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  • Appendix 3Herbert's Meters

Musae Responsoriae

Musae Responsoriae has eleven different meters, the most variety in any of the collections of Herbert's Latin poems. They show the virtuoso command of the poet, perhaps in answer to Melville, whose Anti-Tami-Cami-Categoria is in a single, but difficult, lyric meter, the Sapphic. Lyric meters are those meters which were originally sung, accompanied by a lyre. Herbert uses not only the Sapphic meter, but several related lyric meters, the Glyconic, the First Asclepiadean, the Second Asclepiadean, the Alcaic Strophe, and the Third Archilochian. The remainder of the poems in this collection use non-lyric, spoken meters found in Herbert's other Latin works: elegiac couplet, dactylic hexameter, iambic trimeter, iambic strophe, and hendecasyllablic.

The basic meter of Musae Responsoriae (26 poems), as is true for the entire corpus of Herbert's Latin poems, is the elegiac couplet, a meter first used by the Greeks for a variety of themes and perfected by the Roman poets. Because of its flexibility, this meter is not associated with any particular genre or subject. All sixteenth- and seventeenth-century schoolboys wrote thousands of these verses during their school and college days. Thus, the elegiac couplet is home base for neo-Latin poets.

In this collection, Herbert includes one poem (Poem 39, "To His Serene Majesty") in a related meter, the dactylic hexameter. This, the meter of epic, didactic verse, and pastoral poetry, is uniquely suited to a poem which praises James for his stance against "heresy" (Haeresis, l. 22) and for his wide learning.

There are six poems written in iambic trimeter. Since it is closest to ordinary speech, this meter is used for spoken passages in tragedy and comedy, and it is therefore well-suited for poems of argument and disputation. Fittingly, it is used for Poem 32, "The Rapture of the Petitioning Ministers: In the Mode of a Comedy." The other five poems (10, 20, 22, 30, 31) are all poems of disputation. [End Page 230]

Three poems are hendecasyllabic, the preferred meter of Catullus. In Dedicatory Poem 2, Herbert alludes to Catullus's Poem 1, his dedicatory poem to Cornelius, substituting chartum … recentem ("newly written page," l. 1) for Catullus's nouum libellum ("new little book," l. 1). In this poem and in Poem 15, "Concerning the Four- Cornered Hat," and Poem 37, "To Melville," the wit and invective of the hendecasyllabic are evident.

The meter of Poem 8, "On the Twin Universities," iambic strophe, is a two-line stanza, found in Horace's Epodes, and often in poems of irony and satire. The dimeter line of the verse echoes the content of the poem, and its tone reflects Horace's use of this verse form.

Poem 28, "On the Lord's Prayer," is in the Third Archilochian. Archilochian meters (there are four varieties) combine iambic and dactylic meters and are found in Horace's Odes and Epodes. The Archilochian meters, with their alternating line lengths and meters, are used in Horace for describing love in winter (Epode 11), the alternation of stormy weather outdoors with warmth within (Epode 13), the transition of winter into spring and life to death (Ode 1.4), and nature's constancy in contrast with human brevity (Ode 4.7). Along these lines, the meter of Poem 28 counterpoints the constancy of Christ, who has left us "dear pledges of his presence" (pignora chara sui, l. 11), with the inconstancy of the Pure Ones.

The other meters found in the Musae are not spoken but lyric (sung) meters and were Horace's contribution to Latin poetry, in his masterful adaptations of these Greek forms to Rome. Poem 40, "To God," illustrates how closely Herbert was imitating Horace in the meters of this sequence. This poem is based on Horace's Ode 4.3, which, like Herbert's, is written in the Second Asclepiadean and ascribes poetic inspiration to divinity (in Horace's case, the muse of tragedy, Melpomene). Further, Herbert imitates the wording almost exactly in the opening (Herbert: Quem tu, summe Deus, semel; Horace: Quem tu, Melpomene, semel) and closing (Herbert: Quod scribo, & placeo, si placeo, tuum est; Horace: quod spiro et placeo, si...


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