Maya Slater has drawn attention to the stylistic importance of accent distribution within the phrase for the reading of La Fontaine's Fables. Linguistic opinion is currently divided on the nature and function of this accent in verse, the dominant view being that metre in French is nothing but conserved syllable-count and that accent within the hemistich/line is free, that is, non-metrical. The Fables present a particular problem for this view, since La Fontaine's free alternation of the canonical alexandrine and decasyllable with lines of seven or eight syllables violates the principle of isosyllabic recurrence fundamental to the isosyllabist thesis. It is, however, possible to 'save the phenomenon': evidence is presented here that intraphrasal accent occurs in this verse in rule-governed form, which in turn suggests that it has a 'metrical' ('measuring') role, compensating for the absence of isosyllabic equivalence. The resulting accent distribution, moreover, serves as a raw material for the creation of La Fontaine's highly personal poetic meaning. A close analysis of three texts shows how La Fontaine's 'free verse' organizes the accentual resources of his language to create his characteristic effects, exciting our awareness of the physical nature of our response to his poetry.


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pp. 395-409
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