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Free Verse

Free Verse: An Essay on Prosody

Charles O. Hartman
Copyright Date: 1980
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Free Verse
    Book Description:

    To make sense of free verse" in theory or in practice, the whole study of prosody--the function of rhythm in poetry--must be revised and rethought. Stating this as the issue that poets and critics have faced in the past century, Charles Hartman takes up the challenge and develops a theory of prosody that includes the most characteristic forms of twentieth-century poetry

    Originally published in 1986.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5538-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction The Prehistory of Free Verse
    (pp. 3-9)

    In 1908 the world was in order: Edward VII occupied his mother’s throne; with the usual minor exceptions, peace reigned; Darwin’s theory was well on its way to universal acceptance, and it was easy to read into hisOrigin of Speciesa doctrine of gradual, inevitable progress. People thought in terms of progress, slow but sure, not only in politics and economics but also in their whole culture (or Culture), particularly the arts. The Great War was still six years away.

    That year T. S. Omond wrote a short article on the subject of verse for a widely read intellectual...

  6. Chapter One Some Definitions
    (pp. 10-28)

    To begin with the name: Does “free verse” mean anything at all? Is it, as its opponents charged, an oxymoron like “foolish wisdom”? “Novers is libre,” said T. S. Eliot, “for the man who wants to do a good job.” Can any meanings of the two words plausibly coexist?

    The odd phrase symbolizes the confusions that threw the study of prosody into such disarray. “Free verse” was one of two names given, first by detractors and later by the poets themselves, to nonmetrical poems. It competed with the French it translated,vers libre. In 1920 Amy Lowell, while expatiating...

  7. Chapter Two Accentualism, Isochrony, and the Musical Fallacy
    (pp. 29-44)

    “The New Poetry” faced a serious charge: Free verse was “formless.” Somehow its defenders had to demonstrate that it was an honest alternative to the dominant metrical tradition, less like a defective mammal than a bird. Yet they were hampered by assumptions of their own, which the same tradition had shaped. It suggested that the most obvious way to give free verse a place beside accentual-syllabic verse was by discovering or inventing for it an equally abstract system, equally independent of actual poems. They must find, many concluded, a new meter for the new poetry.

    These anxieties sprang, as we...

  8. Chapter Three Free Verse and Prose
    (pp. 45-60)

    If isochrony and accentualism will not account for free verse, then the charge of formlessness remains to be answered. Other verse gives us, through shared conventions, a metrical organization that contributes intricately to the meaning of the poem. This justifies what we might otherwise find annoying. Verse imposes a visual inconvenience, after all; it is harder to read than prose. Of free verse, one might be tempted to ask, Why not print it as prose? Furthermore, many free-verse poems are so slight, so brief and apparently trivial in what they say, as to compound the annoyance. After printing the thing...

  9. Chapter Four Counterpoint
    (pp. 61-80)

    Listening to the rhythm of a poem entails grasping the principles that organize it. In my first chapter I concluded that free verse uses other than numerical principles. As a possible nonmetrical mode of organization I mentioned the significant tension among formal patterns, which I called “counterpoint.” But such tensions seem to belong to metrical verse. Traditional verse frequently makes its readers aware of them by playing off an abstract metrical regularity against the varieties of verbal rhythm, grouping adjacent words with assonance, clinching more distant ones with rhyme, shifting caesurae from place to place in the line, and so...

  10. Chapter Five The Discovery of Form
    (pp. 81-105)

    In all that precedes, I have tried to show that to perform its basic function prosody does not require meter. Nonmetrical prosodies can create and focus attention, and thus contribute intricately to the meaning of a poem. Yet poets could discover this possibility only by recognizing that any prosody has to depend on conventions shared with readers. Using free verse did not simply mean discarding metrical principles but substituting new ones. Often the conventions on which these new principles rest, such as lineation itself and its relation to syntactical rhythms, are at once less obvious (less explicitly systematic) and more...

  11. Chapter Six The Discovery of Meter
    (pp. 106-129)

    William Carlos Williams “discovered” the form of “Exercise” and “Poem” in the very speech that constitutes them. In each poem we seem to grasp the saying and the finding of its form as simultaneous acts. Philip Larkin’s “Church Going,” on the other hand, a British poem published in 1955, uses iambic pentameter. By no stretch of terminology could it be called free verse. If its form is “discovered,” the realm of discovery must be sought not so much in speech—even British speech—as in the tradition of English poetry. Why not simply say that the poem is metrical, and...

  12. Chapter Seven Free Verse and Poetry
    (pp. 130-143)

    What kind of poetics demands a nonmetrical prosody? Why do some poems need to be realized in free verse? Prosody and poetry mutually determine each other’s character. Prosody makes sense, and is worth studying, only because it contributes systematically to the total meaning of a poem. A prosodic form that arises by being discovered within the content it shapes can be described only in its natural habitat, the poem that subsumes both. What new poetry required the prosodic novelty of free verse?

    A knowledgeable observer in 1912 could have supplied one simple answer: Imagism. In that year, Ezra Pound, along...

  13. Chapter Eight Some Contemporaries
    (pp. 144-172)

    Any attempt to account for contemporary poetry in a way that will remain convincing after twenty years—or perhaps two—is foredoomed. As Eliot’s perception of the Tradition implies, even our assumptions about the relative importance of various first-generation modernists are subject to revision as new poets with new acts of attention change the total shape of poetic history. Yet the poets of our own time have extended the paths begun half a century ago, which we can follow, and may have found new ones, whose direction we can try to deduce.

    Before turning to specific poems, we might extrapolate...

  14. Appendix Full Texts of Three Quoted Poems
    (pp. 173-178)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 179-186)
  16. List of References
    (pp. 187-194)
  17. Index
    (pp. 195-200)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-202)