Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Sad similitude

In the early poems of Lawrence Durrell we find lines with a rhythmic and syntactic similarity which almost amounts to a tic:

In all the sad seduction of your ways

and

When all the slow destruction of the mind

A short Teutonic word followed by a long Latinate word is a well-used tactic:  “sad seduction,” “slow destruction.”

There is nothing particularly good about these lines; in fact, they both suffer the minor flaw of having the word ‘of’ bear an albeit secondary iambic stress. This is a bit of awkward panel-beating in the line, denting the language a bit out of shape.

But behind these lines lurks the ghost of a line of a far greater craftsman: Alexander Pope.

In sad similitude of griefs to mine.

Here not only is ‘of’ not required to bear an unnatural stress, but the fine balance of syllabic quantities across the line is expertly done. If we mark the caesura:

In sad similitude 𝄁 of griefs to mine

We can see that in the first half of the line thee are five short quantities and only one long: the -ude of ‘similitude.’ In the second half of the line there are three long quantities and onyl one short. If you crudely count a long quantity as twice a short, then each half line carries the exact same weight.

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