ABSTRACT

WELLEK AND WARREN (Theory of Literature, 3rd ed., p. 169) distinguish three dimensions of the sound-structure of poetry: performance, metrical pattern, and prose rhythm: a useful scheme as a basis for the study of metrical form as it is perceived, allowing for a statement of the complexity of relationships between levels which critics and readers may feel to exist. Theory of Literature hints at the relationship between the levels thus: ‘the specific performance of a reciter will be irrelevant to an analysis of the prosodic situation, which consists precisely in the tension, the “counterpoint”, between the metrical pattern and the prose rhythm’. Seymour Chatman, in a discussion of Robert Frost’s Mowing, seems to make a similar point. 1 His analysis assumes ‘a tension between two systems: the abstract metrical pattern as historical product of the English verse tradition, and the ordinary stress-pitch-juncture system of spoken English, determined as it is by requirements of meaning and emphasis’. Chat-man uses the methods of one form of linguistic description—that championed by Trager and Smith—to analyse the features of stress, intonation and juncture (transition between juxtaposed linguistic units) found in eight spoken readings of the poem, and diagrammatically compares these features with ‘the abstract metrical pattern’ which the poem is presumed to have because 83it belongs to one tradition of English verse. 2 The approach of Chatman is open to at least two objections. First, it arrives at the prosody wholly by way of performance: because it does not distinguish performance from prose rhythm, the stresses of the poem are deduced from readers’ interpretations, not from the linguistic form of the poem itself. We must, as Wellek and Warren do, discount certain phonological features of an individual recitation: expressive features such as drawling, irrelevant intonation patterns, variations of tempo, dialect pronunciations. This is not an exclusion of everything except the designed metrical scheme. There remains the ‘prose rhythm’: a composite of phono-logical elements which derive from the grammatical and lexical form of the poem, and which can be readily deduced without having recourse to oral renditions.