Saturday, March 22, 2008

Unrhymed iambic tetrameter?

Roy Fuller, both in a short note on rhyme (Agenda Vol 28 No 4, 1991) and in one of his Oxford lectures (collected in the Owls & Articers volume, 1971) mentions Housman's salvaging of Coventry Patmore's dictum (from his 'Essay on English Metrical Law') that 'a series of octosyllables ceases to be verse if they are not rhymed'. C. H. Sisson's response to this: "seems plainly to be untrue" (the same issue of Agenda).

Patmore's original statement is: "The common eight-syllable iambic, for example, ceases to be metre on the removal of the rhyme, although the six-syllable iambic, which is catalectic on, or has a final pause equal to, two syllables, makes very good blank verse."


erthona said...

Although the term "Blank Verse" is generally associated with unrhymed iambic pentameter, it applies equally to any metered line of poetry. Verse, refers to a succession of metrical feet written as a line of a poem. Blank, refers to something that is missing, in this case, the rhyme. Therefore the term blank verse refers to metrical, but unrhymed poetry, which was originally applied primarily to unrhymed iambic pentameter, because that was the primary form, especially as regards works of Shakespeare. However there is nothing in the phrase "blank verse" that would identify it as applying only to iambic pentameter, and so can be applied to any unrhymed metrical line, usually with the following type of designation: "Blank verse in iambic tetrameter". If such a designation is left off, it will generally be assumed that it applies to iambic pentameter.

Tharmas Erthona

Edward Giles Brown said...

I concur with Tharmas Erthona, and with C. H. Sisson. I find no categorical evidence that blank verse means and only means un-rhymed iambic pentameter other than those who say that it is so. By definition, as Erthona points out, there's nothing quite correct about insisting that other un-rhymed meters are not 'verse'. To insist that blank verse is only pentameter is just an errant tautology.