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182 MICHAEL KIRKHAM Words into Rhythm MICHAEL KIRKHAM D. W. Harding. Words into Rhythm: English Speech Rhythm in Verse and Prose New York and London:. Cambridge University Press 1976. 166. $14.95 During the last halfcentury the prosodic legislators have not received the respectful attention from readers or even 'students' of poetry that they were accustomed to receive. There were of course always dissenting voices. J.A. Symonds urged readers: 'Attend strictly to the sense and the pauses: the lines will then be perfectly melodious; but if you attempt to scan the lines on any preconceived metrical system, you will violate the sense and vitiate the music.' We listen to such patently sound advice now with relief and gratitude, but J.B. Mayor selected precisely this unexceptionable sentence for condescending and eventually dismissive treatment in the 1901 edition of his Chapters on English Metre. By and large the prosodist with his 'science' of metrics ruled. Perhaps even the ears of prosodists never operated as mechanically as.their theories. Certainly good poets, whether they knew it or not, were composing 'in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome' before Pound told them to do so. But we may say for convenience that 1912, when, with H.D. and Richard Aldington, Pound made this one of the three principles of 'imagisme,' was the year in which prosody received its coup de grace (except that it has retained a kind of corpse-life ever since). I.A. Richards rather than Pound, however, has been the effective influence. It was his habit in the twenties to speak of the 'movement' of verse, and the habit, with its obvious advantages, caught on in the universities. Thus he started a fashion for ignoring metrics in analysing rhythmic effect. But no one really tackled- no one thought it necessary to tackle - prosody head-on; and so prosody did not die, but slept. Richards fathered the new criticism and the new criticism founded a worthy institution called 'Brooks and Warren: Understanding Poetry.' Critics may ignore - all the best critics except Yvor Winters have indeed ignored - the question of prosody, but writers of textbooks cannot just leave the matter undiscussed. Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren brought out the first edition of Understanding Poetry in 1938; the fourth edition, a thorough revision of the third, appeared only recently, in 1976. The most notable new feature of this revision is the inclusion of an appendix entitled 'Metrics,' a section of 85 pages which 'consists of a systematic treatment of both meter and other technical questions, including such topics as theoretical [misprint for 'rhetorical'?] variation, unity and texture, musicality of verse, stress meter, and free verse.' If we seem to be back very nearly where we were in 1901, Pound is not entirely without blame. He liked to sound scientific, as did Eliot and Richards in the twenties, was fond of laboratory images, hankered after a system. The 'fair lady' who sighed to him, 'I wish someone would write a good treatise on prosody' (ABC of Reading), has been joined by a host. Not only fair ladies but teachers of both sexes, young and WORDS INTO RHYTHM 183 old, emerging from their classrooms, sigh for such a manual; and perhaps this is what Brooks and Warren have given them. But it won't help. I am not sure which is the more alarming portent: general insensitivity to poetic language and rhythm or teachers who complain, not of their students' difficulty in hearing a line of verse, but of their inability to scan it. In the same year that saw the publication ofBrooks and Warren's fourth edition D.W. Harding's Words inloRhyllzm, a short book of 158 pages, the text of the Clark lectures delivered at Cambridge in 1971-2, slipped quietly into the world; at least I heard nothing of it until a year later the title caught my eye in a publisher'S announcement. I extracted the one copy in Toronto from the University Library's cataloguing department. I had, in fact, been waiting for this book for a quarter of a century, since 1952 or 1953 when I heard Professor Harding speak...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 182-188
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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