Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, October 17, 2014

Soft Rhythms

     "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain."

     "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain."

     Between the perfect rhymes and iambic rhythm this line proclaims "This is poetry!"  Reciting it and knowing it is intended as verse, people who have never had the benefit of an acting coach are liable to overstress the preposition "on".  This misapprehension (called "promotion") that poetry uses unnatural speech patterns survives among too many non-performing poets today. 

     Of course, competent versers would not write such doggerel in the first place.  Instead, they would concentrate on softer rhythms:  more substitutions (e.g. anapests, spondees, pyrrhics, double iambs instead of metronomic iambs), far fewer proximate/exact rhymes, and more variety in the stress levels.

    "Your face was always saddest when you smiled."

    The words "face", "sad-" and "smiled" are accented more strongly than the first syllable in "always".  Using Otto Jespersen's 4 levels of stress, "al-" is a three while the other three are fours, just as natural speech leaves "when" unstressed (i.e. 1 or 2).

    Compare Shakespeare's lines to rap lyrics and the differences between soft and hard rhythms and between natural and metronomic speech become abundantly evident.  Softer cadences, then, are associated with more sophisticated poetry while stronger beats identify more popular verse, including song lyrics.  That's one view.  Another is that if you want your words to be taken seriously by contemporary or future audiences they should be wrapped lightly, not tightly, in rhythm.

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