A History of European Versification

By M. L. Gasparov; G. S. Smith et al. | Go to book overview

7
Romance Syllabic Verse

33. The Beginning of Romance Versification

We shall concentrate on the three main systems of versification in the Romance languages: Italian, French, and Spanish. The earliest consolidated Romance system of versification was the French, in its two variants, Northern French and Southern French (Provençal), whose earliest known texts go back to the tenth century. Next comes the Spanish system of versification, whose earliest known texts date from the twelfth century. Last comes Italian verse, whose earliest known texts were written in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

All these systems of versification went through approximately the same three stages of development. The first stage, of which little evidence remains, involves a vacillation between the syllabic and accentual systems of verse, and an eventual consolidation of the syllabic form. The second stage is medieval syllabic poetry, which developed spontaneously from medieval Latin verse forms. The third stage is Renaissance syllabic verse, which consciously re-examined the repertoire of old verse forms and enriched it by adding new forms inspired not only by medieval tradition but also by classical poetry.

The first stage is characterized by the use of assonance, that is, similarity of the final stressed vowels in the lines (for example, 'flesh-- sped', 'brethren--vestments', 'majesty--entanglement'. Assonance developed in the Romance languages from primitive monosyllabic rhymes in Latin poetry of the ninth to eleventh centuries, of the type 'going--seeing', 'intent--shipment'). Both primitive rhyme and assonance helped to make the end of the line predictable, and this predictability is essential for any syllabic system of versification. In Latin verse the accentually predictable position (the constant stress) and the phonologically predictable position (the echoing sounds) fell on different syllables, while in Romance verse they merged, and both occurred on the same position, i.e. the last stressed syllable.

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A History of European Versification
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Editor's Foreword v
  • Preface vi
  • The Author x
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Contents xiii
  • Notation xvii
  • I - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Slavonic and Baltic Folk Syllabic and Tonic Verse 11
  • 3 - Germanic Tonic Verse 36
  • 4 - Ancient Greek Syllabo-Metrical Verse 49
  • 5 - Greek and Latin Quantitative Metre 65
  • 6 - Greek and Latin Medieval Syllabic Verse 88
  • 7 - Romance Syllabic Verse 119
  • 8 - The Rise of Germanic Syllabo-Tonic Verse 166
  • 9 - Slavonic Literary Syllabic Verse 210
  • 10 - The Expansion of Syllabo-Tonic Verse 238
  • II - International Free Verse 274
  • 12 - Summing-Up 293
  • Appendix 297
  • Bibliography 314
  • Subject Index 325
  • Metrical Index 328
  • Index of Names 330
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