“Upon fewer subjects,” wrote Coventry Patmore about poetic meter in 1857, “has so much been written with no tangible result.” Unusual to our 21st century minds, perhaps, is the notion that meter, the rhythmic patterns of poetry, actually was an issue, a big one, in mid-nineteenth century Britain. But why? What made, what could make, poetry’s formal structures of rhythm and accent so fraught with allegiances, competition and conflict between poets and critics alike?
The purpose of this course seminar will be to assess for ourselves the history and contemporary relevance of English prosody: to reckon with the most prominent theories of rhythm produced by poets from the mid-16th to the 20th centuries, to become acquainted with the stakes of stress and accent in the tradition of metrical study, and to witness the interplay between prosody and poetry in the works of English and American poets. Most importantly, however, we will be listening to our own listening, learning to engage with, identify, and feel the shifts, pauses, lunges and accelerations of metrical patterning in verse. Becoming familiar with our own ears while studying the development of the “English ear,” as George Saintsbury called it in 1906, we will be able to consider our own visceral responses to the sound as a crucial element in the rhetoric, conflicts, appropriations and revisions that create a literary culture.
Moving between the practical and theoretical, even like our readings, requirements for this course will include literary analysis, identification and definition of metrical feet, memorization and recitation of poems, and at least three original works of formal verse. The texts for the seminar will be compiled in a reader, though several guides to prosody will also be recommended for personal reference and future study.