A Question of Syllables: Essays in Nineteenth-Century French by Clive Scott

By Clive Scott

Dr Scott argues that in basic terms via getting to the perfect destinations of phrases in line or stanza, and to the categorical price of syllables, or by way of realizing the usually conflicting calls for of rhythm and metre, can the reader of poetry collect a true grab of the intimate lifetime of phrases in verse with all their fluctuations of which means, temper and tone. The analyses wherein the publication pursues its argument deal with important matters: the best way syllabic place initiatives phrases and colors their complex and challenged via the connection of rhythm to metre.

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Partout se melange aux parures Dont Palmyre habille l'Hiver, Le faste russe des fourrures Que parfume le vetyver. Et le Plaisir rit dans l'alcove Quand, au milieu des Amours nus, Des poils roux d'une bete fauve Sort le torse blanc de Venus. arguing that in two instances some form of punctuation mark could be easily imagined (lines 1,7), that in two other instances inversion created a 'false' enjambement (3, 11), that one of the lines in question was in any case syntactically complete (9) and that, in the final case, though verb and subject were separated, they were not so much separated by the line-ending as by an extended parenthesis (5).

The 2 of the 4+2's is very much a last-minute perception, swiftly removed; in the first hemistich of the couplet, the dissyllabic measure is more like a last-minute adjustment of perception, with no guarantee of duration, as tears are hurried into joy; in the second hemistich, the disproportion between 4 and 2 helps to project 'adieux' forward into reality, as actually uttered words, and thus betrays a certain self-torment, while the falling intonation makes 'derniers' a 'dernier' of loss and morbid self-indulgence; furthermore, the overall rhythmic pattern of the line invites us, ironically, to equate 'adieux' with 'de joie'.

If the trisyllabic measure can register the passage of time, the uneven combination suggests rather a hand-to-hand struggle with time. In dealing with trisyllabic measures, we were dealing with non-finite forms of the verb; it is perhaps no accident that uneven combinations are most frequently to be found with finite forms: Ainsi l'aigle superbe au sejour du tonnerre S'elance; et, soutenant son vol audacieux 3+3+3+3 2+4+2+4 ('La Gloire') The first line of this quotation has all the look of a conventionalised and totally generic description of the eagle; the recurrent trisyllabic measure makes a tableau of the depiction, installing it in a world of 22 Lamartine's Meditations poetiques 'poetical' images, a world apart, self-sustaining and self-justifying.

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