صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

There are those who have written worse lyrics than Pope, but happily there are many who have written better.

For the Essay on Criticism, however, as also for all his other poems of importance, Pope employed the heroic metre, consisting of lines of five iambic feet in rhymed couplets. Scores of poets had handled this rhyming measure of five accents since Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales, but when it was handled by Pope 'the increased stateliness in the movement of the verse, the varied pauses, the calculated alliteration, the balance of one line against another, and the nice adjustment of each part of the couplet to the whole, all announce that a new master of melody has arisen among the English poets1.'

The new style had the defects of its qualities. Art degenerated into artificiality. The strained antithesis, the rigorous balancing of substantives in pairs, each substantive flanked by its adjective, the inversion of verb and object for the convenience of the rhyme,—all these things appear in Pope with a frequency which renders them monotonous, and they are reproduced by Pope's imitators in a manner which is often detestable. Hence Cowper complains of Pope that he

'Made poetry a mere mechanic art,

And every warbler has the tune by heart.'

But Pope is not to be held responsible for the wearisome thrumming over of his tune by those who came after him and who had caught his technical skill without his genius?.' In like manner Macaulay's brilliant and incisive style was picked up and exaggerated by inferior journalists, with the result that the reputation of Macaulay himself is now discredited. Minor poets have in all ages been imitative creatures, and Pope might have forestalled Tennyson in the discovery that

'Most can raise the flowers now,

For all have got the seed.'

'One ten-syllabled rhyming couplet, with the whole sense

W. P. E.

1 Courthope, Life of Pope, Vol. v. p. 23.
2 Lowell, My Study Windows, p. 352.


strictly confined within its limits, and allowing only of such variety as follows from changing the pauses, is undoubtedly very much like another. And accordingly one may read in any collection of British poets innumerable pages of versification which—if you do not look too close-are exactly like Pope. All poets who have any marked style are more or less imitable; in the present age of revivals, a clever versifier is capable of adopting the manners of his leading contemporaries, or that of any poet from Spenser to Shelley or Keats. The quantity of work scarcely distinguishable from that of the worst passages in Mr Tennyson, Mr Browning, and Mr Swinburne, seems to be limited only by the supply of stationery at the disposal of practised performers1.'

There were brave men before Agamemnon, and there were poets who could write good heroic couplets before Pope. Mark Pattison's statement that the greater part of the poetry of the seventeenth century, prior to the Restoration, seems to be without any prosodial system; to know nothing of rhythm, metre, or accent, and to be bound together solely by the final assonance, gives perhaps an exaggerated idea of the metrical deficiencies of verse written before the commencement of our English classical revival.

If we read the following lines from Marlowe's Hero and Leander, published in 1598,

[ocr errors]

It lies not in our power to love or hate,

For will in us is over-ruled by fate.

When two are stripped, long ere the race begin,

We wish that one should lose, the other win.

The reason no man knows: let it suffice

What we behold is censured by our eyes:

Where both deliberate, the love is slight:

Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?'

or these from Beaumont's (1586—1616) Letter to Ben Jonson,—

What things have we seen

Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been

1 Stephen, Pope, pp. 197-8.

2 Introduction to Essay on Man, p. 19.

So nimble, and so full of subtile flame,
As if that every one from whence they came
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest

Of his dull life: then when there had been thrown
Wit able enough to justify the town

For three days past; wit that might warrant be

For the whole city to talk foolishly

Till that were cancelled; and when that was gone,

We left an air behind us, which alone

Was able to make the two next companies

Right witty; though but downright fools, mere wise':

or Denham's address to the Thames in his Cooper's Hill (1642),—

'O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream

My great example, as it is my theme!

Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;
Strong without rage; without o'erflowing full';

[ocr errors]

if we read such passages as these from Marlowe and Beaumont and Denham, all of them passages written in the decasyllabic couplet which Pope afterwards perfected,—we feel that we are reading verse which knows much of rhythm and metre and accent,―verse which possesses a prosodial system, and a prosodial system at an advanced stage of its development. But one of Pope's distinguishing merits is this, that he maintains a high level of metrical excellence throughout, while previous writers, if sometimes harmonious, are often slovenly.

Heroic verse.

Let us consider in detail the structure of heroic verse. Each line contains five feet: each foot consists of two syllables. Hence the number of syllables in a line is ten, and the metre is therefore described as decasyllabic. In each foot an unaccented syllable precedes an accented syllable. Borrowing the technical terminology of Greek and Latin prosody, in which a foot composed of a syllable short in quantity followed by a syllable long in quantity is termed an iambus, we speak of the lines of heroic verse as iambic.

When from a series of such lines as these rhyme is absent, the metre is called blank verse. When there is a rhyme of the

last syllable in every couplet, or pair of such lines, he metre is called heroic. The following specimen1 may be taken as typical of the decasyllabic line in all its rigour:

[blocks in formation]

'Abóve | belów | withoút | withín | around.'

Now suppose that a hundred verses, formed on this model, occurred consecutively, how intolerably tedious the rhythm would become! The skill with which Pope varied the monotony of the rhythm constitutes one of his claims to high rank as a literary artist.

With our typical line

'Above | below | without | within | around,'

compare 1. 612 from the Essay


The book ful block|head ignorantly read.'

One obvious difference is this: in the former line the end of each foot corresponds with the end of a word; in the latter, the end of the first, second, third, and fourth feet occurs in the middle of a word. The end of the foot is in every instance at variance with the end of the word, and while the rhythm requires the union of two words, the sense demands a momentary interruption at the end of each. The feet are cut into parts belonging to different words. This cutting is called Caesura2. A line without caesura is

1 Pope, Temple of Fame, 1. 458.

2 We have employed the term Caesura in the sense which it has in Greek and Latin prosody, to denote the division of a foot between parts of different words. But many writers on English metres indicate by caesura the division in a line occasioned by a pause in the delivery. Thus they would say that in the line

'Go just alike | yet each | believes | his own' (l. 10)

there is a caesura at the end of the second foot, because we naturally make a pause in the delivery after the word 'alike.' Yet of caesura strictly speaking we find no example throughout the line, as every foot closes with the end of a word. If Caesura is to signify the same thing as Pause, much the best course would be to confine ourselves to the use of the word Pause which everybody can understand.

likely to have a choppy movement. It proceeds by a series of jerks. Caesura somewhere, and especially caesura near the middle of the line, is almost essential to the easy, graceful sequence of the words. Hence a monosyllabic line is objectionable, for a monosyllabic line can have no caesura; e.g. 1. 451

'Which lives as long as fools | are pleased | to laugh.'

In reading the following extract from the Essay, observe that there is a momentary arrest of the delivery,

in the first line after the word 'wits,' in the


second, after the word 'next,' whereas the third and fourth lines proceed without interruption to the end.

Some have at first for wits, then poets passed;
Turn'd critics next, and proved plain fools at last.
Some neither can for wits nor critics pass,

As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass.'


This arrest of the delivery is called the Pause. As the Caesura adds grace and ease to the flow of the line, so the Pause, introduced at different places in a series of lines, relieves the rhythmic monotony of a long passage.

As the heroic metre consists of lines each of which contains ten syllables, and as the Pause may occur after any one of these syllables, there are evidently ten possible variations in the position of the pause. The following lines, selected from the Essay, illustrate these variations. The figure on the left side indicates the number of feet by which the pause is preceded:

Which—but proportion'd to their light or place, (173)

I Nor lose for that malignant dull delight,

In poets-as true genius is rare, (11)


2 Ten censure wrong-for one who writes amiss. (6)

2 Unerring Nature-still divinely bright, (70)

3 Make use of ev'ry friend—and ev'ry foe. (214)

3 The glory of the priesthood-and the shame.


True ease in writing comes from art-not chance. (362)

« السابقةمتابعة »