he has
been regarded as a rebel by those who did not know him,
was never exactly rebellious, though he was Cyclopically
independent ; but Davidson undoubtedly was, or would
have liked to be. Accordingly, in a note to one of his
volumes {Holiday Poems) he talked not over-wise things
about rhyme, which he termed a " bedizened harlotry,"
a " property of decadence," and so forth (rude things, at
which she doubtless smiled), betraying the secret of his
petulance in the phrase (which is after a sense quite true)
that the achievement of rhyme is something that rhyme


achieves, not the poet or the poetry. But this was a
mere anarchic splurt ; and his actual work, from the
early plays and the charming Ballads and Songs to the
posthumous Fleet Street and other Poems, which wrote
his own epitaph, shows regular though free prosody, and
abundant rhyme. His blank verse was an excellent
variety of the Tennysonian ; and as for rhyme, what
does it matter what a man says about rhyme, when, at the
beginning of his career and at the close of it, he writes
two things like " Autumn " and " The Lutanist " ?

Wand'rers weary, oh ! come hither,

Where the green-leaved willows bend ;
Where the grasses never wither.

Or the purling noises end —
O'er the serried sedge late blowing

Surge and float
Golden flags, their shadows showing

Deep as in a castle moat.

The harvests of purple and gold

Are garnered and ridden : dead leaves
To-morrow will carpet the wold.

And the arbours and sylvan eaves,
Dismantled, no welcome extend ;

The bowers and the sheltering eaves.
Will witness to-morrow the end

Of their stained, of their sumptuous leaves.
While tempests apparel the wold
In their cast-off crimson and gold.

It will be observed that this last, with its rondeau-like
wheel, is quite an intricate embracement of the harlotry,
quite a wallowing in the decadence of rhyme. I only
wish he had lived to continue yielding to temptation in
this way.
Francis The praisc of the verse of a third dead maker of this

Thompson. particular time, Francis Thompson, will perhaps be rather
spoilt, for immediate posterity, by the evident coterie
influences which marked a part of it. It is probable,
indeed, that not a few of those who were most affected by
Sister Songs, and the poems following, were really ignorant
of the great debt he owed to his Caroline predecessors,

CHAP. II OTHER POETS OF 1850-1900 385

Crashaw especially, if not also of that to a remarkable writer
of an older generation, who will, for reasons, follow him
here, though he might almost have been treated in the last
Book. But there is no doubt about the author of the
" Hound of Heaven " retaining a high place among the
second order of poets of his time. I do not, however,
think that he requires very much notice prosodically, for
almost all his most remarkable pieces are couched in
that " modern Pindaric," which, though Tennyson had
practically given it its passport in Maud, and most
younger writers had taken it up more or less, presents
nothing novel for us, and may be best illustrated under
the name of Patmore himself

A few general remarks on the curious contrast — one Coventry
extending widely beyond our limits — between Mr. Pat- ^*'^°''^-
more's earlier and later career, may be made when we
come to his precepts in the proper chapter of this Book.
As far as his practice is concerned, it well-nigh leaps to the
eyes prosodically. For twenty years, from Poems (1844)
to T/ie Victories of Love (1863), the centre of this work
being The Angel in the House (1853), he almost entirely
confined himself to easy fluent measures, especially an
octosyllable, alternately or simply rhymed. He could
sometimes manage, in this, very great phrase equipped
worthily with cadence. I am glad to know that my own
forty years' favourite —

Sick of night.

The Alpine shepherd looks to the height.

And does not see the day, 'tis true,

But sees the rosy tops that do,

has secured suffrages worthier than mine.^ Still, on the
whole, he seemed to have deliberately courted the reproach

^ Here is another :

He that but once too nearly hears
The music of forefended spheres,
Is thenceforth lonely, and for all
His days like one who treads the wall
Of China, and on this hand sees
Cities and their civilities,
And on the other lions.
But both of these are from The Victories of Love.

VOL. in 2 c


of slipshodness, if not even of namby-pamby, as if he
had wished to serve himself heir to his father's old friend,
Leigh Hunt, and improve the inheritance by crossing it
with some of Tennyson's least good traits.^ But much
later, in 1877, he issued The Unknown Eros (continuing
it later still) in Pindaric of the most ambitious kind. A
reader of this, and of The Angel in the House, might be
excused for thinking that the author, if he were really
the author of both, must have prepared the first as an
elaborate foil for the second. And it is quite certain that
no " scholar " (with the quotes) of the thirtieth century
will ever for one moment allow identity of authorship (I
have at least three theories, ready cut-and-dried, for the
proper assignment of the different works). Not only is
the metre " Pindaric," but the diction and thought-ordon-
nance are " metaphysical " in the highest degree — double
epithets plentiful, sharp contrast of word-strings incessant.
The effect is often extremely fine, but there is constant
sense of strain and tension. Baudelaire, in one of his fits
of humorous pose passing into incipient distraction, is
said to have once suggested to a damsel that, before
exchanging endearments, he should like to hang her up
by the hair, whereat she very wisely cohorruit et evasit.
This kind of verse occasionally suggests eccentricities of
the kind."

* As in the once famous —

I, my own steward, took my rent,
Three hundred pounds for half the year ;
Our witnesses the cook and groom,
We signed the lease for seven years more.

- For instance, though I have no great quarrel with the sentiment, I
cannot wholly admire the style of this :

In the year of the great Crime,
When the false English nobles and their Jew,

By God demented, slew
The trust they stood twice pledged to keep from wrong.

There is somewhat too much of Ercles' vein in it. But who shall quarrel
with this ?

She, as a little breeze, But in a while

Following still night, The immeasurable smile

Ripples the spirit's cold deep seas Is broke by fresher airs to flashes blent

Into delight. With darkling discontent ;

CHAP. II OTHER POETS OF 1850-1900 387

Constructions, mostly very obvious, have been put on
this fancy for Pindarics and for rhymelessness, and even
for a certain tendency to neglect (or attempt to neglect)
metre altogether, in favour of an irregularly " stressed "
rhythm. But these things will be better discussed in the
chapter on Prosodists and in the Conclusion. Meanwhile
it only remains here to give a short account of an inter-
esting prosodic episode which occurred about the beginning
of the last quarter of the century ; to refer briefly to
some dead poets whom we cannot notice specifically, and
to salute a few of the living who would be specifically
noticed if they were not living — a further compliment
which, in the circumstances, they will no doubt most
cheerfully forego.

It was natural, and indeed inevitable, that the wide The revival of
research among older verse, both English and foreign, ^J^^^ slmUa'r
which has been again and again noted, should draw forms.
attention to an interesting set of poetical forms which,
French or Provencal in origin, with the natural Italian
extension in some cases, had maintained a very strong
hold on French taste from the thirteenth century to the
early sixteenth, and had, in the late fourteenth and
fifteenth, been actually English for a time, while in some
cases (as in that of the triolet by Patrick Carey ^) they had

And all the subtle zephyr hurries gay, The fair andfleckless sands ;

And all the heaving ocean heaves one And so the whole

way, Unfathomable and immense

T'vvard the void skyline and an un- Triumphing tide comes at the last to
guessed weal, reach

Until the vanward billows feel And burst in wind-kiss'd splendours

The agitating shallows and divine the on the deafening beach-
goal, Where forms of children in first

And to foam roll, innocence

And spread and stray, Laugh and fling pebbles on the rain-

And traverse wildly, like delighted bowed crest

hands, Of its untried unrest.

He damaged the beauty of this by spelling "deafening" " deaf'ning,"
probably owing to some prosodic craze (how mere a craze other things in
the piece show). But it is beautiful anyhow ; and the italicised image — for
the greedy rapidity of the thinning water and its foam-fingers — is quite

1 Trivial Poems and Triolets (1651), reprinted by Scott in 18 19, and by
the present writer with other Caroline Poets, vol. ii. (Oxford, 1906).


been taken up, at least as playthings, by still later English

The central principle of all these forms is the favourite
mediseval device of the refrain, used not casually, nor
merely as a tip and catch to the stanza, but incorporated
with it, and with the whole poem, on definite principles ;
thus standing to poetic, or at least prosodic, structure
very much as the steel rods embodied in concrete do to
the new fashion of architecture — that of Jeremiah as some
say, Neo-Cyclopean as others call it.

This principle is recognised by the name or names of
one of the groups — ronde, rondeau, rondel, " roundel," etc.,
which, though later specialised, obviously, in its original
application, merely refers to the " coming round " of the
refrain ; while the repetition may, as obviously, extend to
whole lines, to more than one line, or to part of a line
worked in according to the taste and fancy of the poet.
This repetition, again, may be always at the close, or at
the beginning, or at both, or it may work its way through
the stanzas in different places, like something settling
through clear water at different levels.

These things — pretty evidently derivations from the
old simpler forms of song and carol in Southern and
Northern French — seem to have begun to crystallise them-
selves about, as has been said, the thirteenth century, and
very charming examples exist (under the name of an other-
wise unknown writer, Jehannot de Lescurel) almost as early.
But the definitely rhetorical turn of French poetry, during
the fourteenth and fifteenth, stiffened them into vertebrate
shapes with strict regulations — sometimes proceeding, as
poetic gift died down and was replaced by rhetorical
etiquette, to rather absurd complexities. Yet ballade,
rondeau, triolet, villanelle, and the rest, up to the elaborate
sestines and chants royaux, constantly served as admirably
pliable instruments to real poets, like Charles d'Orleans
and Villon, as well as later, till the Pleiade threw cold
water on these now old-fashioned things in favour of what
they thought more classical forms.

Meanwhile English following had been by no means

CHAP. II OTHER POETS OF 1850-1900 389

non-existent, but neither very voluminous nor very-
felicitous. Gower wrote his Ballades in French ; while
Chaucer has left a certain number of English experiments,
always interesting and in some cases attractive. But, as
was noticed in the proper place, he himself had less of the
singing power than of the other gifts of the poet ; and
these forms (the danger of which is a stiffness rhetorical
in the bad sense) specially require lyrical quality —
whence the excellence of the above-mentioned fifteenth-
century Prince and Bohemian in them. The examples by,
or attributed to, Lydgate and a few others, suffer from
the generally prosaic tendency of their writers. And
soon the hopeless inability of the English regular literary
poet to tackle any metre at all made them of no account ;
while when Wyatt and Surrey restored harmony new
fashions had come in from the country of their origin.

The French Romantic school, however, naturally fished
them up again ; and in its second generation especially,
Theodore de Banville produced exceedingly charming
examples which were certain, sooner or later, to found a
school. With us Mr. Swinburne's immense knowledge
and universal prosodic faculty could not miss them ; and
he has some scattered examples of several forms with a
considerable body of one — the " roundel," in which and
elsewhere he took his own liberties, as he had a right to
do. But the principal experiments on them were made
by three living writers — Mr. Andrew Lang, Mr. Edmund
Gosse, and Mr. Austin Dobson, who were at one time
largely followed,^ Mr. Henley being one of the chief

^ For a complete view of these " Forms," in their specifications, see
Mr. Dobson's " Notes " on the subject ; while there are no better examples
than his " Essays in Old French Forms," included in Old World Idylls (1883).
The style offered, of course, great opportunities for light and even burlesque
use, which the writers mentioned, and others, did not neglect. Indeed the
comic verse of the last division of the century generally and fully maintains the
prosodic distinction which has been noted as usually marking that " arm of the
service." The admirable "Nonsense" and other "Verses" of Edward Lear
(to the best-known form of which a meaningless and misleading topographical
name has recently been given) and the varied Aristophanic wit of Calverley
("C. S. C"), in the earlier time, were excellently followed up, the chief
successors being Mr. H. D. Traill and Mr. James Stephen ("J. K. S."). To


The thing was, of course, to some extent an instance
of engouemejit, and, as etigouenient always does, it produced
over-imitation and over-production on the one hand, a
dead set against itself on the other, and in the end abrupt
and rather unreasonable disuse. There is no doubt in
the mind of the present writer that, with perhaps some
licence ^ in the rules (for English is very impatient of
mere arbitrarinesses), the chief measures, the ballade and
rondeau, are genuine and valuable additions to English
poetic form for many purposes ; while for light use the
triolet has few superiors. Such a use of the rondeau
motive, for instance, as that in Mr. Swinburne's super-

Kissing her hair I sate against her feet

should appeal to every one :

To doubt its music were to want an ear,
To doubt its passion were to want a heart.

While, like the triolet (which indeed is only a special form
of it), this rondeau has admirable adaptableness for playful
purposes. I admit that the most elaborate confections,
such as the sestine and chmit royal, seem to me rather too
elaborate for English. You read them, when they are really
fine, without much caring about the exact structure : they
are simply grandiose specimens of the middle ode. But
the ballade (though I do not know that you need always
begin the Envoi with " Prince " — I would, like all rational
religions and constitutions, allow " dispensations ") is a
very great measure indeed. With more space than the
sonnet, with far more definite lyrical quality and greater
scope for variation, it has the same power of vignetting and
formally presenting a subject ; its musical range is very
wide ; and its faculty of dealing with grave or gay
things, with thought, or with feeling, or with object, is

this quartet no comic ply of verse was unknown, and their special gifts could
never have found sucli perfect expression without the recovery of prosodic
emancipation which has been chronicled here.

^ This licence must, of course, be judiciously used. The ballade, for
instance, is less patient of irregular substitution than the triolet. But these
things, like many other things prosodic, you cannot know till you try.

CHAP. II OTHER POETS OF 1850-1900 391

extraordinary. Like all more or less artificial forms — like
the sonnet itself — it, of course, offers dangerous temptations
to the " copy of verses." But it is the business of the
poet to resist these ; and as for the poetaster, you will not
keep him from sin if you knock off form altogether.

Speaking prosodically, not of general poetry or litera- Some more
ture, I do not know that Mr. Stevenson's verse requires '^^ ^°^*^'
special notice. Much more might be given to that of
Father Gerard Hopkins, if it were not that, as his friend
Mr. Bridges (who knew him long after I had lost sight of
him, and with whose ideas on prosody he was much more
in agreement than with mine) admits, he never got his
notions into thorough writing-order. They belonged to
the anti-foot and pro-stress division. But, even if it were
not for old things and days, it would be unfair to criticise
lines like

I want the one rapture of an inspiration

— which you can, of course, scan, but where " one " seems
to be thrust in out of pure mischief — or many others. He
never published any ; and it is quite clear that all were
experiments. I do not know whether Mr. Herbert E.
Clarke, who, some thirty years ago, when I was reviewing
practically all new verse, seemed to me the best of the
newcomers, is alive or dead. I have seen nothing of his
for years. But his Songs in Exile (1879) ^""^ Stormdrift
(1882) showed very great faculty, within the bounds of
regular prosody, but with no hamper or timidity. Thus,
for instance, this is a very remarkable thing :

Let my head lie quiet here upon your shoulder

Once, once more :
Dead desires are round us, round us dead hopes moulder :

All is o'er.

Here let no one say, " Why ! ' Love among the Ruins ' and
' A Japanese Fan ' ? What more ? " A good deal more.
For the lengthening of the long line does much, and the
way in which the temptation to scan the short one

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