Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

one distinction between the antient and modern languages, which it becomes necessary to point out. Harmony is an essential part of poetry ; but the harmony of antient and modern verse depends upon very different principles. The antient languages were distinguished by what is called quantity ; the same combinations of letters always formed either long or short syllables ; and by a certain arrangement of these the most perfect harmony could be produced. Modern languages, on the contrary, are defective with respect to the quantity of syllables, the same syllable being sometimes long and sometimes short. Some critics indeed have denied that we have any quantity at all, and say we have only accent, that is, a certain stress laid upon a particular syllable, as attribute, conjécture, complain, &c. In this however I do not coincide: for a perusal of our best prose writers will convince any one with a good ear that we have quantity, and that on the tasteful and musical admixture of long and short syllables much of the harmony of those writers depends; as I endeavoured to prove in a former letter. Whatever may be said of our iambics too, it must be allowed that we, as well as the French, have a dactyl measure, and Dr. Watts, as I recollect, has composed in it some short pieces without rhyme. Yet I must confess that, in the bulk of our poetry, and in our heroic verse in particular, more attention is given to accent than to quantity.

From these defects in our numbers, and to afford us that regular return of the same sound, which seems to constitute the music of verse, modern poets have called in the aid of rhyme; without which, whether it arises from habit or from principle, very little modern poetry can please, or satisfy the ear.

Our English verse then is regulated rather by the number of syllables than of feet, for you will find in what we call our iambic verse, very little attention is paid to the quantity of the syllables, and even some degree of negligence in this respect seems often to add to its beauty and variety; and it depends for its harmony on the rhyme, and on the pause, whieh divides the line into two hemistichs or half verses, and seems to give the reader time to breathe, as

Awake my St. John-leave all meaner things
To low ambition--and the pride of kings ;

« Let us-since life can little more supply,
“ Than just to look about us--and to die,

Expatiate free-o'er all this scene of man,
A mighty maze-yet not without a plan.”

Here the pause is finely varied, and the har. mony complete, whereas in verse, where it falls too frequently in the same place, there is always a monotony, and consequently a tameness. It is only a good ear which, with proper practice, can regulate this essential adjunct to good poetry.

Rhyme is not, however, an essential ingredient in English poetry, as the tragedies of Shakspeare, and the epic poems of Milton may satisfy you. It is then called blank verse, as wanting the rhyme. Whether blank verse or rhyme is to be preferred is still a matter in dispute among the critics. In tragedy it is certainly more natural, as approaching nearer to prose; but the few successful adventurers in blank verse in the other walks of poetry seems to form a presumptive argument against it. Milton himself appears to be supported rather by the grandeur and sublimity of his thoughts and language, than by the barmony of his numbers.

Our heroic poetry, whether in rhyme or blank verse, consists of ten syllables ; and in rhyme, of couplets, or two lines rhyming to each other. Sometimes, however, a triplet is introduced, or an Alexandrine, or line of twelve syllables. You have an instance of both in these lines

“ Waller was smooth--but Dryden taught to join
“ The varying verse the full resounding line,
“ The long majestic march—and energy divine.”

The most frequent measure next to this in English poetry is that of eight syllables. This is often appropriated to ludicrous poetry, such as Hudibras, and most of Swift's humorous pieces, and the humour is often heightened by double rhymes. Take for example the first lines of Hudibras

“ When civil dudgeon first grew high,
“ And men fell out they knew not why ;
“ When hard words, jealousies and fears,
“ Set folks together by the ears,
“ And made them fight like mad or drunk,
" For Dame Religion as for punk,
“ Whose honesty they all durst swear for,

Though not a man of them knew wherefore.

“When Gospel trumpeter, surrounded
“ By long-ear'd rout to battle sounded;
“ And pulpit, drum ecclesiastic,
“ Was beat with fist, instead of a stick;
Then did Sir Knight abandon dwelling,
“ And out he rode a colonelling."

It is sometimes however used on more serious occasions, and seems well adapted to tender expression.

Both the ten and eight syllable verses are generally considered as iambics ; but some short poems have only seven syllables, and these may be regarded as trochaic, with a long syllable or double rhyme at the close

« Fill the bowl-with rosy wine,
“ Round our temples—roses twine,
“ Crown'd with roses we contemn
“Gyge's-wealthy diadem."

COWLEY.

Many poems, and especially songs, in our language, are written in the dactyl or anapestic measure, some consisting of eleven or twelve syllables, and some of less. Of this measure we have a good specimen in Dr. Byrom's pretty pastoral, inserted in one of the volumes of the Spectator

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »