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An excerpt from Chapter I. Rhythm and MetreIf you pronounce these two sentences: She told me she was sixteen years of age, and She said her age was just sixteen, you will almost certainly pronounce sixteen with the accent on six in theMoreAn excerpt from Chapter I. Rhythm and MetreIf you pronounce these two sentences: She told me she was sixteen years of age, and She said her age was just sixteen, you will almost certainly pronounce sixteen with the accent on six in the first case and on -teen in the second. So when you say That judgment was unjust, you put a marked accent on the final syllable of the adjective, but when you speak of the parable of the unjust steward, you probably give its two syllables nearly equal weight. There are many other English words whose accentuation varies according to circumstances, and the reason is that we instinctively try to speak rhythmically. Before we can understand the structure of English verse we must pay some attention to the nature and workings of this instinct, for verse is only an elaboration and refinement of our instinctive mode of expression- and before we can enter upon even this examination, we must ask ourselves what is rhythm?Rhythm may be roughly defined as a recurrence of similar phenomena at regular intervals of time. No word less general than phenomena would suffice for the purposes of definition. The rhythm of verse or music, to be sure, is commonly found in the recurrence of similar sounds- but these are special cases, and sound is not essential to rhythm. A deaf man can see the rhythm of a pendulum, and indeed a man deprived of all five senses could feel the rhythmic swaying of a railway train. But while in the first part of the definition it is safest to be vague, in the last part it is necessary to be insistently specific. Regularity of time-intervals is a sine qua non of rhythm. The fact needs no proof, for it is obvious- but it deserves some emphasis, because many persons have never observed it, and it is a fundamental principle in the whole theory of verse.Now to rhythm in this sense we have an instinctive leaning. When you drive a nail, you swing your hammer rhythmically. When you walk or run, your steps are rhythmical, and you would find it very disagreeable to walk in any other way. Your respiration, the movement of your jaw in chewing, and that of your hands when you rub down after a bath, or when you brush your teeth, -all are rhythmical. Students of the subject who are sentimentally inclined have noted also the rhythms of inanimate nature, in the ocean billows, the swaying of trees, the revolution of the earth, and the processes of the suns- and they have seen in all these phenomena one of the mysterious harmonies of the universe. There is indeed much suggestion here for philosophy and for poetry, but an elementary scientific explanation of our human instinct will suffice for present purposes. Such an explanation, of course, is found in the principle of economy. The reason why we walk rhythmically is that the momentum of the body would make an unrhythmical gait comparatively laborious. We strike rhythmical blows with a hammer because we can do so almost automatically. There is here no apparent economy of physical force, but there is a great economy of attention. We can breathe irregularly without any special muscular effort, but as soon as we stop thinking about it our chests begin to move rhythmically again.