STYLISTICS In Stylistics Richard Bradford provides a definitive introductory guide to modern critical ideas on literary style and stylistics. The book includes examples of poems, plays and novels from Shakespeare to the present day. This comprehensive and accessible guidebook for undergraduates explains the terminology of literary form, considers the role of stylistics in twentieth-century criticism, and shows, with worked examples, how literary style has evolved since the sixteenth century.
or any similar topic only for you
This book falls into three sections: Part I follows the discipline of stylistics from classical rhetoric to poststructuralism; Part II looks at the relationship between literary style and its historical context; Part III considers the relationships between style and gender, and between style and evaluative judgement. Richard Bradford is Professor of English at the University of Ulster. He has written books on Kingsley Amis, Roman Jakobson, Milton, eighteenth-century criticism, visual poetry and linguistics. THE NEW CRITICAL IDIOM
SERIES EDITOR: JOHN DRAKAKIS, UNIVERSITY OF STIRLING The New Critical Idiom is an invaluable series of introductory guides to today’s critical terminology. Each book: • provides a handy, explanatory guide to the use (and abuse) of the term • offers an original and distinctive overview by a leading literary and cultural critic • relates the term to the larger field of cultural representation. With a strong emphasis on clarity, lively debate and the widest possible breadth of examples, The New Critical Idiom is an indispensable approach to key topics in literary studies. See below for new books in this series. Gothic by Fred Botting Historicism by Paul Hamilton Ideology by David Hawkes Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form by Philip Hobsbaum Romanticism by Aidan Day Stylistics by Richard Bradford Humanism by Tony Davies Sexuality by Joseph Bristow STYLISTICS Richard Bradford LONDON AND NEW YORK First published 1997 by Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005. “To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to www. Bookstore. tandf. co. uk. ” Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 © 1997 Richard Bradford All rights reserved. No part of this book my be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Bradford, Richard Stylistics / Richard Bradford. p. cm. —(The new critical idiom) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Style, Literary. I. Title. II. Series. PN203. B68 1997 809–dc20 96–27990 CIP ISBN 0-203-99265-2 Master e-book ISBN ISBN 0-415-09768-1 (Print Edition) 0-415-09769-X (pbk) To Jennifer Ford CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS SERIES EDITOR’S PREFACE INTRODUCTION iii ix xi PART I A SHORT HISTORY OF STYLISTICS 1 2 3 4 5 Rhetoric Stylistics and modern criticism Textualism I: poetry Textualism II: the novel Contextualist stylistics 2 11 14 50 72 PART II STYLISTICS AND LITERARY HISTORY 6 7 8 9 10 11 Renaissance and Augustan poetry Literary style and literary history Shakespeare’s drama: two stylistic registers The eighteenth-and nineteenthcentury novel Romanticism Modernism and naturalization 98 110 117 126 143 151 PART III GENDER AND EVALUATION vii 12 13 Gender and genre Evaluative stylistics BIBLIOGRAPHY INDEX 67 183 201 206 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am grateful to the Faculty of Humanities and the School of English, University of Ulster, for providing me with the time to finish this book, and to John Drakakis, a scrupulous editor. The author and publisher are grateful for the permission to reproduce extracts from T. S. Eliot, Collected Poems 1909– 1962, reprinted courtesy of Faber & Faber Ltd. Every effort has been made to obtain permission to use copyright material in this book. Please contact the publisher if any omissions have inadvertently occurred.
SERIES EDITOR’S PREFACE The New Critical Idiom is a series of introductory books which seeks to extend the lexicon of literary terms, in order to address the radical changes which have taken place in the study of literature during the last decades of the twentieth century. The aim is to provide clear, well-illustrated accounts of the full range of terminology currently in use, and to evolve histories of its changing usage. The current state of the discipline of literary studies is one where there is considerable debate concerning basic questions of terminology.
This involves, among other things, the boundaries which distinguish the literary from the non-literary; the position of literature within the larger sphere of culture; the relationship between literatures of different cultures; and questions concerning the relation of literary to other cultural forms within the context of interdisciplinary studies. It is clear that the field of literary criticism and theory is a dynamic and heterogenous one. The present need is for individual volumes on terms which combine clarity of exposition with an adventurousness of perspective and a breadth of application.
Each volume will contain as part of its apparatus some indication of the direction in which the definition of particular terms is likely to move, as well as expanding the disciplinary boundaries within which some of these terms have been traditionally contained. This will involve some re-situation of terms within the larger field of cultural representation, and will introduce examples from the x area of film and the modern media in addition to examples from a variety of literary texts. INTRODUCTION
Stylistics is an elusive and slippery topic. Every contribution to the vast and multifaceted discipline of literary studies will involve an engagement with style. To accept that the subject of our attention or our critical essay is a poem, a novel or a play involves an acceptance that literature is divided into three basic stylistic registers. Even a recognition of literary studies as a separate academic sphere is prefigured by a perceived distinction between literary and non-literary texts.
Stylistics might thus seem to offer itself as an easily definable activity with specific functions and objectives: Stylistics enables us to identify and name the distinguishing features of literary texts, and to specify the generic and structural subdivisions of literature. But it is not as simple as this. When we use or respond to language in the real world our understanding of what the words mean is supplemented by a vast number of contextual and situational issues: language is an enabling device; it allows us to articulate the sequence of choices, decisions, responses, acts and onsequences that make up our lives. Style will play some part in this, but its function is pragmatic and purposive: we might admire the lucid confidence of the car advertisement or the political broadcast, but in the end we will look beyond the words to the potential effect of their message upon our day to day activities. The style and language of poems, novels and plays will frequently involve these purposive functions, but when we look beyond their effect to their context we face a xii INTRODUCTION otentially disorientating relation between what happens in the text and what might happen outside it. Stylistics can tell us how to name the constituent parts of a literary text and enable us to document their operations, but in doing so it must draw upon the terminology and methodology of disciplines which focus upon language in the real world. The study of metre, narrative and dramatic dialogue is founded upon the fundamental units and principles of all linguistic usage: phonemes, rhythmic sequences, grammatical classes, forms of syntactic organization and so on.
But these same fundamentals of communication also underpin the methodology of pure linguistics, structuralism and semiotics, discourse theory, sociolinguistics, gender studies, linguistic philosophy and a whole network of disciplines which involves the context and pragmatic purpose of communication. Consequently, modern stylistics is caught between two disciplinary imperatives. On the one hand it raises questions regarding the relation between the way that language is used and its apparent context and objective—language as an active element of the real world.
On the other, it seeks to define the particular use of linguistic structures to create facsimiles, models or distortions of the real world—literary language. This problematic relationship is the principal subject of this book. In Part I, I will consider the progress of modern stylistics from its origins in classical rhetoric to its function in modern literary studies. This will focus upon the tension between stylistics as a purely literary-critical discipline—its function in defining literature as an art form (which I call textualism)—and its operations within the broader field of structuralism and social studies (contextualism).
Part II will re-examine this tension in relation to literary history: what is the relationship between literary style and historical context? Part III is a detailed study of two issues that feature in the margins of Parts I and II. ‘Gender and Evaluation’ will be concerned with the way in which the twin elements of feminist criticism and women writers relate to stylistics. INTRODUCTION xiii ‘Evaluative Stylistics’ will look at how the discipline of stylistics underpins our subjective experience of reading. PART I A SHORT HISTORY OF STYLISTICS 1 RHETORIC The academic discipline of stylistics is a twentieth-century invention.
It will be the purpose of this book to describe the aims and methods of stylistics, and we will begin by considering its relationship with its most notable predecessor —rhetoric. The term is derived from the Greek techne rhetorike, the art of speech, an art concerned with the use of public speaking as a means of persuasion. The inhabitants of Homer’s epics exploit and, more significantly, acknowledge the capacity of language to affect and determine nonlinguistic events, but it was not until the fifth century BC that the Greek settlers of Sicily began to study, document and teach rhetoric as a practical discipline.
The best-known names are Corax and Tisias who found that, in an island beset with political and judicial disagreements over land and civil rights, the art of persuasion was a useful and profitable profession. Gorgias, one of their pupils, visited Athens as ambassador and he is generally regarded as the person responsible for piloting rhetoric beyond its judicial function into the spheres of philosophy and literary studies. Isocrates was the first to extend and promote the moral and ethical benefits of the art of speech, and one of Plato’s earliest Socratic dialogues bears the name Gorgias.
It is with Plato that we encounter the most significant moment in the early history of rhetoric. In the Phaedrus Plato/Socrates states that unless a man pays due attention to philosophy ‘he will never RHETORIC 3 be able to speak properly about anything’ (261 A). ‘A real art of speaking…which does not seize hold of truth, does not exist and never will’ (260E). What concerned Plato was the fact that rhetoric was a device without moral or ethical subject matter.
In the Gorgias he records an exchange between Socrates and Gorgias in which the former claims that persuasion is comparable with flattery, cooking and medicine: it meets bodily needs and satisfies physical and emotional desires. Rhetoric, he argues, is not an ‘art’ but a ‘routine’, and such a routine, if allowed to take hold of our primary communicative medium, will promote division, ambition and self-aggrandizement at the expense of collective truth and wisdom, the principal subjects of philosophy.
Plato himself, particularly in the Phaedrus, does not go so far as to suggest the banning of rhetoric; rather he argues that it must be codified as subservient to the philosopher’s search for truth. Aristotle in his Rhetoric (c. 330 BC) produced the first counter-blast to Plato’s anti-rhetoric thesis. Rhetoric, argues Aristotle, is an art, a necessary condition of philosophical debate. To perceive the same fact or argument dressed in different linguistic forms is not immoral or dangerous.
Such a recognition—that words can qualify or unsettle a single pre-linguistic truth—is part of our intellectual training, vital to any purposive reconciliation of appearance and reality. Aristotle meets the claim that rhetoric is socially and politically dangerous with the counterclaim that the persuasive power of speech is capable of pre-empting and superseding the violent physical manifestations of subjection and defence. The Plato-Aristotle exchange is not so much about rhetoric as an illustration of the divisive nature of rhetoric.
It is replayed, with largely Aristotelian preferences, in the work of the two most prominent Roman rhetoricians, Cicero and Quintilian; it emerges in the writings of St Augustine and in Peter Ramus’s Dialectique (1555), one of the founding moments in the revival of classical rhetoric during the European Renaissance. Most significantly, it operates as 4 RHETORIC the theoretical spine which links rhetoric with modern stylistics, and stylistics in turn with those other constituents of the contemporary discipline of humanities: linguistics, structuralism and poststructuralism.
Plato and Aristotle did not disagree on what rhetoric is; their conflicts originated in the problematical relationship between language and truth. Rhetoric, particularly in Rome and in post-Renaissance education, had been taught as a form of super-grammar. It provides us with names and practical explanations of the devices by which language enables us to perform the various tasks of persuading, convincing and arguing. In an ideal world (Aristotle’s thesis) these tasks will be conducive to the personal and the collective good.
The rhetorician will know the truth, and his linguistic strategies will be employed as a means of disclosing the truth. In the real world (Plato’s thesis) rhetoric is a weapon used to bring the listener into line with the argument which happens to satisfy the interests or personal affiliations of the speaker, neither of which will necessarily correspond with the truth. These two models of rhetorical usage are equally valid and finally irreconcilable. Lies, fabrications, exaggerations are facts of language, but they can only be cited when the fissure between language and truth is provable.
For example, if I were to tell you that I am a personal friend of Aristotle, known facts will be sufficient to convince you (unless you are a spiritualist) that I am not telling the truth. However, a statement such as, Aristotle speaks to me of the general usefulness of rhetoric’ is acceptable because it involves the use of a familiar rhetorical device (generally termed catachresis, the misuse or mis-application of a term): Aristotle does not literally speak to me, but my use of the term to imply that his written words involve the sincerity or the immediate relevance of speech is sanctioned by rhetorical-stylistic convention.
What I have done is to use a linguistic device to distort prelinguistic truth and to achieve an emotive effect at the same time. My reason for doing so would be to give a RHETORIC 5 supplementary persuasive edge to the specifics of my argument about the validity of Aristotle’s thesis. Such devices are part of the fabric of everyday linguistic exchange and, assuming that the hearer is as conversant as the speaker with the conventions of this rhetorical game, they are not, in Plato’s terms, immoral or dishonest.
But for Plato such innocuous examples were merely a symptom of the much more serious consequences of rhetorical infection. The fact that Aristotle lived more than two millennia before me cannot be disputed, but the fabric of intellectual activity and its linguistic manifestation is only partly comprised of concrete facts. Morality, the existence of God, the nature of justice: all of these correspond with the verifiable specifics of human existence, but our opinions about them cannot be verified in direct relation to these specifics.
The common medium shared by the abstract and the concrete dimensions of human experience is language and, as a consequence, language functions as the battleground for the tendentious activity of making the known correspond with the unknown, that speculative element of human existence that underpins all of our beliefs about the nature of truth, justice, politics and behaviour.
Plato and Aristotle named the conditions of this conflict as dianoia and pragmata (thought and facts, otherwise known as res or content) and lexis and taxis (word choice and arrangement, otherwise known as verba or form), and the distinction raises two major problems that will occupy much of our attention throughout this book. First of all it can be argued that to make a distinction between language—in this instance the rhetorical organization of language—and the pre-linguistic continuum of thought, objects and events involves a fundamental error.
Without language our experience of anything is almost exclusively internalized and private: we can, of course, make physical gestures, non-linguistic sounds or draw pictures, but these do not come close to the vast and complex network of signs and meanings shared by language users. The most important consequence of this condition of language 6 RHETORIC dependency is that we can never be certain whether the private world, the set of private experiences or beliefs, that language enables us to mediate is, as Plato and Aristotle argue, entirely independent of its medium.
The governing precondition for any exchange of views about the nature of existence and truth—a process perfectly illustrated by Plato’s Socratic dialogues—is that language allows us to disclose the true nature of pre-linguistic fact. However, for such an exchange to take place at all each participant must submit to an impersonal system of rules and conventions. Before any disagreement regarding a fact or a principle can occur the combatants must first have agreed upon the relation between the fact/principle and its linguistic enactment.
An atheist and a Christian will have totally divergent perceptions of the nature of human existence, but both will know what the word ‘God’ means. The twentieth-century alternative to Aristotle’s and Plato’s distinction between dianoia/pragmata and lexis/taxis has been provided by Ferdinand de Saussure, a turn-of-thecentury linguist whose influence upon modern ideas about language and reality has become immeasurable.
Saussure’s most quoted and influential propositions concern his distinction between the signified and the signifier and his pronouncement that ‘in language there are only differences without positive terms’. The signifier is the concrete linguistic sign, spoken or written, and the signified is the concept represented by the sign. A third element is the referent, the pre-linguistic object or condition that stands beyond the signifiersignified relationship. This tripartate function is, to say the least, unsteady.
The atheist and the Christian will share a largely identical conception of the relation between ‘God’ (signifier) and ‘God’ (signified) but the atheist will regard this as a purely linguistic state, a fiction sustained by language, but without a referent. For such an individual the signifier God relates not to a specific signified and referent, but to other signifiers and signifieds— concepts of good and bad, eternity, omniscience, omnipotence, the whole network of signs which enables RHETORIC 7 Christian belief to intersect with other elements of the human condition.
In Saussure’s terms, the signified ‘God’ is sustained by the differential relationship between itself and other words and concepts, and this will override its correspondence with a ‘positive term’ (the referent). Plato and Aristotle shared the premise that it is dangerous and immoral to talk about something that does not exist, and that it is the duty of the philosopher to disclose such improper fissures between language and its referent. Saussure’s model of language poses a threat to this ideal by raising the possibility that facts and thoughts might, to an extent, be constructs of the system of language.
The relation between classical philosophy/rhetoric and Saussurean linguistics is far more complicated than my brief comparison might suggest, but it is certain that Saussure makes explicit elements of the divisive issue of whether rhetoric is a potentially dangerous practice. And this leads us to a second problem: the relationship between language and literature. Plato in The Republic has much to say about literature—which at the time consisted of poetry in its dramatic or narrative forms.
In Book 10 an exchange takes place regarding the nature of imitation and representation: the subject is ostensibly art, but the originary motive is as usual the determining of the nature of truth. By the end of the dialogue Socrates has established a parallel hierarchy of media and physical activities. The carpenter makes the actual bed, but the idea or concept behind this act of creation is God’s. The painter is placed at the next stage down in this creative hierarchy: he can observe the carpenter making the bed and dutifully record this process.
The poet, it seems, exists in a somewhat ambiguous relation to this column of originators, makers and imitators. Perhaps they [poets] may have come across imitators and been deceived by them; they may not have remembered when they saw their works that these were but imitations thrice removed from the truth, and could easily be made without any knowledge of the 8 RHETORIC truth, because they are appearances only and not realities. (1888:312) In short, the poet is capable of unsettling the hierarchy which sustains the clear relation between appearance and reality.
Poets, as Aristotle and Plato recognized, are pure rhetoricians: they work within a kind of metalanguage which draws continuously upon the devices of rhetoric but which is not primarily involved in the practical activities of argument and persuasion. As the above quote suggests, they move disconcertingly through the various levels of creation, imitation and deception, and as Plato made clear, such fickle mediators were not the most welcome inhabitants in a Republic founded upon a clear and unitary correspondence between appearance and reality.
Plato’s designation of literature as a form which feeds upon the devices of more practical and purposive linguistic discourses, but whose function beyond a form of whimsical diversion is uncertain, has for two millenia been widely debated but has remained the dominant thesis. During the English Renaissance there was an outpouring of largely practical books on the proper use of rhetoric and rhetorical devices: for example R. Sherry’s A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes (1550), T. Wilson’s The Arte of Rhetorique (1553), R. Rainolde’s A Book Called the Foundation of Rhetorike (1563), H.
Peacham’s The Garden of Eloquence (1577) and G. Puttenham’s The Arte of English Poesie (1589). These were aimed at users of literary and non-literary language, but a distinction was frequently made between the literary and the non-literary function of rhetoric. In George Puttenham’s The Arte of English Poesie we find that there are specific regulations regarding the correspondence between literary style and subject (derived chiefly from Cicero’s distinction between the grand style, the middle style and the low, plain or simple style).
The crossing of recommended style-subject borders was regarded as bad writing, but a far more serious offence would be committed RHETORIC 9 if the most extravagant rhetorical, and by implication literary, devices were transplanted into the serious realms of non-literary exchange. Metaphors or ‘figures’ are, according to Puttenham, particularly dangerous. ‘For what else is your Metaphor but an inversion of sense by transport; your allegorie by a duplicitie of meaning or dissimulation under covert and darke intendments’ (1589:158).
Judges, for example, forbid such extravagances because they distort the truth: This no doubt is true and was by then gravely considered; but in this case, because our maker or Poet is appointed not for a judge, but rather for a pleader, and that of pleasant and lovely causes and nothing perillous, such as be for the triall of life, limme, or livelihood…they [extravagant metaphors] are not in truth to be accompted vices but for vertues in the poetical science very commendable. (ibid. : 161)
Poetry does of course involve ‘perillous’ matters, but what Puttenham means is that the poetic function is not instrumental in activities concerned with actual ‘life, limme, or livelihood’. As a spokesman for the Renaissance consensus Puttenham shows that the Plato/Aristotle debate regarding the dangers of rhetoric, especially in its literary manifestation, has been shelved rather than resolved: in short, Puttenham argues that in literature it is permissible to distort reality because literature is safely detached from the type of discourse that might have some purposive effect upon the real conditions of its participants.
What Puttenham said in 1589 remains true today: literary and non-literary texts might share a number of stylistic features but literary texts do not belong in the same category of functional, purposive language as the judicial ruling or the theological tract. This begs a question which modern stylistics, far more than rhetoric, has sought to address. How do we judge the difference between literary and non-literary discourses? We 10 RHETORIC ave not finished with rhetoric, but in order to properly consider the two issues raised by it—the relation between language and non-linguistic reality and the difference between literary and non-literary texts—we should now begin to examine its far more slippery and eclectic modern counterpart. 2 STYLISTICS AND MODERN CRITICISM Two groups of critics have had a major influence on the identity and direction of twentieth-century English studies: the Russian and central European Formalists and the more disparate collection of British and American teachers and writers whose academic careers began during the 1920s and 1930s.
The term New Criticism is often applied to the latter group. The objectives of the majority of individuals in each group were the same: to define literature as a discourse and art form and to establish its function as something that can be properly studied. Until the late 1950s the work of these groups remained within mutually exclusive geographical and academic contexts: the New Critics in Britain and America and the Formalists in Europe. During the 1960s New Criticism and Formalism began to recognize similarities and overlaps in their goals and methods.
Since the 1960s their academic predominance has been unsettled by a much broader network of interdisciplinary practices: structuralism, poststructuralism, feminism and new historicism, are all significant elements of contemporary literary studies, and each draws its methodologies and expectations from intellectual fields beyond the traditional, enclosed realms of rhetoric and aesthetics. This, I concede, is a simplified history of twentiethcentury criticism, but it provides us with a framework for an understanding of how rhetoric has been variously transformed into modern stylistics.
The New Critics and the Formalists are the most obvious inheritors of the disciplines 12 STYLISTICS AND MODERN CRITICISM of rhetoric, in the sense that they have maintained a belief in the empirical difference between literature and other types of language and have attempted to specify this difference in terms of style and effect. Structuralism at once extended and questioned these practices by concentrating on the similarities, rather than the differences, between literature and other discourses.
Poststructuralism took this a stage further by introducing the reader into the relation between literary and non-literary style, and posing the question of whether the expectations of the perceiver can determine, rather than simply disclose, stylistic effects and meanings. Feminist critics have examined style less as an enclosed characteristic of a particular text and more as a reflection of the sociocultural hierarchies—predominantly male—which control stylistic habits and methods of interpretation.
Similarly, Marxists and new historicists concern themselves with style as an element of the more important agenda of cultural and ideological change and mutation. For the sake of convenience I shall divide these different approaches to stylistics into two basic categories: textualist and contextualist. The Formalists and New Critics are mainly textualists in that they regard the stylistic features of a particular literary text as productive of an empirical unity and completeness. They do not perceive literary style as entirely exclusive to literature—rhythm is an element of all spoken language, and narrative features in ordinary onversation—but when these stylistic features are combined so as to dominate the fabric of a text, that text is regarded as literature. Contextualism involves a far more loose and disparate collection of methods. Its unifying characteristic is its concentration on the relation between text and context. Some structuralists argue that the stylistic features of poetry draw upon the same structural frameworks that enable us to distinguish between modes of dress or such social rituals as eating.
Some feminists regard literary style as a means of securing attitudes and hierarchies that, in the broader context, maintain the difference between male and female roles. STYLISTICS AND MODERN CRITICISM 13 The remainder of this Part is divided into three chapters. The first two will examine in basic terms how modern criticism has employed stylistics to evolve theories of poetry and fiction: these chapters will be concerned predominantly with textualist method and practice. Chapter 5 is more concerned with contextualism and will consider the ways in which the interface between text and context can unsettle textualist assumptions. TEXTUALISM I: POETRY The first part of this chapter will give brief definitions, with examples, of the devices and linguistic elements that constitute the stylistic character of post-medieval English poetry: prosody and poetic form; metre; rhyme and the stanza; the sonnet; the ode; blank verse; free verse; metaphor; syntax, diction and vocabulary. Following this is a section on critical methods, which will include examples of how the listed devices and linguistic elements are deployed by critics in their attempts to show how poetic style creates particular meanings and effects.
PROSODY AND POETIC FORM The most basic and enduring definition of poetry is that the poem, unlike any other assembly of words, supplements the use of grammar and syntax with another system of organization: the poetic line. The poetic line draws upon the same linguistic raw material as the sentence but deploys and uses this in a different way. Our awareness of the grammatical rules which govern the way that words are formed into larger units of meaning is based on our ability to recognize the difference between individual words.
Words are made up of sound and stress, identified respectively by the phoneme and the syllable. The function of sound and stress in non-poetic language is functional and utilitarian: before we understand the operative relation between nouns, verbs, adjectives and TEXTUALISM I: POETRY 15 connectives we need to be able to relate the sound and structure of a word to its meaning. Traditional poetry uses stress and sound not only as markers and indicators of meaning but also as a way of measuring and foregrounding the principal structural characteristic of the poem: the line.
In most poems written before the twentieth-century the line is constructed from a combination of two or more of the following elements: • A specified and predictable number of syllables. The most commonly used example of this is the ten-syllable line, the pentameter. • A metrical pattern consisting of the relation between the stress or emphasis of adjacent syllables. The most frequently used metrical pattern in English involves the use of the iambic foot, where an emphatic syllable follows a less emphatic one, with occasional variations, or ‘stress reversals’. • Rhyme.
The repetition of the phonemic sound of a single syllable at the end of a line. • Assonance and alliteration. The repetition of clusters of similar vowel or consonant sounds within individual lines and across sequences of lines. The persistent and predictable deployment of two or more of these features is what allows us to recognize the traditional line as an organizing feature of most pre-twentieth-century poems. METRE The iambic pentameter, consisting of ten syllables with the even syllables stressed more emphatically than the odd, is the most frequently used line in English poetry.
It is the governing principle of Shakespeare’s blank verse; of nondramatic blank verse poems, including John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and William Wordsworth’s Prelude, and of the heroic couplet, the structural centrepiece of most 16 TEXTUALISM I: POETRY (from Milton’s Paradise Lost) (from Swift’s ‘Cassinus and Peter’) of the poems of John Dryden and Alexander Pope. Examples of its shorter version, the octosyllabic line or tetrameter can be found in many of the couplet poems of Swift, in Matthew Arnolds ‘Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse’ (1885), and in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1850).
The iambic pentameter consists of five iambic feet, its tetrameter counterpart of four. The following are examples of these, with ‘indicating the most emphatic and—the less emphatic syllables. These are examples of stress-syllabic metre, in which a consistent balance is maintained between the number of syllables of a line and its stress pattern. Alternative stresssyllabic lines include seven-syllable tetrameters (see William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’), which are comprised of three iambic feet and a single stressed syllable,
Lines such as this, with an odd number of syllables, can also be scanned as trochaic The trochaic foot more frequently features as a substitute or variation in a line of iambic feet. This occurs in the first foot of Shakespeare’s line: Stress-syllabic lines consisting of three-syllable feet are generally associated with comic poetry and song. The threesyllable foot creates a rhythmic pattern that deviates from the modulation of ordinary speech far more than its twosyllable counterpart; as in Oliver Goldsmith’s couplet, consisting of anapestic (––/)feet. TEXTUALISM I: POETRY 17
Some poems vary the syllabic length of a line, while maintaining the same number of emphatic or stressed syllables in each. This is called pure stress metre. An early example of pure stress metre is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ (1816) and a more recent one occurs in T. S. Eliot’s ‘Ash Wednesday’ (1930), in which the differing length of each line is anchored to a repeated pattern of two major stresses. Lady of si ences Calm and distressed Torn and most whole Rose of memory The internal structure of the poetic line is only one element of its function as the organizing principle of poetry.
RHYME AND THE STANZA Rhyme binds lines together into larger structural units. The smallest of these is the couplet, rhyming aa bb cc (as in the majority of poems by Dryden, Pope and Jonathan Swift). More complex rhyme schemes enable the poet to create stanzas, the simplest of these being the quatrain, rhyming ab ab. (The octosyllabic quatrain is used by John Donne in ‘The Ecstasy and its pentameter counter-part in Thomas Grays ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’(1751). The stanza can play a number of roles in the broader structure of the poem.
Narrative poems, which tell a story, often use the stanza as a way of emphasizing a particular event or observation while tying this into the broader narrative (as in Edmund Spenser’s long The Faerie Queene, John Keats’s The Eve of St Agnes and Lord Byron’s Don 18 TEXTUALISM I: POETRY Juan). Tennyson’s In Memoriam uses the socalled ‘envelope stanza (a b b a). This couplet within a couplet provides a formal counterpoint to the tragic or emotional focus of each stanza. Shorter, lyric poems which focus on a specific sensation, feeling or single event often use the stanza as a counterpoint to improvisation and spontaneity.
Donne’s ‘The Relic’ consists of three very complicated stanzas. 8 8 8 8 6 10 7 10 10 10 10 syllables syllables syllables syllables syllables syllables syllables syllables syllables syllables syllables When my grave is broke up again Some second guest to entertain, (For graves have learned that woman-head To be to more than one a bed) And he that digs it spies A bracelet of bright hair about the bone, Will he not let us alone And think that there a loving couple lies, Who thought that this device might be some way To make their souls, at the last busy day Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?
On the one hand the complex permutations of line length and rhyme scheme create the impression of flexibility and improvisation, as if the metrical structure of the poem is responding to and following the varied emphases of speech. But this stanzaic structure is repeated, with admirable precision, three times; and as we read the poem in its entirety we find that the flexibility of the syntax is matched by the insistent inflexibility of the stanza. THE SONNET The sonnet resembles the stanza in that it consists of an ntegrated unit of metre and rhyme: the Shakespearian sonnet consisting of three iambic pentameter quatrains followed by an iambic pentameter couplet, its Petrarchan counterpart rhyming abba abba cdc dcd. It differs from the stanza in that TEXTUALISM I: POETRY 19 the sonnet is a complete poem. Most sonnets will emphasize a particular event or theme and tie this into the symmetries, repetitions and parallels of its metrical and rhyming structure. THE ODE The most flexible and variable stanzaic form will be found in the ode. Wordsworth’s ‘Ode on Intimations of Immortality’ consists of eleven sections.
Each of these has a pattern of metre and rhyme just as complex and varied as Donne’s stanza in ‘The Relic’, except that in the ‘Immortality Ode’ the same pattern is never repeated. The open, flexible structure of the ode is well suited to its use, especially by the Romantic poets, as a medium for personal reflection; it rarely tells a particular story, and it eschews logical and systematic argument in favour of an apparently random sequence of questions, hypotheses and comparisons. BLANK VERSE A form which offers a similar degree of freedom from formal regularity is blank verse, consisting of unrhymed iambic pentameters.
Prior to Milton’s Paradise Lost blank verse was regarded as a mixture of poetry and prose. It was thought appropriate only for drama, in which language could be recognizably poetic (i. e. metrical) while maintaining realistic elements of dialogue and ordinary speech (without rhyme). Paradise Lost offered blank verse as an alternative to the use of the stanza or the couplet in longer narrative or descriptive poems. Milton’s blank verse creates a subtle tension between the iambic pattern of each line and the broader flow across lines of descriptive or impassioned speech (see below, pp. 28–9, for an example).
A similar balance between discursive or reflective language and the metrical undertow of the blank verse line is found in the eighteenth-century tradition of landscape poems (see James Thomson’s The Seasons and 20 TEXTUALISM I: POETRY William Cowper’s The Task) and in Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’ and The Prelude. The most flexible examples of blank verse, where it becomes difficult to distinguish between prose rhythm and metre, are found in the poems of Robert Browning, particularly The Ring and the Book (1868– 9): So Did I stand question and make answer, still With the same result of smiling disbelief, Polite impossibility of faith.
FREE VERSE Before the twentieth-century, poems which involved neither rhyme nor the metrical pattern of blank verse were rare. Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno (1756) and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855) replaced traditional metre with patterns redolent of biblical phrasing and intonation, and Blake in his later visionary poems (1789– 1815) devised a very individual form of free verse. It was not until this century that free verse became an established part of the formal repertoire of English poetry. Free verse (from the French vers libre) is only free in the sense that it does not conform to traditional patterns of metre and rhyme.
The poetic line is maintained as a structural counterpoint to syntax, but is not definable in abstract metrical terms. Free verse can be divided into three basic categories: 1. Poetry which continues and extends the least restrictive elements of traditional poetry, particularly those of the ode and blank verse. T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (1917) is a monologue with an unpredictable rhyme scheme and a rhythmic structure that invokes traditional metre but refuses to maintain a regular beat or pattern. A similar effect is achieved in TEXTUALISM I: POETRY 21 W. H. Auden’s ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’.
In The Four Quartets (1935–42) Eliot often uses an unrhymed form that resembles blank verse, of which the following, from the beginning of ‘Little Gidding’, is an example: M dwinter spr ng is its o n season Sempiternal though sodden towards s ndown, Suspended in ti e, between pole and tropic. The lines of the poem vary between 9 and 13 syllables. Regular metre is replaced by the distribution of three to five major stresses across each line. Although the lines cannot be scanned according to expectations of regularity they do create the impression that Eliot is giving special attention to rhythmic structure. . Poems in which the line structure reflects the apparent spontaneity of ordinary speech, where, unlike in ‘Little Gidding’, no concessions are made to a metrical undertow. Line divisions will often be used as an imitation of the process through which we transform thoughts, impressions and experiences into language. Easthope (1983) calls this form ‘intonational metre’. A typical example of this is D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Snake’. A snake came to my water-trough On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat, To drink there. 3.
Poems in which the unmetrical line variously obstructs, deviates from or interferes with the movement of syntax. In Ezra Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’ the two lines function as an alternative to the continuities of grammar. The apparition of those faces in the crowd Petals on a wet black bough. 22 TEXTUALISM I: POETRY The space between the lines could be filled by a variety of imagined connecting phrases: ‘are like’, ‘are unlike’, ‘remind me of’, ‘are as lonely as’. Individual lines offer specific images or impressions: the reader makes connections between them.
In William Carlos Williams’s ‘Spring and All’ the line structure orchestrates the syntax and creates a complex network of hesitations and progressions, and for an example of this turn to pp. 154–7. The most extreme example of how the free verse line can appropriate and disrupt the structural functions of syntax will be found in the poems of e. e. cummings, where the linear movement of language is effectively broken down into visual units. The best, brief guide to the mechanics of prosody and metre is Hobsbaum’s Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form (1996).
A more methodical survey of linguistics and poetic form is Bradford’s A Linguistic History of English Poetry (1993). T. V. F. Brogan’s English Versification 1570–1980 (1981) provides a comprehensive annotated bibliography of works on all types of metre and verse form. METAPHOR Metaphor is derived from the Greek verb that means ‘to carry over’. When words are used metaphorically, one field of reference is carried over or transferred into another. Wordsworth (in ‘Resolution and Independence’) states that ‘The sky rejoices in the morning’s birth. ’ He carries over two ery human attributes to the non-human phenomena of the sky and the morning: the ability to rejoice and to give birth. I. A. Richards (1936) devised a formula that enables us to specify the process of carrying over. The ‘tenor’ of the metaphor is its principal subject, the topic addressed: in Wordsworth’s line the tenor is the speaker’s perception of the sky and the morning. The ‘vehicle’ is the analogue or the subject carried over from another field of reference to that of TEXTUALISM I: POETRY 23 the subject: in Wordsworth’s line the activities of rejoicing and giving birth.
Metaphor is often referred to as a poetic device but it is not exclusive to poetry. Metaphors will be found in newspaper articles on economics: ‘The war [vehicle] against inflation [tenor]’; in ordinary conversation: ‘At yesterdays meeting [tenor] I broke the ice [vehicle]’; in novels: ‘He cowered in the shadow [vehicle] of the thought [tenor]’ (James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man); and in advertisements: ‘This car is as good on paper [vehicle] as it is on the road [tenor]’. The principal difference between Wordsworth’s metaphor and its non-poetic counterparts is its integration with the iambic pentameter.
We could retain the metaphor and lose the metre; turn it into the kind of unmetrical sentence that might open a short story or a novel: ‘I watched the sky rejoice in the birth of the morning. ’ One thing lost is the way in which the pentameter organizes and emphasizes the tenor and vehicle of the metaphor—sky r joic s and mor ing’s bi th. In order to properly consider differences between poetic and non-poetic uses of metaphor we should add a third element to tenor and vehicle: the ground of the metaphor (see Leech, 1969:151).
The ground is essentially the context and motivation of the metaphor. For the journalist the ground of the metaphor is the general topic of economics and inflation and the particular point that he/she is attempting to make about these issues. For the conversationalist the ground is the awareness, shared with the addressee, of yesterday’s meeting and his/her role in it. For the advertiser the ground involves the rest of the advertisement, giving details of the make, price and performance of the car, and the general context in which cars are discussed and sold.
In non-poetic uses of metaphor the ground or context stabilizes the relation between tenor and vehicle. The metaphor will involve a self-conscious 24 TEXTUALISM I: POETRY departure from the routine and familiar relationship between language and reality. It would be regarded as bizarre and mildly disturbing if the conversationalist were to allow the original metaphor to dominate the rest of his/her discourse: ‘I sank through the broken ice into the cold water of the boardroom. There we all were: fishes swimming through a dark hostile world…’.
In poems, however, this relation between ground, tenor and vehicle is often reversed. It is the language of the poem, as much as the reader’s a priori knowledge, which creates its perceived situation and context. It constructs its own ground, and metaphor becomes less a departure from contextual terms and conditions and more a device which appropriates and even establishes them. In John Donne’s ‘The Flea’ the tenor is the insect itself and the bite it has inflicted on the male speaker and the female listener.
The speaker carries over this tenor into such an enormous diversity of vehicles that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the ground outside the words of the text and the ground which the text appropriates and continually transforms. This flea is you and I, and this Our marriage bed and marriage temple is. We know that ‘this flea is the tenor, but the relation between tenor and ground becomes less certain with ‘is you and I’. On the one hand it is literally part of them since it has sucked and mixed their blood.
On the other the speaker has already incorporated this image of physical unity into a vehicle involving their emotional and sexual lives. He builds on this with the vehicle of the ‘marriage bed’ and extends it into an image of spiritual, external unity in the ‘marriage temple’. Throughout the poem the flea and the bite become gradually detached from their actual context and threaded into a chain of speculative and fantastic associations. In ordinary language metaphor usually stands out from the rest of the discursive or factual nature of the statement. In TEXTUALISM I: POETRY 25 oetry a particular use of metaphor will often underpin and influence the major themes of the entire text. Donne’s ‘The Ecstasy’ opens with a simile (the bank ‘is like’ a pillow, rather than ‘is’ a pillow) but thereafter maintains a close, metaphoric, relation between tenor and vehicle, Where, like a pillow on a bed, A pregnant bank swelled up to rest The violet’s reclining head Sat we two, one another’s best; The tenor is the garden in which ‘we two’ are situated; the vehicle is a combination of images denoting intimacy and sexuality: pillow, bed, pregnant, swelled up, the violets (flower, denoting female) reclining head.
This opening instance of the carrying over of rural horticultural images into the sphere of human sexuality becomes the predominant theme of the entire poem, underpinning more adventurous speculations on the nature of the soul. Again the dynamics of contrasting and associating verbal images has unsettled the stabilizing function of ground or context.
Donne is one of the so-called metaphysical school of poetic writers whose taste for extended metaphor is a principal characteristic of their verse, but the practice of creating tensions and associations between the words and images of the poem at the expense of an external context transcends schools, fashions and historical groupings. In Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ the image of the real bird becomes a springboard for a complex sequence of associations and resonances: song, poetry, immortality, age, youth, death.
The sense of there being a specific place and time in which Keats saw the bird and heard its song is gradually replaced by the dynamics of Keats’s associative faculties: the relation between the vehicles unsettles the relation between vehicle and tenor. The following is from the beginning of stanza 3: 26 TEXTUALISM I: POETRY Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget What thou among the leaves hast never known, The weariness, the fever, and the fret Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; The principal vehicle is Keats’s transformation of the bird into an apparently ratiocinative, cognitive addressee, who understands his words.
This at the same time is unsettled by his constant return to the commonsense tenor of a bird without human faculties. The dynamic tension here becomes evident in Keats’s contradictory request that the nightingale should ‘forget’ those human qualities or frailties which, as he concedes in the next line, it had never and could never have known. A classic case of vehicle undermining tenor occurs in T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (lines 15–22).
This begins with the tenor (the city fog) being carried over into the vehicle of an unspecified animal which ‘rubs its back upon the window-panes’, ‘rubs its muzzle on the window-panes’, ‘Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening’. By the end of the passage the actual vision of city streets which inspired the comparison has been overtaken by the physical presence of this strange beast, which ‘seeing that it was a soft October night,/Curled once about the house, and fell asleep’. Metaphor is the most economical, adventurous and concentrated example of the general principle of ‘carrying over’.
Samuel Johnson defined metaphor in his Dictionary (1755) as ‘a simile compressed in a word’. Donne’s metaphor (from ‘The Relic’), ‘a bracelet of bright hair about the bone’, would, as a simile, be something like: ‘the brightness of the hair about the bone reminds me of the difference between life and death’. Simile postulates the comparison: X is like Y. Metaphor synthesizes the comparison: X is Y. Metonymy is logical metaphor, in which the comparison is founded upon an actual, verifiable relation between objects or impressions: ‘crown is used instead of TEXTUALISM I: POETRY 27 ‘king’, ‘queen’ or ‘royalty’.
Allegory involves an extended parallel between a narrative and a subtext which mirrors the relation between the text and reality. Spenser’s The Faerie Queen (1590–6) is a medieval fantasy with allegorical parallels in the real world of the Elizabethan court. Simile, metonymy and allegory establish a balanced relationship between the use of language and conventional perceptions of reality, and occur as frequently in non-poetic discourse as in poetry. Metaphor involves language in an unbalancing of perceptions of reality and is more closely allied to the experimental character of poetry.
SYNTAX, DICTION AND VOCABULARY The terms ‘poetic diction’ and ‘poetic syntax’ should be treated with caution. Any word, clause, phrase, grammatical habit or locution used in non-poetic language can be used in poetry. But their presence within the poem will subtly alter their familiar non-poetic function. For example, in Donne’s ‘The Flea’ the speaker reflects upon the likely objections to his proposal to the woman: Though parents grudge, and you, we are met And cloistered in these living walls of jet. We might explain the use of the phrase ‘and you’ as a result of hurried and improvised speech. ‘Though you and your parents grudge’ would be a more correct form. ) But the fact that the placing of the phrase maintains the movement of the iambic metre and the symmetry of the two lines of the couplet shows us that the speech is anything but improvised. The metrical structure of a poem can accommodate the apparent hesitations and spontaneities of ordinary speech, but at the same time fix them as parts of a carefully structured artefact. Consider what happens when syntax crosses the space between two poetic lines, an effect known 28 TEXTUALISM I: POETRY s enjambment. A classic example of this occurs in the opening lines of Milton’s Paradise Lost Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste The implied pause at the line ending might suggest, on Milton’s part, a slight moment of indecision: is he thinking of the figurative ‘fruit’ (that is, the result and consequences) of man’s disobedience, or the literal fruit of the act of disobedience? He chooses the latter. The placing of the word might also be interpreted as the complete opposite of fleeting indecision.
The tension between the actuality of the fruit and the uncertain consequences of eating it is a fundamental theme of the poem, and Milton encodes this tension within the form of the poem even before its narrative begins. In non-poetic language the progress of syntax can be influenced by a number of external factors: an act or verbal interruption by someone else, the uncertainty of the speaker or the fraught circumstances of the speech act: known in stylistics as the pragmatic or functional registers of language.
For example, conversations often consist of broken, incomplete syntactic units because both speakers are contributing to the same discourse, which will also involve a shared non-verbal frame of reference: ‘Look at this, its…’ ‘Well, it’s big enough’, ‘Whoa, sorry. ’ ‘It’s OK, it’ll clean up. ’ In poetry apparent hesitations or disturbances of syntax are a function of the carefully planned, integrated structure of the text. The ability of poetry to absorb and recontextualize the devices and registers of non-poetic language is evident also in its use of diction, vocabulary, and phrasing.
The social or local associations of particular words or locutionary habits TEXTUALISM I: POETRY 29 can be carried into a poem but their familiar context will be transformed by their new structural framework. In Tony Harrison’s V (1985) the poet converses in a Leeds cemetery with an imagined skinhead whose hobbies include the spraying of graffiti on to gravestones: ‘Listen cunt! ’ I said, ‘Before you start your jeering The reason why I want this in a book ’s to give ungrateful cunts like you a hearing! ’ A book, yer stupid cunts not worth a fuck.
The diction and idiom of both speakers is working class and Northern, but this specific, locative resonance is itself contained within a separate language, with its own conventions: each regional idiomatic flourish is confidently, almost elegantly, reconciled to the demands of the iambic pentameter and the quatrain. The realistic crudity of the language is juxtaposed with the controlled irony of Harrison’s formal design: the skinhead’s real presence is appropriated to the unreal structure of the poem, involving the internal and external rhymes, ‘book’ and ‘fuck’.
In a broader context, the language of working-class Leeds is integrated with the same stanzaic structure used by Gray in his ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, in which the poet similarly appropriates the voice of a ‘hoary-headed swain’. Haply some hoary-headed swain may say, ‘Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn Brushing with hasty steps the dews away To meet the sun upon the upland lawn.
Gray’s and Harrison’s language and experience are centuries and worlds apart—the diction of the hoary-headed individual is rather more delicate than that of his skinheaded counterpart—but their differences are counterpointed against their enclosure within the same ahistorical stanzaic framework. 30 TEXTUALISM I: POETRY This tendency for poetry to represent and at the same time colonize the habits of non-poetic discourse is a paradox that has taxed poets and critics—most famously in Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1798).
Wordsworth rails against the stultifying poeticization of ordinary language, of how the conventions and style of eighteenth-century verse had dispossessed poetry of the ‘real language of men’. But while he advocates a new kind of poetic writing he concedes that poetry must announce its difference in a way that will ‘entirely separate the composition from the vulgarity and meanness of ordinary life’. In short, although poetry should be about ‘ordinary life’ it must by its very nature be separate from it. D. H.
Lawrence’s poems in the Nottinghamshire dialect, Robert Burns’s and Hugh MacDiarmid’s use of Scots idiom, grammar and diction emphasize region and very often class, but no matter where the words come from or what social or political affiliations they carry, they are always appropriated and acted upon by the internal structures of poetry. Wordsworth’s desire to separate poetry from the Vulgarity and meanness of ordinary life’ sounds suspiciously elitist and exclusive, and there is evidence of this in the work of a number of our most celebrated poets.
In Part II of The Waste Land (1922) Eliot represents the speech patterns and, so he assumes, the concerns of working-class women: Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart. He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you To get yourself some teeth. We will be expected to note the difference between this passage and the sophisticated command of metre and multicultural references of the poem’s principal male voice, Tiresias. With whom would we associate T. S. Eliot? Tiresias or the women?
The sense of poetry as carrying social and political allegiances (principally male, white, English, middle class, TEXTUALISM I: POETRY 31 educated) has prompted acts of stylistic revolution. William Carlos Williams in the free verse of Spring and All and Paterson (1946–58) effectively discards those conventions of rhyme and metre that restrict his use of ordinary American phrasing and vocabulary (see pp. 154–7 for examples). Linton Kwesi Johnson makes the structure of his poems respond to the character of his language. But love is just a word; give it MEAN IN thru
HACKSHAN. ‘MEANIN’ and ‘HACKSHAN’ are words appropriated from ‘standard’ English by West Indians, and the fact that Johnson has used poetry to emphasize their ownership is significant. The unusual concentrations and foregroundings of poetry can unsettle just as much as they can underpin the allegiances and ideologies of diction and vocabulary. CRITICAL METHODS So far I have considered three principal characteristics of poetry and the