The Rise and Fall of Meter: Poetry and English National Culture, 1860-1930

By Meredith Martin | Go to book overview

2
The Stigma of Meter

It is quite plain that writing is but an external and necessarily
imperfect vesture, while the true and natural and real form of language
is that which is made of sound, and addressed to the ear.

—John Earle, “Of Prosody,” The Philology of the English Tongue

A word exists as truly for the eye as for the ear, and in a highly advanced state
of society, where reading is almost as universal as speaking… in the written word
moreover is the permanence and continuity of language and of learning.

—Richard Chevenix Trench, On the Study of Words

Oh which one? Is it each one?

—Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Carrion Comfort”

And is it to the eye only that the metre is to be marked? The eye, which,
of itself, can form no judgment of measure in sounds, nor take any pleasure
in such arrangements of words; and shall the ear, the sole judge of numbers,
to which nature herself has annexed a delight, in the perception of metre,
be left without any mark, to point out the completion of the measure?

—Thomas Sheridan, “Rhetorical Grammar,”
A General Dictionary of The English Language1


Metrical Irrelevance

Meter in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century England was indelibly marked by the culture around it; those who wished to transform or redefine meter were also attempting to transform or redefine aspects of English culture. There is no better test case for the oppositions inherent in English metrical form (private vs. public, spiritual vs. national, visual vs. aural, native vs. foreign) than the poetry, journals, and letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Despite the disappointment that he had published only a few poems in his lifetime (a few early poems, three comic triolets, Latin versions of an epigram by Dryden, and two songs by Shakespeare),2 Hopkins remained hopeful about the place of poetry in public culture, writing to his friend Robert Bridges in

-48-

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The Rise and Fall of Meter: Poetry and English National Culture, 1860-1930
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction- The Failure of Meter 1
  • 1 - The History of Meter 16
  • 2 - The Stigma of Meter 48
  • 3 - The Institution of Meter 79
  • 4 - The Discipline of Meter 109
  • 5 - The Trauma of Meter 145
  • 6 - The before- And Afterlife of Meter 181
  • Notes 207
  • Works Cited 241
  • Index 261
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