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Volume 43, 1910
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Art. LV.—The Verse-unit.

[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 2nd November, 1910.]

Part I.—Lyric Measures.

Section I.

1. Next to the stress-unit, the smallest uniform aggregation of parts is the verse. This normally contains eight stresses, or their temporal equivalents, and is usually divided, when printed, into two equal parts. Each part of a verse so divided is commonly known as a line.

2. From a casual examination of poetry, the length of the line—that is, the number of its stress-units—would appear to be quite arbitrary. It would appear that it rested with the poet himself to decide whether a line should contain one stress-unit or eight. Whilst the line thus appears to be, and really is, under his control, it is otherwise with the verse. The length of the verse is determined by a natural law, and the poet has not yet lived who has broken this law with impunity. The length of a line may range from one duple stress-unit, as in Herrick's

(1.) Thus I
Passe by,
And die:
As one
And gone:

to eight triple stress-units, as in Tennyson's—

(2.) Fame blowing out from her golden trumpet a jubilant challenge to Time and to Fate;
Slander, her shadow, sowing the nettle on all the laurell'd graves of the Great.

(“Vastness,” stanza 11.)

It will not be denied that the poet is at perfect liberty to print the verse as he pleases; so that Coleridge's verse will by one poet be printed as two lines—

(3.) The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;

(“Ancient Mariner,” part 11.)

—whilst by another it will be printed as three—

(3a.) The fair breeze blew,
The white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;

And what Browning prints as two lines—

(4.) How sad and bad and mad it was—
But then, how it was sweet!

(“Confessions,” last stanza.)

—Herrick might print as five,—

(4a.)  How sad
And bad
And mad
It was—
But then, how it was sweet!

So far, then, as printing is concerned, the poet has absolute liberty to do as he pleases, or as the printer pleases.

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3. It is to be observed, however, that the line had assumed definiteness, and maintained that definiteness, whatever it was, before the poet could have any thought of printing at all; at the time, in fact, when the poems were recited or sung. So absolute was this definiteness that on the introduction of printing it required no ingenuity, no labour, on the part of the printer to set down the poems in a way that has not to this day changed in any essential particular. In many instances where he had manuscript before him he would no doubt be guided by the scribe, who, if the lines were run on, would show the divisions and subdivisions by periods and colons, or by some other equivalent device.

4. At the time of the mingling of the Saxon and Norman races the form of English poetry underwent a great change, passing from the alliterative stave of the skald to the metrical verse of the minstrel. That such change did not take place without the struggle attendant on all changes is well shown in the “Vision of Piers Plowman,” a poem which is a connecting-link between the two forms. The type of the new form is seen in the “Metrical Romances,” which were built up of verses of eight stresses, not yet divided into stanzas. M. Leon Gautier thinks that these verses, divided into four-stressed lines, were derived from a Latin form, the “iambic dimeter” :—

Forti sequemur pectore. *

The tracing of the absolute origin of these lines must be accomplished before the final word can be written, but it need not concern us here, seeing that the English form was not derived from the Latin, but from the already evolved French type. It was in this French eight-stressed verse that a notable developmental change took place when the metre became acclimatized in England.

5. Professor Saintsbury has noted that the verse of the “Metrical Romances” showed a constant tendency to drop a unit; and this tendency has resulted in the metre becoming seven-stressed, the seventh stress being followed by a pause. The new metre, once evolved, became one of the most popular and persistent forms in English poetry, which it still pervades, forming the basis of all the lyrical metres. It will therefore be of interest to see if any cause can be assigned to the fact that the new metrical form was a verse of eight stresses, and that the eight stresses shortened to seven stresses and a pause.

6. Any regular stanza will serve as illustration: take Burns's—

(5.) Ye banks and braes o' bonie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
When I'm sae weary, fu' o'care!
Thou'll break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro' the flowering thorn!
Thou minds me o' departed joys,
Departed never to return.

(“The Banks o' Doon,” stanza 1.)

These verses, being modern, are thus printed, each verse being split into two lines of four stresses each. It will readily be noted, however, that

[Footnote] * H. E. Berthon, “Specimens of Modern French Verse,” p. xv of Introduction.

[Footnote] † “History of English Prosody,” vol. i, p. 248, and Appen. vi, p. 406.

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every line is not complete in itself, but that they go naturally in couples; that every two lines are in fact one long verse :—

(5a.) Ye banks and braes o' bonie Doon, how can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds, when I'm sae weary, fu' o' care!

Every verse is now a complete sentence, consisting of two clauses, occupying a line each. It was because each line was a clause that the Romance metre was so easily resolved into two parts, and was written in couplets. Even in the couplet form the complete relation of the two lines is evident :—

(6.) Wild as the scream of the curlew,
From crag to crag the signal flew.
Instant, through copse and heath, arose
Bonnets and spears and bended bows;
On right, on left, above, below,
Sprung up at once the lurking foe;
From shingles grey their lances start,
The bracken bush sends forth the dart,
The rushes and the willow-wand
Are bristling into axe and brand,
And every tuft of broom gives life
To plaided warrior arm'd for strife.

(“The Lady of the Lake,” canto v, section ix.)

The same holds as regards all Lyric stanzas; they are composed of integral parts, each integral part being a verse of eight stress-units, or their temporal equivalents—that is, if the verse contain only seven or six stress-units, it will be found to contain also one or two pauses, equivalent to the units dropped. Take the following examples :—

(7.) The raging rocks,
And shivering shocks,
Shall break the locks
Of prison-gates;
And Phibbus' car
Shall shine from far,
And make and mar
The foolish fates.

(“Midsummer Night's Dream,” I,ii .)

(8.) We join the throng
Of the dance and the song,
By the whirlwind of gladness borne along;
As the flying-fish leap
From the Indian deep,
And mix with the sea-birds, half asleep.

(“Prometheus Unbound,” IV, line 83.)

(9.) By the fair and brave
Who blushing unite,
Like the sun and wave
When they meet at night;
By the tear that shows
When passion is nigh,
As the rain-drop flows
From the heat of the sky;

(“Lalla Rookh.”)

(10.) Weep, weep, weep, and weep,
For pauper, dolt, and slave!
Hark! from wasted moor and fen,
Feverous alley, stifling den,
Swells the wail of Saxon men—
Work! or the grave!

(C. Kingsley, “Alton Locke's Song.”)

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(11.) My Peggy speaks sae sweetly,
Whene'er we meet alane,
I wish nae mair to lay my care,
I wish nae mair of a' that's rare.
My Peggy speaks sae sweetly,
To a'the lave I'm cauld:
But she gars a' my spirits glow
At wawking of the fauld.

(A. Ramsay, song 1 of “The Gentle Shepherd.”)

(12.) By whom was David taught
To aim the deadly blow,
When he Goliath fought,
And laid the Gittite low?
No sword nor spear the stripling took,
But chose a pebble from the brook.

(W. Cowper, Olney Hymn, iv.)

All are divided into groups of eight-stressed verses, dropped units being represented by pauses :—

  • (7a.) The ra/ging rocks/, and shi/vering shocks/, shall break/ the locks/ of pri/songates/;

  • (8a.) We join/ the throng/ of the dance/ and the song/, by the whirl/wind of glad/ness borne/ along/;

  • (9a.) By the fair/ and the brave/ who blu/shing unite/, like the sun/ and wave/ when they meet/ at night/;

  • (10a.) Weep/, weep/,  weep/, and weep/, for pau/per, dolt/, and slave!/   /. Hark !/ from wa/sted moor/ and fen/, fe/verous al/ley, sti/fling den/,

  • (11a.) My Peg/gy speaks/ sea sweet/ly,  /whene'er/ we meet/ alane/,  / I wish/ nae mair/ to lay/ my care/, I wish/ nae mair/ of a'/ that's rare/.

  • (12a.) By whom/ was Da/vid taught/   /to aim/ the dead/ly blow/,  / When he/ Goli/ath fought/,  /and laid/ the Git/tite low?/   / No sword/ nor spear/ the strip/ling took/, but chose/ a peb/ble of/ the brook/.

This division shows the pauses that are felt instinctively in reading, and shows that each verse has the full value of eight stress-units. The relation of the variations, one to another, will be examined more at large in a subsequent paragraph.

7. Remembering that when the full eight-stressed verse developed poetry was commonly sung or recited, it will be evident that great regard would naturally be had to facility of delivery. In speech, a sentence consists of as much thought as may be conveyed readily in one breath: the more broken a complete thought is in its utterance the less forcible it becomes; and it follows that the most incisive thought is that which, the matter of thought being equal, can be distinctly uttered, in one breath. The most incisive thoughts are those which appeal most deeply to the emotions, and a sentence will therefore be shorter or longer as it is more or less emotional. The earliest poetry is almost purely emotion, bare of all ornament of rime, alliteration, metre, or even rhythm. The first ornament was metaphor; then came rhythmic expression. As the people emerged from barbarity, evolving music and dance with its poetry, a finer rhythmic sense developed. In the Maori language poetry may be studied in many stages, from unrhythmical Iaments and love-chants to perfectly rhythmical war-songs, some of which were on the verge of becoming rimed and metrical, when their development was rudely interrupted by civilization. It would appear as if the dance of motion and gesture was the force controlling the rhythm of poetry and music: once the rhythm was established, it developed

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independently of the dance. In rhythmic poetry the sentences were of varying lengths; in metrical verse they tended to assume a uniform length —an average of the length of rhythmic or emotional sentences: in other words, the average length of a breath.

8. This average had been established when the metre of the “Metrical Romances” was introduced into England; but that the evolution of the verse-form was still in progress is evident from the fact that the eight-stressed verse showed a tendency, already referred to, in the direction of discarding a unit at the end of the verse. Can any reason be seen for this tendency? During the early days of the metre in England the Church wrote “Lives of the Saints” in the same popular measure as the “Metrical Romances.” This measure still pervades Church hymns, and these hymns have in a most important particular faithfully preserved the old metre. On examining the Church hymns, ancient and modern, it will be noted that they are distinguished chiefly as being in three “measures” or metres L.M., long measure; C.M., common measure; and S.M., short measure —these measures being respectively eight-, seven-, and six-stressed verses, or verses of sixteen, fourteen, and twelve syllables. If the music of the hymns be examined it will be found that almost every verse of two lines, whether L.M., C.M., or S.M.—more, that verse of even five stresses—is sung to sixteen crotchets or sixteen syllables—the Romance verse: the Church has, in its music, preserved the old form. Is not this a most significant fact; and is it not a revelation of the extraordinary power of the unobstrusive law, in obedience to which poets have moulded their evervarying, yet ever typically constant, Lyric measures? Now, I can vouch for it that at least one not too highly trained Church choir was taught to sing the sixteen crotchets, usually written as eight minims, in one breath; a hurried breath or gasp was taken, and the next sixteen crotchets were sung, and so on. We have here a perpetuation of the old methods of modification—a remnant of the processes of evolution—the only vital modern addition being the harmony of the music—the elaboration of melody. The gasp would be more noticeable in the voice of the poet, unaccompanied by musical instrument as often as not; and the dropping of the final unit in the eight-stressed verse was prompted by the necessity for drawing a more Ieisured breath after the delivery of each metrical sentence. The breath was taken easily and silently, so that whilst the eighth unit had no articulate existence, it was still present temporally—that is, so far as its time was concerned, the verse was unaltered, the resulting seven-stressed verse being temporally equal to the eight-stressed. This equality is quite apparent when the two verses occur together, as in the old ballad of “King Cophetua and the Beggar-maid” :—

(13.) The blinded boy, that shootes so trim,
From heaven downe did hie;
He drew a dart and shot at him,
In place where he did lye:
Which soone did pierse him to the quicke,
And when he felt the arrow pricke,
Which in his tender heart did sticke,
He looked as he would dye.
“What sudden chance is this,” quoth he,
“That I to love must subject be,
Which never thereto would agree,
But still did it defie?”

(Stanza 2.)

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Here the pauses following “hie,” “lye,” and “dye” are palpably longer than those following “pricke” and “be,” the reason being, of course, that the verses ending with the two latter words have retained the eighth unit, whilst those ending with the three former have dropped that unit :—

(13a.) The blin/ded boy/,  that shootes/  so trim/,  from hea/  ven downe/  did hie/;  /
He drew/  a dart/  and shot/  at him/,  in place/  where he/  did lye/:   /
Which soone/  did pierse/  him to/  the quicke/,  and when/  he felt/  the ar/row pricke/,
Which in/  his ten/der heart/  did sticke/,  he looked/  as he/  would dye/.   /“What sud/den chance/  is this/,” quoth he/,  “that I/  to love/  must sub/ject be/,
Which ne/ver there/to would/  agree/,  but still/  did it/  defie?”  /   /

This fact is still more evident in stanzas of the following type, an exceedingly popular one both among poets and readers :—

(14.) We played at love in Mulga town,
And O, her eyes were blue!
We played at love in Mulga town,
And love's a game for two.
If three should play, alack-a-day!
There's one of them will rue,
Dear Heart!
There's one of them will rue.

(W. H. Ogilvie, “In Mulga Town,” stanza 1.)

This stanza could quite well be rounded off at the first “rue,” when it would be composed of three ordinary Ballad verses of seven stress-units each. The addition of the “Dear Heart!” however, converts the last line of these stress-units into one of four, again followed by one of three :—

(14a.) If three should play, alack-a-day!
There's one of them will rue, dear heart!
There's one of them will rue.

It simply means that the pause at the end of the line containing only three stress-units is filled, making it equal to the line preceding. There is a telescoping, as it were, of an eight-stressed and a seven-stressed verse, the former resulting when the first and second lines of (14a) are taken together, the latter when the second and third are taken together. The special point to be observed is that the pause following the seven-stressed verse is of sufficient duration to admit of its place being taken by an ordinary stressunit of two syllables in the present example, or three syllables in a triple metre, and when its place is so filled the pause altogether disappears. The inference is that whenever a verse containing only seven stress-units occurs the pause by which it is followed is simply a gap from which sound has been dropped, and into which sound may at any time be replaced. In other words, the verse of seven stress-units, or Ballad verse, is merely a variation of the verse of eight stress-units, the Romance verse. The pause may not always be exactly equal to the dropped unit, for a pause being unable to assert itself as articulate sound is able, it has a tendency to collapse on itself as it were—to shorten unequally. It nevertheless always retains the power to expand so as to admit the restoration of the dropped unit, should such restoration be desired.

9. The full verse of eight stress-units will hereafter be called the Romance verse, from the fact that it formed the metre of the French romances; the verse of seven stress-units will be called the Ballad verse, from the fact that it forms the vital metre of the common English ballad. The Romance metre, too, is considered as being the parent of the Ballad.

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10. The Ballad metre has two lesser brethren, also probably sprung from the Romance, though not on English ground. The first of these may be called the Nibelungen metre, from the fact that it forms the metre of the great German epic, the “Nibelungen Noth.” It is an important ballad-metre both in Germany and in Denmark. It is easy to see the relation existing between Ballad and Nibelungen metres: a verse of each is contained in Christina Rossetti's “He and She” :—

(15.) Should one of us remember,
And one of us forget,
I wish I knew what each would do—
But who can tell as yet?

This forms the typical metre of “Horatius”; and in thirty-nine out of the forty-five stanzas of that poem the two metres mingle. The Nibelungen has a most distinctive lilt, and its peculiarity is due to the fact that the stressed syllable of the fourth unit has been dropped :—

(15a.) Should one/  of us/  remem/ber,  /   and one/  of us/  forget/,
I wish/  I knew/  what each/  would do/—but who/  can tell/  as yet?/

For variations in the Nibelungen metre one must turn to the great German epic itself as to a treasure-house. The following are noted :—

  • (16.) a. We are/  in an/cient sto/ries   /   won/ders ma/ny told/

  • b. Fair/  with out/  a ble/mish,   /   her gra/cious bo/dy was/,

  • c. Of fes/tival and/  rejoi/cing,   /   of wee/ping and/  complai/ning,

  • d. Who al/so in/  his youth/ful days/  great ho/nour of/ten won/.

  • e. For whom/  must ma/ny good/ly war/riors lose/  both bo/dy and breath/.

  • f. Of no/ble he/roes' stri/vings must/  ye e'en now/  to won/ders hear/ken.

  • g. I will/  of both/  avoid/  me,   /  that I/  from mis/chance may/  be spared/.

  • h. How sor/row   /  to true/  love   /   oft/  at length/  is bared/;

  • i. So yet/  to thee/  will God/  allot/  a good/ly knight/  of stur/dy limb/.

These variations all occur in the first Adventure, containing nineteen stanzas of four verses each; and besides these, there are many verses varied internally—that is, at other places besides the line-ends and verse-ends. It will therefore be evident that the metre, whilst retaining its peculiar character, is infinitely varied. In d, e, and f above it swells to full Ballad; in i it swells to full Romance; in g we have a Romance verse with a Nibelungen unit, an exceedingly rare verse in British poetry. Burns has a striking example in “Sae flaxen were her Ringlets”—

(17.) Sae flaxen were her ringlets,
Her eyebrows of a darker hue,
Bewitchingly o'er-arching
Twa laughing een o' bonie blue.
Her smiling, sae wyling,
Wad make a wretch forget his woe!
What pleasure, what treasure,
Unto those rosy lips to grow!
Such was my Chloris' bonie face
When first that bonie face I saw,
And ay my Chloris' dearest charm—
She says she lo'es me best of a'!

(Stanza 1.)

It is seen by the concluding verses that the whole is a Romance stanza; it will be noted, too, that verses three and four are parallels to quotation h so far as the opening is concerned—an opening used by very few British poets outside Scotland. Tennyson has a happy combination of the three verses Nibelungen-Romance, true Nibelungen, and true Romance in his song in “The Miller's Daughter”—

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(18.) It is the miller's daughter,
And she is grown so dear, so dear,    (Nib.-Rom.)
That I would be the jewel
That trembles in her ear:        (Nib.)
For, hid in ringlets day and night,
I'd touch her neck so warm and white.        (Rom.)

—which is divided,—

(18a.) It is/  the mil/ler's daugh/ter,   /  and she/  is grown/  so dear/,  so dear/,
That I/  would be/  the jew/el   /  that trem/bles in/  her ear/:   /
For, hid/  in ring/lets day/  and night/,  I'd touch/  her neck/  so warm/  and white/.

The swelling of the Nibelungen to this Nibelungen-Romance has almost the effect of the Alexandrine swell in the Spencerian stanza :—

(19.) Now came the lovely maiden,    as morning steals in rose
Forth from sullen shadows;    then slipped their many woes
From men's faint hearts, new gladdened    to have old aches dispelled;
He saw the lovely maiden,    her grace and her splendour he beheld.

(Adventure v, stanza 17.)

This swelling, whilst common in the epic, has nevertheless a strange sound to English ears, and one would rather suppose the Nibelungen metre to have sprung from the Ballad than from the Romance direct. This can only be determined by tracing the Nibelungen to its source; but it is only necessary, so far as this analysis is concerned, to show the practical identity of the two metres, Nibelungen and Ballad.

11. The second brother of the Ballad is the metre known as the Alexandrine, so called from its being the metre of an old French romance whose subject is Alexander. * It is a still further shortening of the Ballad metre; it drops the whole of the fourth unit—the unit from which the Nibelungen drops only the stressed syllable. Its relation to the Ballad is also easily seen :—

(20.) In court whoso demaundes
What dame doth most excell;
For my conceit I must needs say,
Fair Bridges bears the bel.
Upon whose lively cheeke,
To prove my judgment true,
The rose and lillie seem to strive
For equall change of hewe.

(Gascoigne's “Praise of the Fair Bridges.”)

Divided, this reads,—

(20a.) In court/  whoso/  demaundes/   /  what dame/  doth most/  excell/;  /
For my/  conceit/  I must/  needs say/,  fair Brid/ges bears/  the bel/.   /

The relation to the full Romance is shown in quotation (12a) :—

When he/  Goli/ath fought/,   /  and laid/  the Git/tite low ?/   /

No sword/  nor spear/  the strip/ling took/,  but chose/  a peb/ble from/  the brook/.

The three metres, Alexandrine, Ballad, and Romance, occur side by side in J. Montgomery's “Night” :—

(21.) Night is the time for rest;
How sweet, when labours close,
To gather round an aching breast
The curtain of repose,
Stretch the tired limbs, and lay the head
Down on our own delightful bed!

[Footnote] * “Roman d'Alexandre,” by Alexandre de Bernay, twelfth century.

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(21a.) Night/  is the time/  for rest/;  /  how sweet/,  when la/bburs close/,
To ga/ther round/  an a/ching breast/  the cur/tain of/  repose/,   /
Stretch/  the tired limbs/,  and lay/  the head/  down/  on our own/  delight/ful bed I/

The Alexandrine in (21) is made Nibelungen by substituting “resting” for “rest,” and Ballad by adding “and peace” to “rest”;—

(21b.) Night/  is the time/  for rest/;  /  how sweet/,  when la/bours close/,
Night/  is the time/  for rest/ing;  /  how sweet/,  when la/bours close/,
Night/  is the time/  for rest/  and peace/; how sweet/,  when la/bours close/,

No dislocation of metre ensues; the pause is simply filled; and is not that an indication that the pause is occasioned by syllables having been dropped ? The pause is evident enough when the Alexandrine occurs with other metres; when, however, a poem is entirely in Alexandrines it is not quite so apparent. The following is from song xxvi in Drayton's “Polyolbion” :—

(22.) And of these archers brave, there was not any one
But he could kill a deer, his swiftest speed upon,
Which they did boil and roast in many a mighty wood,
Sharp hunger the fine sauce to their more kingly food.
Then taking them to rest, his merry men and he
Slept many a summer's night under the greenwood tree.
From wealthy abbots chests and churls abundant store,
What oftentimes he took he shar'd amongst the poor:
No lordly bishop came in lusty Robin's way,
To him, before he went, but for his pass must pay:

As already said, the pause, which tends to shorten, may not have, and most probably has not, the full value of the dropped unit; it is, nevertheless, potential to expand for the reception of such unit should necessity demand it.

In the old Romances these Alexandrines are at times written as couplets, as was also more generally the full Romance verse. Of verses written at length, Warton says,* “And some critics may be inclined to suspect, that the verses which we call Alexandrine, accidentally assumed their form merely from the practice of absurd transcribers, who frugally chose to fill their pages to the extremity, and violated the metrical structure for the sake of saving their, vellum.” In France the Alexandrine has been highly developed; in England it is used principally in its simplest form—a verse of two parts each containing three stress-units, and divided by a pause. It is here wished to show merely that this simpler form is closely connected with the Ballad.

12. Whilst Alexandrine and Nibelungen are closely related to Ballad, there seems to exist between them a curious antipathy, except when they are interwoven in short stanzas. In the following they blend well :—

(23.) I loved a lass, a fair one,
As fair as e'er was seen;
She was indeed a rare one,
Another Sheba Queen.
But fool as then I was,
I thought she loved me too:
And now, alas! she's left me,
Falero, lero, loo.

(Wither, “I Loved a Lass.”)

In the “Nibelungen Noth,” on the other hand, whilst all manner of variations, and combinations of Nibelungen verses with Ballad and Romance

[Footnote] * “History of English Poetry,” section 1 (page 30 of Ward, Lock, and Tyler's reprint in one volume).

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occur, Alexandrines are almost absent—as though the two national metres were, like the two peoples, mutually inimical. In the first eight Adventures* of the great epic—that is, in 544 stanzas, containing 2, 176 verses—there are only five Alexandrines, viz. :—

  • (24.) a. E'en so/  did she/  excel/   /  all good/ly dames/  thereby/; (Adv. v, st. 19, v. 3.)

  • b. Dame U/te there/  also/,   /  the king/ly wife/  sat/. (Adv. v, st. 54, v. 3.)

  • c. Though not/  so much/  for thee/   /  I serve/  or love/  of thine/,  (Adv. vi, st. 71, v. 1.)

  • d. Full soon/  Brunhild/  the fair/   /  did on/  a state/ly robe/; (Adv. vii, st. 29, v. 1.)

  • e. And mark/  aright/  thou/,   /  what thou/  dost hear/  me ut/ter. (Adv. vii, st. 68, v. 2.)

Of these, the first example is perhaps better scanned,—

(24a.) a. So stood/  she   /  before/  them   /  and good/ly dames/  excelled/;

this being a common type of verse in the epic (see example (16) h). Again, d might be scanned :—

(24a.) d. Brunhild/   /  the fair/  one   /  donned quick/ly a state/ly robe/;

but this is doubtful, as, were such intended, “Brunhild” would probably have been written “Brunhilde,” as in—

(25.) The love/ly   /  Brunhil/de,   /  she/  who bore/  a crown/  (Adv. x, st. 26, v. 3.)

This means that four, or at most five, Alexandrines are admitted in a total of 2, 176 verses, a proportion so small, considering the large amount of variation the Nibelungen verse takes, as to suggest a foreign form. One conclusion may perhaps be drawn with some certainty—that is, whilst the Nibelungen appears to be a variation, by shortening, of the Ballad, the Alexandrine is not a variation, by shortening, of the Nibelungen. It may not be demonstrable, but it will possibly be found that the Alexandrine, being a peculiarly French form, developed directly from the Romance metre in France, as the Ballad developed from the Romance in England. Warton quotes a “Norman-Saxon poem” in which there are traces of Nibelungen in a body of Alexandrine verse. He was of opinion “that a pause, or division, was intended in the middle of every verse; and in this respect its versification resembles also that of ‘Albion's England,’ or Drayton's ‘Polyolbion,’ which was a species very common about the reign of Queen Elizabeth.”

13. If, however, we turn to modern Danish poetry, we may find perfect examples of the blending of Nibelungen, Alexandrine, and Ballad in poems whose metre is basically Nibelungen. The following examples are from Winther's series “Woodcuts” :—

  • (26.) a. When on/  the o/cean fell/   /  the sun's/  low e/ven beam/,

  • And our hou/ses and/  church stee/ple then/  were bathed/  in ro/sy gleam/,

  • Upon/  the door's/  board mos/sy   /  his fol/ded arms/  he laid/,

  • Whilst down/  the vale/  below/  him,   /his glance/  unwea/ried strayed/.

(Steffen og Anne, st. 2.)

[Footnote] * German edition by Dr. Gustav Pfizer: Stuttgart und Tübingen, 1843.

[Footnote] † “History of English Poetry,” section 1 (page 16 of Ward, Lock, and Tyler's reprint in one volume).

– 616 –
  • b. To mor/row af/ter ser/  mon-time/  to Nor/retown/  I go/,

  • From mo/ther's sis/ter learn/ing   /  to cro/chet lace/  and sew/;

  • If you/,  my best/  Johan/,   /  will thi/ther walk/  with me/,

  • Kis/ses I/  will give/  you,   /  it may/  be two/,  or three/.

(Johan og Lise, st. 10.)

  • c. The voice/  cried loud/ly,  “Pe/ter Hald'/  ere ear/ly day/  shall break/,

  • Arise/,  your bo/dy clothe/,   /  your shel/tered home/  forsake !/

  • Where trolds/  have dwelt/  in hol/low oak/  a trea/sure glim/mers bright/,

  • Your for/tune if/  my war/ning   /  you scorn/  not   /  this night/.

(Christen og Lene, st. 7.)

  • d. She po/lishes/  her bed/,   /  nor snow/  could brigh/ter be/,

  • Upon/  the mill-/door comes/  a tap/ping,—one/,  two/,  three !/

  • In steps/  Sir Lyk/ke's ser/vant,   /  he lifts/  his cap/,  polite/,

  • “And will/  ye spare/  a space/   /  for my/  sack here/  to-night ?”/

(Svend og Inger, st. 21.)

Viewing these examples, and many isolated examples in British verse, there can be no doubt that the Alexandrine proper is divided by a mid-pause into two equal parts—that it is, in fact, no more than a variation of the Romance metre.

14. A well-known stanza may for a moment be examined :—

(27.) What objects are the fountains
Of thy happy strain ?
What fields, or waves, or mountains ?
What shapes of sky or plain ?
What love of thine own kind ? What ignorance of pain ?

This will now be seen to fall readily into two Nibelungen verses and one Alexandrine :—

  • (27a.) What ob/jects are/  the foun/tains   /  of/  thy ha/ppy strain ?/

  • What fields/,  or waves/,  or moun/tains ?   /  What shapes/  of sky/  or plain ?/

  • What love/  of thine/  own kind ?/   /  What ig/norance/  of pain ?/

Again, take the version of Psalm viii by the Earl of Surrey :—

(28.) But yet among all these I ask, “What thing is man ?”
Whose turn to serve in his poor need this work. Thou first began.
Or what is Adam's son that bears his father's mark ?
For whose delight and comfort eke Thou has wrought all this work.
I see Thou mind'st him much, that dost reward him so:
Being but earth, to rule the earth, whereon himself doth go.
From angels' substance eke Thou mad'st him differ small;
Save one doth change his life awhile; the other not at all.
The sun and moon also Thou mad'st to give him light;
And each one of the wandering stars to twinkle sparkles bright.
The air to give him breath; the water for his health;
The earth to bring forth grain and fruit, for to increase his wealth.

This quotation is taken from “Preliminary Remarks on the Olney Hymns” in the Rev. T. S. Grimshawe's 1851 edition of Cowper, where it is followed by the ominous remark, “Sir Thomas Wyatt versified the seven Penitential Psalms, and died in 1542.” On first reading the above example the end-construction of the first verse causes a stumble; and it will be re-read either as—

  • (28a.) But yet/  among/  all these/  I ask/,  “What/  thing/  is man ? “/


  • (28b.) But yet/  among/  all these/  I ask/,  “What thing/  is/  man ? “/

Making it of the same type as Moore's verse—

But there's no/thing half/  so sweet/  in life/  as love's/  young/  dream/.

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—a construction that will at once be discarded as ridiculous in this instance. In two verses only in the whole quotation does the poet himself offer a clue to the reading :—

I see Thou mind'st him much, that dost reward him so:


The air to give him breath; the water for his health;

In fact, every odd verse of the quotation is an Alexandrine, whose mid-pause must be observed if the metre is to run smoothly :—

  • (28c.) I see/Thou mind'st/him much/,   /that dost/reward/him so/: Be/ing but earth/,  to rule/the earth/,  whereon/himself/doth go/.

and so of the opening :—

(28d.) But yet/among/all these/   /I ask/,  “What thing/is man?”/Whose turn/to serve/in his/poor need/this work/Thou first/began/.

15. This paused Alexandrine is called in French “Alexandrin classique,” and all French verse in this metre took the classical form until the time of V. Hugo, when a “vers trimètre” was introduced, which was an Alexandrine broken into three equal parts by two pauses.”

16. One stanza of Shelley's “Skylark” has been given, No. (27), and it has been shown that the stanza consists of two Nibelungen verses followed by an Alexandrine; but the construction of other stanzas in Shelley's poem is different :—

(29.) Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

If this stanza be divided in the way No. (27) was divided—

(29a.) Hail/to thee/,  blithe spi/rit!   /   bird/thou ne/ver wert/,
That/from heaven/,  or near/it,   /   pour/est thy/full heart/
In pro/fuse strains/of un/   /preme/dita/ted art/.

—we again obtain two Nibelungen verses and one Alexandrine; but in the Alexandrine a word, “unpremeditated,” is divided by a pause; and whilst many readers would probably make some pause on the “un”— not necessarily, be it again noted, equal to a full unit—others would make no pause whatever, producing an unpaused Alexandrine. In every verse of Shelley's poem, excepting the verse ending the first stanza above quoted, the pause can be made naturally, though all readers will not necessarily make it; and it might be supposed that Shelley's verse is a solitary anomaly. But turning from the “scorner of the ground” to the sometime “scorner of metre,” Browning, we read such verses as,—

(30.) But, when you would dissect the structure, piece by piece,
You found, enwreathed amid the country product—fleece
And feather, thistle-fluffs and bearded windle-straws—
Some shred of foreign silk, unravelling of gauze,
Bit, may be, of brocade, mid fur and blow-bell-down:
Filched plainly from mankind, dear tribute paid by town,
Which proved how oft the bird had plucked up heart of grace,
Swooped down at waif and stray, made furtively our place
Pay tax and toll, then borne the booty to enrich
Her paradise i' the waste; the how and why of which,
That is the secret, there the mystery that stings!

(“Fifine at the Fair,” section ix, 1. 7 et seq.)

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Without the mid-pause, can anything but prose be made of the first three verses of this quotation? In the fourth, fifth and sixth, the eight and tenth verses the pause is plainly indicated; and, once the indication is given, the pause is made involuntarily, even where there is no indication, and rhythmic harmony becomes metrical harmony. A parallel structure is seen in Tennyson's verses;—

(31.) A million emeralds break from the ruby-budded lime
In the little grove where I sit—ah, wherefore cannot I be
Like things of the season gay, like the bountiful season bland,
When the far-off sail is blown by the breeze of a softer clime,
Half-lost in the liquid azure bloom of a crescent of sea,
The silent sapphire-spangled marriage-ring of the land?

(“Maud,” section iv, stanza 1.)

Taken from their context, are not the two concluding verses simply beautiful rhythmic prose—prose in structure but poetry in thought? Much of Poe's weird rhythmic prose is on the verge of metre: “They sigh one unto the other in that solitude, and stretch towards the heaven their long and ghastly necks, and nod to and fro their everlasting heads.” The sentences—

(32.) And stretch towards the heavens their long and ghastly necks,
And nod to and fro their everlasting heads

—become true Alexandrines when the pause is inserted; but would they be considered Alexandrines without the pause? I think not: they would be deemed rhythmic, but not metrical. The question arises, how far may a similar conclusion be applied to matter that is set out as verse? The pause is more certainly subverted when the metre becomes triple :—

(33.) I was a child, an' he was a child, an' he came to harm;
There was a girl, a hussy, that workt with him up at the farm,
One had deceived her an' left her alone with her sin an' her shame,
And so she was wicked with Harry; the girl was the most to blame.
*  *  *  *  *
But he anger'd me all the more, an' I said, “You wore keeping with her,
When I was a-loving you all along an' the same as before.”
An' he didn't speak for a while, an' he anger'd me more and more.
Then he patted my hand in his gentle way, “Let bygones be!
“Bygones! you kept yours hush'd,” I said, “when you married me!”

(Tennyson, “The First Quarrel,” st. iv, xiii.)

The true ballad form of the first stanza may be seen in Poe's “Annabel Lee” :—

(34.) I was a child, and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But wo loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee.

To conform to the lyric measure Tennyson's verse should be paused :—

  • I/was a child/,  an' he/   /  was a child/,  an' he came/  to harm/;

and this pause is indicated in many verses of the poem :—

  • There/was a girl/,  a hus/sy,   /that workt/with him up/at the farm/,

Thus paused, the poem is brought back to the perfect Lyric measure of the pure Ballad; and I cannot believe but that every verse, however rugged, floated, in the poet's mind, upon this pure Ballad metre.

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17. The apparently absolute subversion of the pause, exemplified in the first verse of No. (33), is yet more strikingly illustrated in Browning's metrically remarkable poem “Pheidippides” :—

(35.) First I salute this soil of the blessed, river and rock!
Gods of my birthplace, daemons and heroes, honour to all!
Then I name thee, claim thee for our patron, coequal in praise—
Ay, with Zeus the Defender, with Her of the aegis and spear!
Also, ye of the bow and the buskin, praised be your peer,
Now, henceforth and forever,—O latest to whom I upraise
Hand and heart and voice! For Athens, leave pasture and flock!
Present to help, potent to save, Pan—patron I call!
Archons of Athens, topped by the tettix, see, I return!
See, ‘tis myself here standing alive, no spectre that speaks!
Crowned with the myrtle, did you command me, Athens and you,
“Run, Phoidippides, run and race, reach Sparta for aid!
Persia has come, we are here, where is She?” Your command I obeyed,
Ran and raced: like stubble, some field which a fire runs through,
Was the space between city and city: two days, two nights did I burn
Over the hills, under the dales, down pits and up peaks.
Into their midst I broke: breath served but for “Persia has come!
Persia bids Athens proffer slaves’ tribute, water and earth;
Razed to the ground is Eretria—but Athens, shall Athens sink,
Drop into dust and die—the flower of Hellas utterly die,
Die, with the wide world spitting at Sparta, the stupid, the stander-by?
Answer me quick, what help, what hand do you stretch o'er destruction's brink?
How,—when? No care for my limbs!—there's lightning in all and some—

Rough-hewn as this verse appears, beneath its ruggedness flows the perfect smoothness of the lyrical ballad! Though the measure is not, as Mr. Symons says in his “Introduction,” an “invention of Mr. Browning's,” no other British poet has used it with Browning's magnificent effect. As will be noted on reading the quotation, the verses are greatly varied, and great variation is a characteristic of a new as well as of an old type. In the new, however, the variations are new, unfamiliar, and in many cases isolated; whereas in the old the variations have become fixed, and are as familiar almost as the type itself. The latter is the case with the variations of the ballad: the strangeness of many of Browning's verses in “Pheidippides” is of itself an indication of the newness of the metre. The most obtrusive characteristic of the poem is the breaking-up of the verses, which are triple Alexandrines, into three parts; instead of the usual middle pause of the Alexandrine, these verses have two pauses, thus breaking into three approximately equal parts :—

  • (35a.) 1. Archons of Athens,    topped by the tettix, see,    I return!

  • 2. Gods of my birthplace,    daemons and heroes,    honour to all!

  • 3. Over the hills,    under the dales,    down pits and up peaks.

  • 4. Present to help,    potent to save,    Pan—patron I call!

The characteristic unit of the poem is evidently the “choriamb,” a Greek unit of four syllables, of which the first and last bore the stress. This is a unit which Browning himself has previously used :—

Kentish Sir Byng    stood for his King,    bidding the crop-headed    Parliament swing;

The verse of “Pheidippides” breaks off at the “crop” of this example, with what loss to the sweep of metre the ear will at once detect. The choriamb of (35) is still further varied by receiving a feminine ending, reducing the length of the pause between every two units, as may be seen

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by comparing No. (35a) 1 with No. (35a) 3. This pause is further reduced in the third verse of No. (35) :—

35b. Then/I name thee/,  claim thee/for our pa/tron,  coe/qual in praise/

and the verse is still fuller in—

  • (35c.) 1. Ay, with Zeus the Defender, with Her of the aegis and spear!

  • 2. Now, henceforth and forever,—O latest to whom I upraise

A new variation is developed in these two verses :—

  • (35d.) 1. Archons of Athens, topped by the tettix, see, I return!

  • 2. Now, henceforth and forever,— O latest to whom I upraise

Compare this with No. (16) b, a Nibelungen verse—

  • (35e.) 1. Now/,  henceforth/and fore/ver,— /O la/test to whom/I upraise/

  • 2. Fair/without/  a ble/mish, /her gra/cious bo/dy was/,

—and it is at once seen that Browning's verse is a triple Nibelungen verse, the pause in the middle showing where a stressed syllable has been dropped. Again, couple No. (35e) 1 with the verse immediately following in the quotation—

  • (35f.) Now/,  henceforth/and fore/ver,— /O la/test to whom/  I upraise/

  • Hand/and heart/and voice!/   /For A/thens leave pa/sture and flock!/

—and a paused triple Alexandrine is seen following the Nibelungen, as in No. (26) b. Again, couple together the third and fourth verses of the third stanza :—

  • (35g.) Razed/to the ground/  is Ere/tria—/  but A/thens, shall A/thens sink/,

  • Drop/  into dust/and die/—the flower/  of Hel/las ut/terly die/,

Here the pause in the second verse is not due to a dropped syllable as in the first; so that whereas the first verse is Nibelungen, the second is not Alexandrine, but full Ballad. Were the pause supposed to represent a dropped unit the result would be—

  • (35h.) Drop/into dust/and die/— /the flower/  of Hel/las ut/terly die/,

—a verse of eight units. Read the third stanza to its conclusion, and any doubt of the verse being full Ballad at once vanishes :—

  • (35i.) Drop/into dust/and die/—the flower/of Hel/las ut/terly die/,

  • Die/with the wide/world spit/ting at Spar/ta, the stu/pid, the stan/der-by?/

  • An/swer me quick/,  what help/,  what hand/do you stretch/  o'er destruc/tion's brink?/

  • How/,— when?/No care/for my limbs!/—there's light/ning in all/and some/—

It is evident that the sweep of the Ballad measure has been with the poet throughout: the poem is in Alexandrines, and the natural, and consequently more musical, manner of reading it will consist in observing the mid-pause of each verse; for the rest, the metre will assert itself :—

(35j.) First I salute this soil of the blessed, river and rock!
Gods of my birthplace, daemons and heroes, honour to all!
Then I name thee, claim thee for our patron, coequal in praise—
Ay, with Zeus the Defender, with Her of the aegis and spear!
Also ye of the bow and the buskin, praised be your peer,
Now, henceforth and forever,— O latest to whom I upraise
Hand and heart and voice! For Athens, leave pasture and flock!
Present to help, potent to save, Pan—patron I call!

The pause is merely a sustaining of the sound of the word preceding that pause; it need be but slight, yet it works a magical change, making of

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an irregular metre one perfectly regular and familiar; it destroys the obtrusively harsh “clickety-clack,” “clickety-clack” of the unbroken choriambs.

18. One other fact concerning this dominant metre of “Pheidippides” may be noted: verses such as

Archons of Athens,    topped by the tettix,    see, I return!

are, when the mid-pause is disregarded, nothing more or less than parallels of the “Alexandrin trimètre” referred to in paragraph 15.* It is difficult to compare French and British metres, even when of the same type, as in this instance, seeing that the stresses of French verse are almost free from the definite, though not rigid, laws to which British verse is subject. It is most interesting, however, to observe that parallel developments are taking place in huge bodies of verse, dissimilar in general nature, but similar in their fundamental laws.

19. The unpaused Alexandrine, then, by which is meant the Alex andrine without mid-pause, would appear to be an unnatural variation, for which but short life might be prophesied did not the art of printing forbid. Irregularly paused Ballad verses, too, confusing as they do the lyric flow, cannot live—except in print.—Of this kind is Browning's “Reverie” :—

(36.) Power is known infinite:
Good struggles to be—at best
Seems—scanned by the human sight,
Tried by the senses' test—
Good palpably: but with right
Therefore to mind's award
Of loving, as power claims praise?
Power—which finds nought too hard,
Fulfilling itself all ways
Unchecked, unchanged: while barred,
Baffled, what good began
Ends evil on every side.
To Power submissive man
Breathes “E'en as thou art, abide!”
While to good “Late-found, long-sought,
“Would Power to a plenitude
But liberate, but enlarge
Good's strait confine,—renewed
Were ever the heart's discharge
Of loving!” Else doubts intrude.

(Stanzas 16–19.)

This poem was published in 1889, the year of Browning's death, in the volume “Asolando: Fancies and Facts,” and it is even more defiant of the restraints of metre than the most unruly of his previous poems. These restraints, or natural laws, consist of number of units to a verse, and position of the two principal pauses in the verse. As regards the former law, it is so palpable, though unwritten, that very few poets disregard it. The full Romance verse must contain no more than eight stress-units; if it contain less, it becomes Ballad, Nibelungen or Alexandrine, and each of

[Footnote] * See remarks on this metre in French poetry, by H. E. Berthon, in “Specimens of Modern French Verse,” p. xxvi.—London, 1899.

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these variations must adhere to its number of units at peril of its existence. Less palpable is the latter law, the position of pauses; a pause, having no sound, and being thus liable to lengthening or shortening at the will of the reader, is unable to assert itself in the aggressive manner of audible parts, and is liable to be disregarded; but to tuned ears the pauses are as full of harmony as the articulations, and divide those articulations into harmonious groupings. In the full Romance verse there is the natural pause, the breath-pause, following every eighth stress: there is a mid-pause, not so marked, following the fourth stress, dividing the full verse into two equal parts :—

(37.) Ye banks and braes o' bonie Doon,    how can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?

As in the course of the arrow shot upwards there are two parts, the ascent and the descent, with a slight hover in the air as the arrow turns, so in the full verse there are two parts, and a slight dwelling at the union of the two parts that welds but does not crush them together. Besides these two principal pauses the verse may, and usually does, contain minor pauses, whose positions are entirely optional, depending as they do on the syntactical construction :—

(37a.) How can ye chant,    ye little birds,    when I'm sae weary,    fu' o'care!

So, too, of the Ballad verse :—

(38.) There blew a drowsy, drowsy wind,  deep sleep upon me fell;

Here the end-pause, dividing the verses, is much more marked than in the Romance verse, the reason being that a full unit has been dropped to allow of easy breath being taken. The consequence is that the verse is divided into two unequal parts by the mid-pause, which still falls, as in the Romance verse, after the fourth stress. Should it fall after the third stress, the sense of balance is lost, as in No. (35h).

Drop into dust and die—the flower of Hellas utterly die,

Here the “utterly” sounds superfluous, the reader being strongly inclined to read the verse :—

(39.) Drop/  into dust/  and die/—  /   the flower/  of Hel/las die/,

The true mid-pause should fall after “flower”—

(39a.) Drop/  into dust/  and die/—the flower/  of Hel/las ut/terly die/,

—when it becomes an ordinary Ballad verse. In the poem “Pheidippides” it comes especially strangely because it occurs among Alexandrines, whose mid-pause naturally falls after the third stress; but, as observed in (35h), if this Alexandrine mid-pause—the equivalent, it will be remembered, of a dropped unit—be observed, a verse of eight units, a full Romance verse, results—

Drop/  into dust/  and die/—  /  the flower/  of Hel/las ut/terly die/,

—which is reminiscent of the Romance swell occurring in the Nibelungen metre of the German epic: see No. (19), the last verse :—

He saw/  the love/ly mai/den,   /her grace/  and her splen/dour he/  beheld/.
Drop/  into dust/  and die/—  /  the flower/  of Hel/las ut/terly die/,

Supposing it to be a full Romance verse, it is the solitary Romance verse in the poem. One rather supposes it to be an ordinary Ballad verse, with

– 623 –

the mid-pause misplaced; a principal pause, in short, has been placed in the position of a minor pause, and hence the confusion. As contrast, two examples may be quoted :—

  • (40.) a. I see Thou mind'st him much,  that dost reward him so:

  • Being but earth, to rule the earth,  whereon himself doth go.

  • b. Razed to the ground is Eretria— but Athens, shall Athens sink,

  • Drop into dust and die—  the flower of Hellas utterly die,

A probable origin of such unbalanced Ballad verses is more fully discussed in paragraph 4 of Section II.

20. It was said in the last paragraph that the full Romance verse must contain no more than eight stress-units. This is no arbitrary but a natural law, implicitly obeyed by the poets. On the perception of the law poetry emerged from the rhythmical to the metrical form, and since that emergence the law has been obeyed—intuitively, it may be, but the more perfectly perhaps for that very reason. One may search the garden of British poesie for violation of the law in vain, until the latest garden of Tennyson is entered, when the failing hand of the gardener was no longer able to check the growth of weeds :—

(41.) Will my tiny spark of being wholly vanish in your deeps and heights?
Must my days be dark by reason, O ye Heavens, of your boundless nights,
Rush of Suns, and roll of systems, and your fiery clash of meteorites?
“Spirit, nearing yon dark portal at the limit of thy human state,
Fear not thou the hidden purpose of that Power which alone is great,
Nor the myriad world, His shadow, nor the silent Opener of the Gate.”

(“God and the Universe.”)

The thought is starlike in its splendour of bloom: was the flower called a weed? At least, around the briar to which the rose has ranked lingers a sweetness intense as the subtlest odour of the rose; and it must not be forgotten that the rose was, in the first place, a foster-child of the briar. But, shutting his eyes to the beauty of the thought, is not every reader conscious of a certain inharmony in the metre? What is the cause of it?—of what does the thorn of the briar consist? Approach the flower from another side :—

(41a.) Will my tiny spark of being vanish in your deeps and heights?
Must my days be dark by reason, Heavens, of your boundless nights,
Rush of Suns, and roll of systems, fiery clash of meteorites?
“Spirit, nearing yon dark portal, limit of thy human state,
Fear not thou the hidden purpose of that Power, the one, the great,
Nor the myriad world, His shadow, silent Opener of the Gate.”

Has not the sense of inharmony disappeared? What, then, was its cause? In (41a) the verses are full Romance verses of eight units; in (41), on the other hand, each verse contains nine units, the first half of the verse four, the second half five. The intruding ninth unit was the cause of the inharmony; it was as though one, thinking to have reached the stair-foot, had found another step. As Browning's verse in (35h) was an unbalanced Ballad verse, so Tennyson's is an unbalanced Romance verse—a solitary example.

21. To summarize this section, the “verse-unit” of British lyric measures, which are all included in Romance metre and its three variants, is a verse of eight stress-units or their equivalent; as—

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Ye banks and braes o'bonie Doon, how can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?


There blew a drowsy, drowsy wind, deep sleep upon me fell,


From Greenland's icy mountains, and India's coral strand,


What love of thine own kind? What ignorance of pain? and the dubious

Unpaused Alexandrine.

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

To show their connection and variation, these may be divided,—

  • Ye banks/  and braes/  o' bo/nie Doon/,  how can/  ye bloom/  sae fresh/  and fair?/

  • There blew/  a drow/sy, drow/sy wind/,  deep sleep/  upon/  me fell/,   /

  • From Green/land's i/cy moun/tains,   /  and In/dia's co/ral strand/,   /

  • What love/  of thine/  own kind?/   /  What ig/norance/  of pain?/   /

  • In pro/fuse strains/  of un/preme/dita/ted art/   /  (?)   /

The last is so irregular that it almost seems to repudiate kinship with the others; nevertheless, as its development from the Alexandrine can be traced, its existence must be recognized. The above examples are all pure duple; the triple metres follow precisely the same laws, so it will be sufficient merely to quote a verse of each variation :—

  • The glad/  birds are sing/ing, the flow/rets are spring/ing, o'er mea/dow and moun/tain and down/  in the vale/;

  • The cup/  was all fill'd/,  and the leaves/  were all wet/,  and it seem'd/,  to a fan/ciful view/,   /

  • We sat/down and wept/  by the wa/ters   /   of Ba/bel and thought/  of the day/   /

  • Ah sun/flower! wea/ry of time/,   /   who coun/test the steps/of the sun/;  /

  • Consi/der it well/: each tone/of our scale/in itself/is nought/;   /   (?)   /

Then, again, there is the not yet etheralized quadruple metre, of which the following are examples of Romance and Ballad :—

  • And the bush/  hath friends to meet/  him, and their kind/ly voices greet/  him in the mur/mur of the bree/zes and the ri/ver on its bars/,

  • There was move/meat at the sta/tion, for the word/  had passed around/  that the colt/  from old Regret/  had got away/,   /

These three—duple, triple, and quadruple—are the extremes of type of the Romance verse and its developments; and over this verse of eight units, each unit with its triple variation of sound and its fourth variation of pause—over this octave of verse—the poets of Britain's Helicon have breathed their hearts into the immortality of song.

Section II.

1. The poems heretofore considered have been those whose stanzas contain an exact number of full verse-units—that is, every verse in the stanza is complete of its kind—Romance, Ballad, Nibelungen, or Alexandrine. There is, however, another form of stanza which, whilst not nearly so common as the perfect form, is yet sufficiently common to demand consideration when deciding upon the “verse-unit.” It is a “fixed variation,” and any variation that can become fixed must have a large amount of inherent vitality–must be closely akin to the parent form.

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2. The “telescoping” of a Romance and Ballad verse has been referred to in paragraph 8 of Section I. It gives rise to a very popular form of stanza :—

(1.) This mayden in a morne betime
Went forth, when May was in her prime,
To get sweet cetywall,
The honeysuckle, the harlocke,
The lilly and the lady-smooke,
To deck her summer hall.

(Drayton, “Dowsabel,” stanza 6.)

Stanzas such as this would almost suggest that a four-stressed rather than an eight-stressed verse should be adopted as the natural verse-unit. Such a unit would apply to all eight-stressed verses, whilst it would also apply to a large number of others that must otherwise be regarded as exceptions to the law, and variations of the type; practically the whole of our Lyric measures would conform to the four-stressed unit. Much of the Romance poetry, moreover, is found in four-stressed riming lines, each full Romance verse thus forming a rimed couplet, as in Scott's “Metrical Romances” :—

(2.) Fitz-James look round—yet scarce believed
The witness that his sight received;
Such apparition well might seem
Delusion of a dreadful dream.
Sir Roderick in suspense he eyed,
And to his look the Chief replied,
“Fear nought—nay, that I need not say—
But doubt not aught from mine array.”

(“The Lady of the Lake,” canto v, secn. xi.)

The very punctuation here indicates that each couplet in the above is a practically complete sentence which it would be a violation to divide with a breath. The verse is divided into two equal parts, but is knit or coupled by the rime. That the couplet is a complete whole is, I think, felt instinctively, and very few readers, if any, would take a breath after every line. It is not denied that advantage may be and is taken of a break such as that after the line

“Fear nought—nay, that I need not say—

but admitting this is only admitting occasional exceptions that do not vitiate the contention that the full Romance verse is the average length of a breath-sentence. The very fact that it is an average ‘implies that there were, and may still be, verses longer or shorter. Every law of classification has its exceptions, but when these exceptions are so small a minority in comparison with the conforming numbers they in no way weaken the law.

3. Scott's reasons for adopting the “Romantic stanza,” as he calls it, are set out in his introduction to the 1830 edition of “The Lay of the Last Minstrel.” He rejected the Ballad measure because “The Ballad measure itself, which was once listened to as to an enchanting melody, had become hackneyed and sickening, from its being the accompaniment of every grinding hand-organ; and, besides, a long work in quatrains, whether those of the common ballad, or such as are termed elegiac, has an effect upon the mind like that of the bed of Procrustes upon the human body; for, as it must be both awkward and difficult to carry on a long sentence from one stanza to another, it follows, that the meaning of each period must be comprehended within four lines, and equally so that it must be extended so as to fill that space.... In the dilemma occasioned by this objection the idea occurred to the Author of using the measured short line, which forms the

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structure of so much minstrel poetry, that it may properly be termed the Romantic stanza by way of distinction; and which appears so natural to our language, that the very best of our poets have not been able to protract it into the verse properly called Heroic without the use of epithets which are, to say the least, unnecessary.” In a note to this remark he adds, “Thus it has been often remarked, that, in the opening couplets of Pope's translation of the Iliad, there are two syllables forming a superfluous word in each line, as may be observed by attending to such words as are printed in italics :—

(3.) Achilles' wrath to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing;
That wrath which sent to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs in battle slain,
Whose bones, unburied on the desert shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.”

Scott rebels against the expansion or limitation of thought to the average of four lines—he should have said two lines. He also objects to the extra unit in Heroic verse; but the Heroic was the stepping-stone to Blank verse, a metre that evolved to accommodate sentences of varying length, as the Romance evolved to accommodate sentences of average length; and as the Romance metre will not tolerate sentences that run on from verse to verse, so the best Blank verse will not tolerate verses that do not run on or overflow. Whilst, however, Scott rebels against the yoke, he bows to it; for his sentences, as in the example quoted from “The Lady, of the Lake,” are nearly always comprised within two lines—a verse. Whilst, too, he rejects the formal ballad as his vehicle, he constantly admits it to relieve the monotony of the “Romantic stanza” (see in “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” canto i, sections x, xii, xiii, xviii, xxiv, &c.). It will scarcely be denied that Ballad verses of seven stresses are recited in one breath to one verse; and admitting this, it is admitted that the parent verse, the Romance, was recited in a breath. Had Scott's tales been sung—as, indeed, they were supposed to be sung in the Lay—Ballad metre would, without doubt, have much more largely predominated. The eye, however, does not require the rests required by the breath; and the period elapsing between the evolution of the Ballad form from the Romance and the time of printing is so comparatively short that, whilst the Ballad had time to become a most vigorous living form, the Romance also was given new life ere it had joined the hexameter and runic stave as a fossil parent form. In the formal ballad that Scott and others condemned, even despised—the ballad whose form appeared to be of greater moment than its thought—the form was, as it were, making root and wood; it throve sturdily and persistently among other and more tended forms, and upon its vigorous stock are now grafted the finest flowering of British lyrics.

4. A reason has already been given for supposing that the Romance verse was shortened by the dropping of a unit to admit of a breath being easily taken (see paragraph 8 of Section I). Were a breath taken after each line of four stresses, as is usually done in Church congregations (maugre Section I, paragraph 8), there would have been no need for any shortening at all. The mere fact that there was a tendency to shorten the eight-stressed verse shows that there was a tendency to take the whole in one breath, and it is for this reason that the unit of verse-length has been taken as the breath-sentence, or full verse of eight stresses, rather than as

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the half-verse, or line of four stresses. The breath-sentence, as a rule, falls naturally into two parts :—

(4.) Everye white will have its blacke,
And everye sweete its sowre;
This founde the ladye Christabelle
In an untimely howre.
For so it befelle, as syr Cauline
Was with that ladye faire,
The kinge her father walked forthe
To take the evenyng aire:
And into the arboure as he went
To rest his wearye feet.
He founde his daughter and syr Cauline
There sette in daliaunce sweet.
The kinge hee sterted forthe, I-wys,
And an angrye man was hee:
‘Nowe, traytoure, thou shalt hange or drawe.
And rewe shall thy ladie.’

(“Sir Cauline,” part II, stanzas 1 to 4.)

If this or any other ballad be read aloud, it will be found that the breath is invariably taken after the seventh stress, at the place of the dropped eighth unit. It may be said that advantage is taken of the verse-end to take the breath, not that the verse was moulded of a length to enable the breath to be so taken; but the breath is the imperative need, and it is more likely that the articulations borne on the breath will be made coterminous with the natural breath than that the natural breath will be unduly shortened or lengthened to accommodate the articulations. Development is along the lines of least resistance, and it is easier to accommodate the articulations to the breath than the breath to the articulations. Again, it is easier to take a leisured breath than it is to take a hurried breath; and the unit was dropped from the eight-stressed Romance verse to avoid the gasp and discomfort of a hurried breath. Now, whilst the unit was usually dropped at the verse-end, instances may have occurred—indeed, must almost necessarily have occurred—where the unit was dropped at the opening of the second verse, and not at the end of the first. In the fourth stanza of example No. (4) the verse

(5.) The kinge hee sterted forthe, I-wys, and an angrye man was hee, can be divided either as two lines of four and three stresses respectively :—

(5a.) The kinge hee sterted forthe, I-wys,
And an angrye man was hee:

or as two lines of three and four stresses respectively :—

(5b.) The kinge hee sterted forthe,
I-wys, and an angrye man was hee:

Verses of the latter type are of frequent occurrence, and are probably examples of a type where the unit was dropped at the beginning of the second verse instead of at the end of the first. The following occur in the first book of Chapman's translation of Homer's “Iliad” :—

(6.) a. Jove's and Latona's son/; who, fired against the king of men

(Verse 4.)

  • b. Obeying his high will/,  the priest trod off with haste and fear;

(Verse 83.)

  • c. And quiver covered round/,  his hands did on his shoulders throw;

(Verse 44.)

  • d. Filled all his faculties/; his eyes sparkled like kindling fire,

(Verse 101.)

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Also verses 134, 163, 202, 210, 239, 242, and 249. It is probable that in poetry, in the transition stage from Romance to Ballad, these heavy-ended verses will be found in more abundance than in later poetry. In natural growths all departures from the “type” tend to die out, seeing that the type is the mean result of many varying forms of which the departures are individuals only. If they have sufficient vigour to persist, they may produce new forms—fixed variations. When poetry was more recited than written the process of elimination of departures from type would be carried on in the speech, and it is only when the departures have become fossilized in manuscript that we can see the process at work. Had Chapman's verses been memorized and recited instead of being written, it is probable—almost certain—that the heavy-ended verses would have been changed; nor would any great change be needed to convert them into the light-ended, heavy-headed verses of the “type”—the Balled.

(6a.) Obeying his high will, the priest trod off with haste and fear

would easily become

(6b.) The priest, obeying his high will, trod off with haste and fear;

and so on. Whilst the verses quoted in example No. (6) seem unbalanced when separated from the context, they are, when read in the poem, paused in accordance with rhythmical division, not syntactical :—

(7.) a. Jove's and Latona's son; who, fired Against the king of men
b. Obeying his high will, the priest
Trod off with haste and fear;
c. And quiver covered round, his hands
Did on his shoulders throw;

This reversed division occurs with a new feature in modern poetry :—

(8.)  Well does the May that lies
Smiling in thy cheeks, confess
The April in thine eyes;
Mutual sweetness they express.
No April e'er lent kinder showers,
Nor May returned more faithful flowers.

(Crashaw, “Saint Mary Magdalene.”)

(9.) So it is, my dear.
All such things touch secret strings
For heavy hearts to bear.
So it is, my dear.

(D. G. Rosseth, “Even So.”)

(10.) Go forth! for she is gone!
With the golden light of her wavy hair,
She is gone to the fields of the viewless air,
She hath left her dwelling lone!

(Mrs. Hemans, “The Bird's Release.”)

(11.) A voice from Scio's isle—
A voice of song, a voice of old
Swept far as cloud on billow rolled,
And earth was hushed the while.

(Mrs. Hemans, “The Voice of Scio.”)

The new feature is the place now taken by the pause; it neither precede nor follows the Ballad verse, but divides it, so that the first line in each example is, as it were, isolated, the latter half of the first full verse combining

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with the next verse. Take example No. (11), in which are combined two full Ballad verses. As read, this stanza is divided by the pause :—

(11a.) A voice/  from Sci/o's isle/—  /   a voice/  of song/,  a, voice/  of old/
Swept far/  as cloud/  on bil/low rolled/,  and earth/  was hushed/  the while/.   /

The first three stresses are isolated, and the rest of the stanza is knit into a perfect whole. The heavy half of the Ballad verse refuses to follow—it will lead, as does the heavy head of the arrow—and a new combination results. Let two stanzas be quoted :—

(11b.) A voice from Scio's isle—
A voice of song, a voice of old
Swept far as cloud on billow rolled,
And earth was hushed the while.
The souls of nations woke!
Where lies the land, whose hills among
That voice of victory hath not rung
As if a trumpet spoke?

In both stanzas, and in every stanza of the poem, the first line of three accents is separated from the rest of the stanza by a pause; the rime is its sole connection, from a metrical point of view. Omit the first line of the two stanzas quoted :—

(11c.) A voice of song, a voice of old
Swept far as cloud on billow rolled,
And earth was hushed the while.
Where lies the land, whose hills among
The voice of victory hath not rung.
As if a trumpet spoke?*

Substitute for “And earth was hushed the while,” “Nor earth the silence broke,” and the “Dowsabel” stanza is the result. Or if the pause isolating the first line be filled—

(11d.) A voice from Scio's isle, ‘tis told,
A voice of song, a voice of old
Swept far as cloud on billow rolled,
And earth was hushed the while
The souls of nations woke and sung,
Where lies the land, whose hills among
That voice of victory hath not rung
As if a trumpet spoke?

—the stanza of “Helen of Kirkconnel” results, this stanza being a combination of a Romance with a Ballad verse, as the former is the “telescoping” of those two verses.

5. Another possible origin may be conjectured. Bishop Percy, in. his Reliques, has fortunately preserved an unpolished piece of work from the stithy of the poet's brain. He prints the first stanza of “A, Robyn, Jolly Robyn” :—

(12.) “A, Robyn,
Jolly Robyn,
Tell me how thy leman doeth,
And thou shalt know of myn.”

[Footnote] * reference might be made to the remarks by Professor Saintsbury on what has in this paper been called the Dowsabel form of verse, in “History of English Prosody,” vol. i., pp. 92, 93.

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And the second stanza :—

“My lady is unkynde perde.”
“Alack! why is she so?”
“She loveth an other better than me;
And yet she will say no.”

The Bishop remarks, “Yet the first stanza appears to be defective, and it should seem that a line is wanting, unless the first four words were lengthened in the time.” But the two fragmentary lines—

A, Robyn,
Jolly Robyn,

—simply form half of a Romance verse; and the stanza runs trippingly as—

(12a.) “A, Robyn, jolly Robyn,
Tell me how thy leman doeth,
And thou shalt know of myn.”

—which, again, forms half of a “Dowsabel” stanza. These fragmentary lines give body to a certain thought that lies at the back of the mind when it is said that the Romance verse is the average length of a spoken or recited sentence—the thought that in old ballads, newly taking shape, there must have been many sentences that either exceeded or fell short of the average. These erratic verses would naturally be altered to conform to type, or if they proved inconformable they would be replaced by others, and would in either case disappear. If, indeed, they were possessed of sufficient vitality, and were on the lines of natural development, they would become established as permanent variations, or might even supplant the parent type, becoming themselves the new type from which subsequent variations would flow. The latter is the case with the Ballad metre, which threatened to supplant the Romance metre; the former is the case as regards the permanent variations of the Alexandrine and Nibelungen metres. This constant alteration and development was a process at first largely carried on in the minds of the singers or reciters: a verse that sounded harsh when recited by one poet would be altered by another with perhaps a finer ear, and so the change would go on until the whole poem was conformable to type, or until it had been caught and set up by a scribe, becoming an example for all time. Even after a poem had been committed to manuscript, and often during that very process, it underwent new changes, until, excepting for the matter, the two forms can hardly be recognized as being originally one and the same.

6. A short study of the “Ancient Ballad of Chevy Chase” will reveal the existence of many varieties of verses, some of which are now fixed types, but most of which are obsolete. One stanza is printed by Bishop Percy :—

(13.) “Nay [then]” sayd the lord Persè,
“I tolde it the biforne,
That I wolde never yeldyde be
To no man of woman born.”

(Part ii, stanza 11.)

The “then” of the first line was inserted by Percy, so that in the manuscript the stanza had a very different opening :—

(13a.) “Nay” sayd the lord Persè,
“I tolde it the biforne,

Divided, the two forms side by side are,—

(13b.) “Nay/  then” sayd/  the lord/  Persè/,  “I tolde/  it the/  biforne/,
“Nay” sayd/  the lord/  Persè/,   /  “I tolde/  it the/  biforne/,
[or] “Nay”/  sayd the lord/  Persè/,   /  “I tolde/  it the/  biforne/,

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Similarly, the stanza given by Percy as opening—

(14.) The[y] tooke [on] on ethar hand
Be the lyght off the mone;

(Part ii, stanza 25.)

—should be,—

(14a.) The tooke on ethar hand
Be the lyght off the mone;

Again comparing the divided forms :—

(14b.) The[y]/  tooke [on]/  on e/thar hand/  be the/  lyght off/  the mone/;
The tooke/  on e/thar hand/   /be the/  lyght off/  the mone/;

In both instances Percy has made an abrupt Ballad verse out of what was originally an ordinary Alexandrine. Such alternation of Alexandrine with Ballad was and is common enough: an example by the Earl of Surrey has been given in example No. (28), Section I, of this chapter. The Nibelungen verse is also found in “Chevy Chase”—

(15a.) Then sayd the doughtè Doglas
Unto the lord Persè:
“To kyll all thes giltless men,
A-las! it wear great pittè.

(Part i, stanza 19.)

(15a.) Then sayd/  the dough/te Dog/las   /  unto/  the lord/  PersèG/:

—though by the accent-marks Percy would make the verse Alexandrine. In the stanzas following hereunder the Ballad of the first verse dwindles to Nibelungen in the second and third, and to Alexandrine in the fourth :—

(16.) Thear was slayne with the lord Persè
Sir John of Agerstone,
Sir Roger the hinde Hartly,
Sir Wyllyam the bolde Hearone.
Sir Jorg the worthèG Lovele
A knyght of great renowen,
Sir Raff the ryche Rugbè
With dyntes were beaten downe.

(Part ii, stanzas 28, 29.)

(16a.) Thear/  was slayne/  with the lord/  Persè/  Sir John/  of A/  gerstone/,
Sir Ro/ger the hin/de Hart/ly,   /  Sir Wyl/lyam the bolde/  Hearone/.
Sir Jorg/  the wor/thè Lo/vele   /a knyght/  of great/  renowen/,
Sir Raff/  the ryche/  Rugbè/   /  with dyn/tes were bea/ten downe/.

The swelling of the Ballad to the parent Romance is even more noticeable :—

(17.) The dougheti Dogglas on a stede
He rode att his men beforne;
His armor glytteryde as dyd a glede;
A bolder barne was never born.

(Part i, stanza 14.)

(17a.) The dough/eti Dog/glas on/  a stede/  he rode/  att his men/  beforne/;  /
His ar/mor glytt/eryde as dyd/  a glede/; a bol/der barne/  was ne/ver born/.

It swells to full Romance in both verses of the following :—

(18.) Tivydale may carpe off care,
Northombarlond may mayk grate mone,
For towe such captayns, as slayne wear thear.
On the march perti shall never be none.

(Part ii, stanza 34.)

(18a.) Ti/vydale/  may carpe/  off care/,  Northom/barlond/  may mayk/  grate mone,
For towe/  such cap/tayns, as slayne/  wear thear/,  on the march/  perti/  shall ne/ver be none/.

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In several verses even the Romance is exceeded :—

(19.) “Leave off the brytlyng of the dear,” he sayde,
“And to your bowys look ye tayk good heed;
For never sithe ye wear on your mothars borne
Had yo never so mickle need.”

(Part i, stanza 13.)

This “Battle of Chevy Chase” is a stirring, rugged old Ballad; and the process of forcing to type is clearly seen when the foregoing stanzas are compared with the parallel stanzas in the later version, given by Percy as “the more improved edition of that fine Heroic ballad.” He says the bard of the latter has “everywhere improved the versification”—that is, he has brought it into strict conformity with type. In this “improved edition” quotation No. (13) becomes—

(20.) “Noe, Douglas,” quoth Erl Percy then,
“Thy proffer I doe scorne;
I will not yeelde to any Scott
That ever yett was borne.”

(Stanza 38.)

Quotation No. (16) becomes—

(21.) With stout Earle Percy, there was slainc
Sir John of Egerton,
Sir Robert Ratcliff, and Sir John,
Sir James that bold Barron:
And with Sir George and stout Sir James,
Both knights of good account,
Good Sir Ralph Raby there was slaine,
Whose prowosse did surmount.

(Stanzas 51, 52.)

Here Procrustes has been lengthening the limbs of his victims without a doubt. Quotation No. (17) becomes—

(22.) Erle Douglas on his milke-white steede,
Most like a baron bold,
Rode foremost of his company,
Whose armour shone like gold.

(Stanza 17.)

And, lastly, quotation No. (19) becomes the second verse of—

(23.) All men of pleasant Tivydale,
Fast by the river Tweede:”
“O, cease your sports,” Erie Percy said,
“And take your bowes with speede:

All the ruggedness, and much of the life, have disappeared in the course of “improvement,” and we may be quite certain that our smoothest ballads have resulted from a similar process. It is possible that even in the older form the process is seen at work in a verse like—

(24.) That day, that day, that dreadfull day:
The first Fit here I fynde.

(Part i, last stanza.)

—where an Alexandrine—

(24a.) That day, that dreadfull day:
The first Fit here I fynde.

—has been swelled to the full Ballad by the insertion of another “that day.” Such verses are of very frequent occurrence in the old ballads; in

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“Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne,” a ballad of fifty-nine stanzas as given by Percy, there are five :—

(25.) a. “Woe worth, woe worth thee, wicked wood,
That ere thou grew on a tree;

(Verse 35.)

b. Saies, “Lye there, lye there, now sir Guye,
And with me be not wrothe;

(Verse 87.)

c. “Hearken, hearken,” sayd the sheriffe, “I heare now tydings good,

(Verse 95.)

They are also of frequent occurrence in modern ballads, as in Coleridge's “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” :—

(26.) a. Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere
Nor any drop to drink.
b. “Fear not, fear not, thou wedding-guest!
This body dropt not down.

And many others. In many instances the repetition adds force,* but in as many it appears to be mere filling-out to obtain conformity to type.

7. An amplification of a somewhat different kind appears in Burns's poem :—

(27.) O, wert thou in the cauld blast
On yonder lea, on yonder lea,
My plaidie to the angry airt,
I'd shelter thee, I'd shelter thee.
Or did Misfortune's bitter storms
Around thee blaw, around thee blaw,
Thy bield should be my bosom,
To share it a’, to share it a'.

Every verse of both stanzas of the poem echoes in the same way. An abruptness, otherwise too apparent, is rounded off by the echo. There is no echo in Walsh's “Mo Craoibhin Cno,” and the result is almost disagreeable :—

(28.) The high-bred dames of Dublin town
Are rich and fair,
With wavy plumes and silken gown,
And stately air;
Can plumes compare thy dark-brown hair?
Can silks thy neck of snow?
Or measured pace thine artless grace,
Mo craoibhin cno,
When harebells scarcely show thy trace,
Mo craoibhin cno?

(Stanza 2.)

Again, one is inclined to draw out the “rich and fair” like “love's young dream” in the example with No. (28b) of Section I, or to echo as in Burns's stanza, the reason being that the verse as it stands—

(28a.) The high-bred dames of Dublin town
Are rich and fair,

[Footnote] * As in Coleridge's

[Footnote] Alone, alone, all, all alone,

[Footnote] Alone on a wide, wide sea!

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—is not conformable to type: it is, in reality, an unpaused Alexandrine. The same is true of the two concluding verses of Burns's characteristic “Mouse stanza” :—

(29.) Still thou art blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

These remarks properly belong to the chapter on the stanza, being merely touched upon in this place in connection with irregular verse-lengths as affecting the “type.”

8. Coming to modern times, we may glance at the treatment of the fine old Danish ballad “Agnes and the Merman.” A translation is given of the version appearing in Svend Grundtvig's “Danmarks Folkeviser,” published in 1882. As this is intended to illustrate the metre, the broken lilt of the original is as nearly as possible adhered to, and the translation is divided so that the lilt may more readily be perceived. The words that would bear the metrical stress, were the verses made to conform to type, immediately precede the firm bar; words whose stress must then be suppressed, though they would probably have received stress when the poem was recited in olden days, precede the broken bar :—

(30.) 1.Agne/te she stands/  on the High/land bridge/,  Singing the birds are.
  • And up/  came the Mer/man from bil/low's blue ridge/.

  • Lovely Agnete/

2.As pu/rest gold-/glimmer so/  was his hair/,
  • The joy/  of his heart/  in his eyes/  lay bare/.

3.“And hear/  thou, Agne/te so fair/  and so fine!/
  • And wilt/  thou become/  now the All-dear/est of mine?”/

4.“Oh, yes/  indeed/,  that will/  I do/,
  • If thou ta/kest me un/der the bil/low so blue.”/

5.Her ears/  then he/  has clo/sèd, her mouth/  covered o'er/,
  • Then down/  to the o/cean's deep/  the maid/  he bore/.

6.From o/cean's floor/  his dwel/ling uprose/,
  • Agne/te in shoes/  of red gold/  therein goes/.

7.There wonned/  they toge/ther for eight/  full years/,
  • Sons se/ven and a daugh/ter to the Mer/man she bears/.

8.Agne/te she sat/  at cra/dle and sang/:
  • Then hears/  she in En/gland the clocks/  as they clang/.

9.Agne/te she goes/  before,’ the Mer/  man to stand/:
  • “And may/  I but once/  go to kirk/  on land?”/

10.“Oh, yes/  indeed/,  that well/  may fall/,
  • If thou seek'st/  here again/  thy chil/dren small”/.

11.“Yes, tru/ly and of sure/ty them seek/  will I/:
  • There lies naught/  in the wi/dest earth/  my heart/  so nigh”/.

12.“But when/  thou now/  in the kirk/  shalt go/,
  • Thou shalt not/  deck thy bo/som with gold's/  ruddy glow/.

13.“And when/  thou stepp'st/  in the kirk-/yard there/,
  • Then must thou/  not shake free/  thy love/ly gol/den hair/.

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14.“And when/  thou trea/dest the house/  of wea/pons in/,
  • Let thy lips/  'neath thy cra/moisy in no/  smiling twin/.

15.“And when/  thou setts't/  on kirk-floor/  thy feet/,
  • Must thou not/  turn aside/  to thy mo/ther's dear seat/.

16.“And when named/  by the priest/  is the High/est, /
  • See thou/  in no bend/ing compli/est.”  /

17.But now/  when she in/to the kirk/  should go/,
  • She decked/  herself/  with gold's/  ruddy glow/.

18.And when/  she had stepp'd/  in kirk-/yard there/,
  • Agne/te shook free/  her love/ly gol/den hair/.

19.And as/  she stepp'd/  the house/  of wea/pons in/,
  • With smi/ling 'neath cra/moisy her lips/  did she twin/.

20.And when/  she on kirk-/floor set/  her feet/,
  • Agne/te went in/  to her mo/ther's dear seat/.

21.And when named/  by the priest/  was the Ho/ly,/
  • Her bo/dy she ben/ded low/ly.   /

22.Then whis/pered low/  her mo/ther, who stood/  full near/:
  • “Agne/te! Agne/te! whence co/mest thou here?/

23.“Agne/te! Agne/te! dear daugh/ter so mild!/
  • Where/  hast thou tar/ried these years/,  my child?/

24.“Where/  hast thou tar/ried so long/  a time?/
  • And why/  is thy cheek/  as the win/ter rime?”/

25.“My dwel/ling stands/  in o/cean's green growth/,
  • And there/  have I gi/ven the Mer/man my troth/.

26.“There/  shines no sun/  as here/  so bright/ly,
  • There/fore my cheeks/  are blan/chèd so white/ly.

27.“Se/ven good sons/  in's arm/  have I laid/,
  • The eighth/  one dear/  is so tin/y a maid”/.

28.“What gift/  did the Mer/man on thee/  bestow/
  • When thy/  bride-fes/tal was held/  below?”/

29.“Me/  he gave/  five cir/clets of gold/,
  • And therein/  lay both ro/ses and li/lies untold/.

30.“And me/  he gave/  the gol/den red band/,
  • The queen/  herself/  no bet/ter may bind/  on her hand/.

31.“And me/  he gave/  the gold-/buckled shoe/,
  • The queen/  herself/  no bet/ter on foot/  ever knew/.

32.“And me/  he gave/  a gold-framèd harp/,
  • To play/  on if sor/row should sting/  me sharp/.

33.“But now/  will I dwell/  on the green-/growing shore/,
  • And ne/ver will/  I down/  to the o/cean more”/.

34.They deemed/  them alone/  and that none/  else knew/,
  • But near/  stood the Mer/man and hear/kened thereto/.

35.The Mer/man he trod/  the kirk-door/-way within/,
  • All/  the ho/ly i/mages they turned/  themselves/  from him/.

36.As pu/rest gold-/ghmmer so/  was his hair/,
  • His sor/row of heart/  in his eyes/  lay bare/.

37.“Agne/te! Agne/te! come to o/cean with me!/
  • For the small/  things, thy chil/dren, long/  for thee”/.

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38.“Yea/,  let them long/  for me, while long/  they will!/
  • They ne/ver again/  my arms/  shall fill”/.

39.“Oh think/  of the stur/dy! and think/  of the small!/
  • The dear/  in the cra/die, think of her/  most of all!”/

40.“Nay, ne/ver will/I think/  of them, stur/dy ones or small/,
  • Of her/  in the cra/dle will I think/  least of all”/.

41.The Mer/man uplif/ted his/  right hand/:
  • “Dule/  and dark/ness be on all/  the land!”/

42.Dark/ness came/  and hea/vy cloud/,
  • They lay/  on the mead/  and the town/  a shroud/.

43.The dule/  and the dark/ness blind/  her, /
  • Agne/te no way/  can find/  her.   /

44.She pur/posed to have has/ted o/ver green-/growing shore/,
  • Then took/  she the path/  to o/cean's floor/.

45.She pur/posed to have has/ted to her mo/ther's home/,
  • Then took/  she the path/  to o/cean's foam/.

46.“O wel/come, Agne/te, to the bil/low's blue day!
  • Yet no/  more on/  the green-/growing earth/  shalt thou stray/.

47.“No more/  shalt thou/  e'er stray/  on the green-/growing shore/,
  • And gaze/  upon/thy chil/dren, the small/  things! no more/.

48.“But here/  shalt thou sit/  on the gra/nite's hard stones/,
  • And here/  mayst thou dal/ly with dead/  men's bones/.

49.“One thing/  to thee/  I spare/,  thy harp/  of red gold/,
  • To mur/mur the grief/  thy heart/  shall hold”/.

50.Men heard/  a sad mur/mur in wood-/land's green ways/:
  • Singing the birds are.

  • Agne/te her harp/  in o/cean plays/.

  • Lovely Agnete!

This ballad was very widely known and loved. At the time Grundtvig was compiling his collection, in the nineteenth century, it was still sung in all parts of Denmark, in Norway, Sweden, North Germany, and the neighbouring Slavic lands. It often concludes at the 40th stanza, where Agnete refuses to return with the Merman; when continued, the part from stanza 41 onwards varies considerably in different countries. The 47th stanza has a keen dramatic touch; an exclamation of pity rises involuntarily to the lips. Beauty and pathos well from these two-lined stanzas, rugged as they are; and it is evident that here the story is all-in-all—the Procrustean spirit has not yet become sufficiently powerful to fetter the thoughts springing directly from the heart, and uttered with the heart at the lips. But it is with the metrical form that we are at present concerned. The name Agnete has been retained in the translation as more conformable to the metre. The stanzas are the simplest possible—merely one verse of two lines, being the simple single thought broken into its two parts. Yet the “type” has even here so far evolved that the whole of the stanzas at least suggest it. Occasional verses appear absolutely unmetrical, yet in all can be seen the germ of the eight-stressed verse, the Romance. Stanza 5, when falling from the lips of simple singers, would still, probably, be a ten-stressed verse, as indicated by the division into units in the foregoing translation. To obtain conformity to type, the second unit of the first line and the second unit of the second line, containing

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respectively four and five syllables, would have to be “reduced” by the taking-away of a certain number of syllables. This process would be so simple that it is quite evident that the reciters as yet felt no necessity to reduce either the number of stresses or the number of syllables—that is to say, the “form,” whilst it was in course of development, had not begun to obtrude—detrition was going on, but unconsciously. In the verse under consideration its structure is more conformable, as under :—

(30a.) He clo/sed her ears/  and her mouth/  covered o'er/,
Then down/  through the o/cean the maid/  he bore/.

It is not for one moment intended that this were any improvement whatever; it is merely intended to show that the reciters had not yet become self-conscious as regards type. In the fifty verses, or one hundred lines, of which the whole poem is composed, there are thirty-five units of four syllables, and one of five syllables, the most remarkable example being the second line of the 35th stanza :—

(30b.) 1. All/  the ho/ly i/mages they turned/  themselves/  from him/.

Given its due stresses, this line becomes a full Ballad verse :—

2. All/  the ho/ly i/mages/  they turned/  themselves/  from him/.

The full stanza might almost be regarded as a very crude embryo of the Dowsabel stanza :—

3. The Mer/man trod/  the door/  within/
But all/  the ho/ly i/mages/
They turned/  themselves/  from him/.

Stanza 26 is alone in being a feminine Romance verse. The verses so far noted are those tending to exceed or actually exceeding the average verse of the type. There are three verses that fall below the average, resolving themselves into feminine Nibelungen: these are contained in stanzas 16, 21, and 43, and their effect is most pleasing and characteristic. As regards the free blending of duple and triple units (the quadruple have already been noted), attention need only be directed to stanzas 4, 10, 26, 28, 29, and 42 as typical instances.

As two utter contrasts in British treatment of this beautiful ballad, attention may be called to Robert Buchanan's quatrains in his “Ballad Stories” published in 1869, and Matthew Arnold's exquisite adaptation, “The Forsaken Merman.”

9. As the stanza-form of “Agnes and the Merman” is of the simplest kind, it is possible that the verses were varied as independent members, no connection being felt between any one verse and the one either foregoing or following—that is to say, no formal connection. A few examples may therefore be quoted of stanzas that have advanced considerably in their formal development, stanzas that are built up of two verses, or four lines, and whose verses show decidedly that the Romance verse had shortened to the Ballad. Again the examples are from an old Danish ballad in Grundtvig's collection—“Svend Svejdal.” The stanzas chosen are not all consecutive, their places in the ballad being indicated by the number prefixed before each one :—

(31.) 4. Ne/ver thou/  in sleep/  shalt slum/ber,
Not e/ver rest/  shalt gain/,
Till thou/  hast loosed/  the sor/rowful-heart/ed,
Who ma/ny days/  in fet/ters has lain/.

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  • 8. Stood/  the youth/ful Svej/dal,

  • He raised/  his voice/  in call/ing:

  • The walls/  of rock/  were rent/  asun/der,

  • The moun/tain qui/vered as/  ‘twere fall/ing.

  • 14. If now/  I must/  arouse/  me   /

  • From sleep/  and trance/  abi/ding,   /

  • Thou/  on ways/  full ma/ny /

  • Soon/  shalt forth/  be ri/ding./

  • 17. Yet/  shall I give/  thee the ring/  of red gold/,

  • Upon/  thy hand/  it shall glow/  then:

  • Once/  thou hast found/  her thy mai/den high-born/,

  • Thyself/  she shall full/  well know/  then.

  • 28. Li/on and/  the un/tamed bear/

  • They stood/  and the door/  defen/ded:

  • And ne/ver li/ving man/  might en/ter therein/,

  • Sa/ving young Svej/dal him/  befrien/ded.

  • 48. Now has/  the youth/ful Svej/dal /

  • O'er come/  both fear/  and pain/  that encum/bered,

  • Nor fet/ter they/  the mai/den high-born/,

  • Full deep/  at his side/  she slum/  bered.

  • Good heed of thy speech have!

Most observable is the great variety of the rhythm; duple and triple units do not meet in antagonism, they blend in harmony. In stanza 4 the Ballad returns to full Romance, unless a unit of four syllables, with a minor mid-stress, be admitted as the second unit of the last line. In stanza 8 a feminine Nibelungen (similar to stanzas 16, 21, and 43 of “Agnes and the Merman”) is followed by a feminine Romance. Stanza 14 is composed of two duple feminine Nibelungen verses, and contrasted with these are the verses of stanza 17, which are almost full triple feminine Ballad. In stanza 28 the first half of a Romance verse contains a quadruple unit which would, were its due mid-stress allowed, make a line of five stresses, followed by one of four; in fact, a nine-stressed Romance verse would result. To British ears these heavy verses will sound unnatural, and unmusical, if not harsh; yet they are of value—apart always from their undoubted natural beauty and delightfulness—as illustrations of types of verse through which our own smoothest (and often too smooth) Ballad poetry has passed. Nor have they yet lost their pristine melody to the folk of the lands wherein they were cradled. Moreover, may we not in our own beloved psalms (unmetrical, save the mark !) find four, five, or more words huddled together about a single stress? The struggle against conformity to type must ever have been sharp, and it certainly was longcontinued; but wheresoever there was poetry there was, irrespective of the “form,” imperishable beauty; and it is this very immortality of loveliness that has preserved so many of the crude media through which the divine light passed from man to man, from age to age—one might almost say from everlasting to everlasting. The myriad-man caught the cry of the struggle: he spoke of either the Romance or the Ballad when he spoke of the

…stretchèd metre of an antique song:

and of a surety he refers to the struggle between the two in the “Midsummer Night's Dream.”

Quince. Well, we will have such a prologue; and it shall be written in eight and six.
Bottom. No, make it two more; let it be written in eight and eight.

(“A Midsummer Night's Dream,” III, i.)

Two lines of eight and six (syllables) is Ballad; eight and eight, Romance.

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10. To return again to the Dowsabel stanza, it is probable that its full development cannot be traced in British poetry; it possibly began its evolution in France—Warton derives it from the French chansons.* Its source may lie in the same fount from whence flowed the Latin hymns of Adam of St. Victor and others, having reference to hymns of similar substructure. The following is from one by Adam of St. Victor :—

(32.) Verbi vere substantivi,
Caro cum sit in declivi
Temporis angustia,
In aeternis verbum annis
Permanere nos Johannis
Docet theologia.

This stanza has been translated by Dr. Neale (incorrectly according to Archbishop Trench) as follows :—

(32a.) That substantive word, united
To the flesh, and therein plighted
To a life of misery sore,
Him to be the Coeternal,
John's theology supernal
Testifieth evermore.

These hymns swell into yet fuller stanzas: The following, again, is by Adam of St. Victor :—

(33.) Jucundare, plebs fidelis,
Cujus Pater est in coelis,
Recolens Ezechielis
Prophetae praeconia:
Est Joannes testis ipsi,
Dicens in Apocalypsi,
Vere vidi, vere soripsi
Vera testimonia.

In this stanza the insertion of a half-verse in each section has converted the irregular Dowsabel stanza into one perfectly regular. Whilst the language of these hymns may be no more than dog-Latin, they have a sonorous, majestic sweep of rhythm. The metre of Poe's “Raven” is based on No. (33). Without authentic specimens of its early forms, it is perhaps unprofitable to speculate as to the actual origin of the combination that results in the irregular Dowsabel stanza. The change from the abrupt (trochaic) form of the Latin hymns to the ordinary duple (iambic) of British verse is due to the syntactic construction of the language, but the actual form of the stanza is the result of metrical forces. It is hardly possible that it was derived from the hymns themselves, as they, when occurring in the form of No. (34), are composed of four-stressed lines throughout—as though in each half of the stanza two Romance verses had been “telescoped,” not a Romance and a Ballad verse as in the Dowsabel stanza.

11. In paragraph 5 of this section reference was made to thoughts which exceeded or fell short of the average verse. In Ballad metre the verses may lengthen regularly to Romance, or contract to Nibelungen or Alexandrine. In the old Danish ballads examples have been given of verses lengthening even beyond the Romance; but in only one example, No. (30b), 1 to 3, was there even an embryonic indication of an apparent

[Footnote] * Warton's “History of English Poetry,” as before, p. 29.

[Footnote] † “Sacred Latin Poetry,” p. 71.

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irregularity that has developed to a regular type. It is conceivable that a Ballad or Romance verse might need considerable extension, yet not so as to equal two verses, to be able to express certain thoughts, and it is also conceivable that during a certain period of the evolution of metre the verse would be lengthened to suit the thought rather than the thought cramped to suit the verse. There are many examples among those given that show this conception to be reasonable. The British ballad of “Sir Cauline” gives examples of “regular irregularities” :—

(34.) Faire Christabelle, that ladye bright,
Was had forthe of the towre;
But ever she droopeth in her mynde,
As nipt by an ungentle winde
Doth some faire lillye flowre.

(Part 11, stanza 9.)

The thought expressed in the last three lines of the stanza is one of considerable beauty, and it can well be imagined that poet and hearer alike would rather suffer violation of the form than loss of the thought. As regards the metrical construction, one of two things may have taken place: a half-verse of four stresses may have been added, or a half-verse of three stresses may have been dropped. There is, of course, another possible origin, but of so ancient date as to be undiscoverable in British poetry. The vital question is, will the three lines be spoken in a breath ? The two first certainly are: what difference will be made by the presence of the interloper ? Reading aloud having fallen into disfavour, opinion will vary; some will hold that a breath will be taken after “mynde,” of the third line, as well as after “towre,” of the second. refer back, however, to the verses quoted in No. (2) of this section, part of “The Lady of the Lake.” Will it be denied that in almost every instance in this quotation two lines are taken in a breath, and easily taken ? It is quite possible to take all three lines of the second part of the stanza from “Sir Cauline” in one breath; with many it is quite an easy matter to do so; and if easy now it would presumably be much more easy at a time when the recitation of verse was the rule, and reading the exception. Be it noted, moreover, that whilst this exceptional construction has, like all other vigorous variations, been taken and made an actual type in some instances, as a rule the construction occurs as an occasional, not as a constant, variation in Ballad poetry; occurring occasionally only, the breath can quite easily make the extra effort required to give utterance to the extra length of verse. A curious instance of the length to which this construction will be carried out on paper occurs in Burns's “Battle of Sherramuir” :—

(35.) But had ye seen the philibegs
And skyrin tartan trews, man,
When in the teeth they daur'd our Whigs
And covenant trueblues, man!
In lines extended lang and large,
When baig'nets o'erpower'd the targe,
And thousands hasten'd to the charge,
Wi' Highland wrath they frae the sheath
Drew blades of death, till out of breath
They fled like frighted dows, man!

The reader, too, is out of breath after reading this amazing stanza. The first four lines (two verses) are easily taken in two breaths; then, inveigled by the rimes, the reader is induced to attempt the remainder of the stanza,

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six “lines extended, lang and large,” in two breaths also. In “Sir Cauline” the stanza preceding the one quoted, No. (34), is differently constructed :—

(36.) All woe-begone was that gentil knight
To part from his ladye;
And many a time he sighed sore
And cast a wistful eye:
“Faire Christabelle, from thee to parte
Farre lever had I dye.

Here a full verse takes the place of the half-verse of four stresses. The stanzas can, of course easily be made similar :—

(36a.) All woe-begone was that gentil knight
To part from his ladyè;
He sighed sore with many a smart,
“Faire Christabelle, from thee to parte
Farre lever had I dye.”

Seeing that the three-versed stanza required three breaths, it may be con tended that, though half of one verse has been dropped, the residue of that verse should still retain its breath and that the shortened stanza should receive the three breaths. As pointed out in Scott's couplets, however, two riming lines are taken in a breath; moreover, stanzas such as the above were often printed in this way :—

[The section below cannot be correctly rendered as it contains complex formatting. See the image of the page for a more accurate rendering.]

(37) This mayde in a morne betime
Went forth, when May was in her prime, To get sweet cetywall,
The honeysuckle, the harlocke,
The lilly and the lady-smocke, To deck her summer hall.

And so also—

[The section below cannot be correctly rendered as it contains complex formatting. See the image of the page for a more accurate rendering.]

(38.) Alone walking
In thought plaining all desolate.
And sore sighing Me remembering
Of my living, both early and late.
My death wishing

(Chaucer, “Virelal.”)

The brackets now absolutely couple all the at is taken in a breath. If it be held that two breaths are required, where are the verses to be broken? if the couplets be broken, the rule observed in Scott does not hold here; if the couplets be taken together, the short line is absurdly isolated; but if each group be taken in a breath, a smooth, agreeable stanza results. The same holds with the triplets of No. (38). The reader should perhaps be reminded that the question at issue is not how poetry should be read aloud, but what constitutes, the verse-unit. And the verse-unit is practically synonymous with the breath-unit, the average length of verse read on one breath.

12. The half-Dowsabel stanza quoted from “Sir Cauline” may be still further extended by the addition of an extra unit to the first, third, and fourth lines :—

(39.) To-night this sunset spreads two golden wings
Cleaving the western sky;
Winged too with wind it is and winnowings
Of birds; as if the day's last hour in rings
Of strenuous flight must die.

(D. G. Rossetti, “Sunset Wings.”)

A complete change of metre has, however, taken place. Lines containing five stresses are blended with lines of three stresses (or four stress-units);

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two different types are brought together. The extreme rarity of this blending is sufficient indication that the two are practically different species, and the blending is therefore unnatural. The five-stressed lines are Heroic, and the Heroic is foreign to the Ballad (see Section IV of this chapter). A quite different result is brought about if a unit be dropped from the five-stressed lines of Rossetti's stanza :—

(39a.) This sunset spreads two golden wings
Cleaving the western sky;
Winged too with wind and winnowings
Of birds; as if the day in rings
Of strenuous flight must die.

The metre is sensibly altered; it has been metamorphosed to the singing Ballad, or Lyric, from the declamatory Heroic.

Section III.

1. It is now desirable to show how the “verse-unit” may be taken as a guide for the classification of British poetry. The “type” is a verse of eight stress-unit, or their temporal equivalents. The usual forms of the verse-unit assumed by the type are four :—


Romance:  A verse of eight stresses, duple, triple, or quadruple.


Ballad:" seven " " " or "


Nibelungen: " six " " " or "


Alexandrine:  " six " " " or "

Divided, the verse-units are as follow (ordinary duple—or iambic—only being set out) :—


Romance:  ../../../../../../../


Ballad:  ../../../../../../../


Nibelungen:  ../../../../../../../


Alexandrine:  ../../.././../../../

In verse-units 2, 3, and 4 the final stress-unit is a blank as regards articulation; it is used for taking the breath. The temporal length of all four verse-units is, therefore, comparatively equal, the inequality being caused through the inability of an inaudible pause to assert itself. In the Romance verse it was necessary to take the breath after the fourth stress-unit and before the first of the following verse; the result was a slight natural pause, and this pause still makes its presence felt at all verse-endings.

2. In each of the four verse-units certain regular, as well as certain irregular, variations occur. The irregular variations consist of expansions of duple stress-units to triple, or contractions of triple stress-units to duple, and the arbitrary mingling of both. Examples have been given from old Danish ballads in Section II of this chapter, paragraphs 8 and 9. Two stanzas of Shelley's “Sensitive Plant” may be given here :—

(1.) A sen/sitive plant/  in a gar/den grew/,
And the young/  winds fed/  it with sil/ver dew/,
And it o/pened its fan/like leaves/  to the light/,
And closed/  them beneath/  the kis/ses of night/.
And the Spring/  arose/  on the gar/den fair/,
Like the Spi/rit of Love/  felt e/verywhere/;
And each flo/wer and herb/  on Earth's/  dark breast/
Rose/  from the dreams/  of its win/try rest/.

(Part 1, stanzas 1. 2.)

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The blending is best heard by the ear when the words are given: it is best seen by the eye when the syllables are represented by dots, as follows :—

  • (1a.)  ../.../.../../  2, 3, 3, 2 syllables

  • .../../.../../  3, 2, 3, 2 "

  • .../.../../.../  3, 3, 2, 3 "

  • ../.../../.../  2, 3, 2, 3 "

  • .../../.../../  3, 2, 3, 2 syllables.

  • .../.../../../  3, 3, 2, 2 "

  • .../.../../../  3, 3, 2, 2 "

  • ./.../.../../  1, 3, 3, 2 "

These irregularities are too uncertain to be taken as any index to varieties. The alteration of duple and triple units follows no perceptible rule, but is altogether dependent upon the individual inclination of the writer. The regular variations occur at the opening of the verse and at the two chief “pause-divisions.” They occur with most perceptible and definite fre-quency in the rhythmic breath-pause following the verse-end, and with less frequency and less definiteness at the mid-verse, or line-end, Variation at these two points is also dependent upon the inclination of the writer, in so far as he is at liberty to employ them or not as he pleases; but should his first verse show a certain end-variation, the metrical balance almost demands that the same variation shall be present in the following verse, and is more satisfied if the variation is repeated in every verse in the stanza. For instance, when Byron wrote—

(2.) The serpent of the field, by art
And spells is won from harming;
But that which coils around the heart,
Oh! who hath power of charming?
It will not list to wisdom's lore,
Nor music's voice can lure it;
But there it stings for evermore
The soul that must endure it.

(“All is Vanity, salth the Pracher,” stanza 3.)

—he introduced a variation in the first verse by adding to it a syllable, such syllable falling within the breath-pause, and constituting a “feminine.” ending. Having done this, he was obliged to employ the same variation in the second verse; and, whilst metre did not demand it, his rhythmic sense led him to employ it in the third and fourth verses also. The same verses are repeated without the repetition of the variation in succeeding verses :—

(2a.) The serpent of the field, by art and spells is won from harming;
But that which coils around the heart, Oh ! who hath power to charm?
It will not list to wisdom's lore, nor music's voice can lure it;
But there it stings for evermore the soul that must endure.

The break is at once perceived, and the ear demands the restoration of full harmony by the repetition of the variation. The variation at the mid-verse, or line-end, is seen in Landor's

(3.) Graceful Acacia! slender, brittle,
I think I know the like of thee;
But thou art tall and she is little—
What God shall call her his own tree?
Some God must be the last to change her;
From him alone she will not flee;
O may e fix to earth the ranger,
And may he lend her shade to me!

(No. vi of “The Last Fruit off an Old Tree.”)

– 644 –

He has added a syllable to the first line, such syllable falling in the mid-pause of the verse; but the hearer is not conscious of the same demand for the repetition of this variation, and the stanza could as well have run,—

(3a.) Graceful Acacia! slender, brittle, I think I know the like of thee;
But thou art tall, and she is small—what God shall call her his own tree?
Some God must be the last to change her; from him alone she will not flee;
O may he fix to earth the maid, and may he lend her shade to me!

Nevertheless, the fact that the poet repeats the variation is sufficient indication that there is a degree of expectancy; and, if repeated, this first repetition creates a demand for the second. When present at the beginning of the verse the variation consists of the dropping or adding of syllables in the first unit. If the metre be ordinary duple, the natural metre, the dropping of one syllable makes it “abrupt”(trochaic), and it is usual, though by no means obligatory, to continue it as abrupt. If the metre be triple, the dropping of two syllables makes it abrupt (dactylic), whilst the dropping of only one syllable simply gives it an ordinary duple opening; and this is the common opening of triple measures. There is not quite the same demand for regularity in the opening of a verse as in its close, for which fact the rime is responsible; in the example from Shelley's “Sensitive Plant,” No. (1) of this section, the verses open either in duple or in triple units, and the poem contains many verses with abrupt opening. If a poem be regularly duple or triple, however, it usually continues as it begins; if it opens ordinarily, it will be ordinary throughout; if abruptly, it will be abrupt throughout.

3. These three regular variations, then, are taken as the index of “varieties” in poems. The verse-end variation, as the most important, distinguishes the varieties; the beginning-variation and the mid-variation distinguish subvarieties. The duple unit being taken as the natural type of unit, the natural Romance verse will be a duple verse of eight stress-units :—

  • ../  ../  ../  ../  ../  ../  ../  ../

This, expanding in all units, may become full triple :—

  • .../.../.../.../.../.../.../.../

Here each dot represents a syllable; the bars divide the verse into its constituent stress-units, every syllable preceding a bar bearing a stress. It will be remembered that whilst the stress-units may be unequal syllabically, they are equal temporally. The natural Romance verse may expand to the full triple by three different intermediate stages :—


../  ../  ../  ../  ../  ../  ../  ../  (2, 2, 2, 2; 2, 2, 2, 2) (Normal).


../.../.../.../../.../.../.../  (2, 3, 3, 3; 2, 3, 3, 3)


../.../.../.../.../.../.../.../  (2, 3, 3, 3; 3, 3, 3, 3)


.../.../.../.../../.../.../.../  (3, 3, 3, 3; 2, 3, 3, 3)


.../.../.../.../.../.../.../.../  (3, 3, 3, 3; 3, 3, 3, 3)

No. (1) is ordinary duple, every unit containing two syllables, as indicated by the figures on the right; No. (2) is duple in the first unit of both half-verses, triple in the remainder; No. (3) is duple in the first unit only; No. (4) is duple in first unit of the second half-verse only; No. (5) is triple throughout. These variations may appear very slight, but they are regular, and they form the basic verse-unit of entire stanzas, examples of which follow :—

(1.) O they/  rade on/,  and far/ther on/,  the steed/  gaed swif/ter than/  the wind/;
Until/  they reached/  a de/sert wide/,  and li/ving'land/  was left/  be. hind/.

(“Thomos the Rhymer,” stanza 9.)

– 645 –

(2.) My heart's/  in the High/lands, my heart/  is not here/,  my heart's/  in the High/lands a-cha/sing the deer/,
A-cha/sing the wild/  deer and fol/lowing the roe/—my heart's/  in the High/lands where/ver I go!

(R. Burn, “My Heart's Highlands.”)

(3.) Twelve years/  have elapsed/  since I last/  took a view/  of my fa/vourite field/,  and the bank/  where they grew/;
And now/  in the grass/  behold/  they are laid/,  and the tree/  is my seat/  that once/  lent a shade/.

(W. Cowper, “The Poplars,” stanza 2.)

This stanza is defective in so far that it contains two duple units—the third and the seventh in the second verse. The more usual form of the stanza of this type is the one following :—

I saw/  from the beach/,  when the mor/ning was shi/ning, a bark/  o'er the wa/ters move glo/riously on/;
T came/  when the sun/  o'er the beach/  was decli/ning, the bark/  was still there/,  but the wa/ters were gone/.

(T. Moore, “I saw from the Beach,” stanza 1.)

(4.) Like the bright/  lamp that shone/  in Kildare's/  holy fane/,  and burned/  through long a/ges of dark/ness and storm/,
Is the heart/  that sor/rows have frowned/  on in vain/,  whose spi/rit outlives/  them, unfa/ding and warm/.
(Erin, O Erin! thus bright through the tears of a long night of bondage the spirit appears.)

(T. Moora, “Erin, O Erin,” stanza 1.)

The above stanza has one intruding duple unit, the second of the second verse.

(5.) The Assyr/ian came down/  like a wolf/  on the fold/,  and his co/horts were gleam/ing in pur/ple and gold/,
And the sheen/  of their spears/  was like stars/  on the sea/,  when the blue/  wave rolls night/ly on deep/  Galilee/.

(Lord Byron, “The Destruction of Sennacherlb,” stanza 1.)

This stanza takes a slightly different form when the first half-verse is given a feminine ending :—

From the brown/  crest of New/ark its sum/mons exten/ding, our sig/nal is wa/ving in smoke/  and in flame/;
And each for/rester blithe/,  from his moun/tain descen/ding, bounds light/  o'er the hea/ther to join/  in the game/.

(Sir W. Scott, “The Banner of the House of Buccleuch,” stanza 1.)

Besides thus expanding to triple, the duple unit may expand to quadruple, so that between Nos. (3) and (4) the following verse should come—

  • (3c.) ../..../..../..../..../..../..../..../   (2, 4, 4, 4; 4, 4, 4, 4)

—which again may be varied by differences in the fifth unit: this unit may contain, two three, or four syllables—three variations. This verse is, however, of extremely rare occurrence, and whilst it need not, perhaps, be included in the scheme of classification, its position may be indicated. A specimen of the verse may be given :—

(3c.) I bless/  them but I'm sad/  for them—I wish/  I could be glad/  for them, for who/  alas! can tell/  me the fate/  that shall befall?/
The flow'/rets of the mor/ning, the green/wood path ador/ning, may be scat/ter'd ere the noon/tide by the wild/  wind's sudden call/;
(C. Mackay, “Flowers and Children,” fifth line from opening.)

The above has two triple units, the seventh of the first verse and the third of the second verse; but, indeed, this quadruple type of verse is seldom

– 646 –

perfect. Then, following No. (5) should come the quadruple verse with triple opening :—

  • (5c.) .../..../..../..../..../..../..../..../

This verse, again, may vary at the mid-pause by having two, three, or four syllables, making other three variations. This metre is more frequently met with than (3a), yet is comparatively rare, at least in the better class of British poetry. The variations in the quadruple verse may be tabulated :—


../..../..../..../../..../..../..../    (2, 4, 4, 4; 2, 4, 4, 4)


../..../..../..../.../..../..../..../    (2, 4, 4, 4; 3, 4, 4, 4)


../..../..../..../..../..../..../..../    (2, 4, 4, 4; 4, 4, 4, 4)


.../..../..../..../../..../..../..../    (3, 4, 4, 4; 2, 4, 4, 4)


.../..../..../..../.../..../..../..../    (3, 4, 4, 4; 3, 4, 4, 4)


.../..../..../..../..../..../..../..../    (3. 4, 4, 4; 4, 4, 4, 4)

An example of (3c) has been given; the following illustrate other of the variations :—

(3a.) And how/  the happy Earth/,  growing young/  again in mirth/,  has prank't/  herself in jew/els to do ho/nour to the day/—
Of gold/  and purple bright/,  of a/zure and of white/; her di/adem and brace/lets, the mea/dow-flowers of May/.

(C Mackay, “‘Tis Merry in the Mead,” part of stanza 2.)

This has a triple and a duple unit in the first verse besides the duple unit at the opening, whilst in the second verse it has a triple and two duple units besides the duple unit at the opening. As noted in (3c), the type is seldom perfect.

(5b.) Every mo/tion of the ves/sel, every dip/  of mast or spar/,  is a dance/  and a rejoi/cing, and a pro/mise from afar/;
And we love/  the light above/  us, as it tips/  the waves around/,  all the more/  because, ere co/ming, it has beam'd/  on English ground/.

(C. Mackay, “Rolling Home,” part of stanza 3.)

(5c.) And the bush/  hath friends to meet/  him, and their kind/ly voices greet/  him in the mur/mur of the bree/zes and the ri/ver on its bars/,
And he sees/  the vision splen/did of the sun/lit plains exten/ded, and at night/  the wondrous glo/ry of the e/verlasting stars/.

(A. B. Paterson, “Clancy of the Overflow,” stanza 4.)

There's a cry/  from out the Lone/liness—Oh lis/ten, Honey, lis/ten! Do you hear/  it, do you fear/  it, you're a-hol/ding of me so?/
You're a sob/bing in your sleep/,  dear, and your la/shes, how they gli/sten—do you hear/  the Little Voi/ces all a beg/ging me to go?/

(R. W. Service.)

There may be a further variation of the quadruple verse: it may open with a quadruple unit. No example of this has been noted, however. Should it be found, its place will fall naturally after (5c).

4. The verses exampled in the foregoing paragraph may vary in yet two more ways at the mid-pause—that is to say, in the fifth unit. This unit may contain either one syllable only, or it may contain one syllable more than the normal number contained by the units of the verse. In the former instance the second half-verse opens abruptly; in the latter instance the first half-verse has a feminine ending.


../../../.././../../../    (2, 2, 2, 2; 1, 2, 2, 2)


../.../.../..././.../.../.../    (2, 3, 3, 3; 1, 3, 3, 3)


.../.../.../..././.../.../.../    (3, 3, 3, 3; 1, 3, 3, 3)


../../../../  .../../../../    (2, 2, 2, 2; 3, 2, 2, 2)


../.../.../.../..../.../.../.../    (2, 3, 3, 3; 4, 3, 3, 3)


.../.../.../.../...../.../.../.../    (3, 3, 3, 3; 4, 3, 3, 3)

– 647 –

The variations (6), (7), and (8) are of very infrequent occurrence; they occur chiefly in isolated verses, not in complete stanzas. There appears to be a repugnance for an abrupt second half-verse to follow a half-verse with ordinary duple or triple opening. No example of No. (6) has been noted; the following verse shows the structure, but is rendered imperfect by the triple unit :—

(6.) The draw/bridge falls/—they hur/ry out/— clat/ters each plank/  and swin/ging chain/,

(Scott, “Cadyow Castle,” stanza 11.)

The verse would be conformable were the “each” omitted :—

(6a.) The draw/bridge falls/—they hur/ry out/— clat/ters plank/  and swin/ging chain/,

The two following are quoted as examples of (7) :—

(7a.) The year's/  at the spring/  and day's/  at the morn/;  morn/ing's at seven/; the hill-/side's dew-pearled/;
The lark's/  on the wing/; the snail' s/  on the thorn/:  God's/  in his heaven/— all's right/’ with the world/.

(R. Browning, from “Pippa Passes.”)

The third and seventh units of both verses are defective in being duple, but that is immaterial: the type is presented. The following is nearer type, though further from poetry; it is metrically defective only in the sixth unit :—

(7b.) As gay/  as a lark/  and as blythe/  as a bee/,  hand/some, gen/erous, sprigh/tly, and young/;

(Cross, “By goles, I never will marry.”)

No. (8) is represented by the following :—

(8.) I have read/  her roman/ces of dame/  and knight/; she/  was my prin/cess, my pride/,  my pet/,

(A. L. Gordon, “The Romance of Britomart.”)

Gordon's poem contains several examples of the metre, but all are defective in admitting two duple units—the fourth and eighth in the examples quoted. The construction shown in (9), (10), and (11) is more frequently met with :—

(9.) When love/ly wo/man stoops/  to fol/ly, and finds/  too late/  that men/  betray/,
What charm/  can soothe/  her me/lancho/ly?  What art/  can wash/her guilt/  away?/

(O. Goldsmith. “Stanzas on Woman.”)

(10.) How long/  didst thou think/  that his si/lence was slum/ber? When the wind/  waved his gar/ment, how oft/  didst thou start?/
How ma/ny long days/  and long weeks/  didst thou num/ber, ere he fa/ded before/  thee, the friend/  of thy heart?/

(Sir w. Scott, “Hclycllyn,” part stanza 3.)

(11.) Of the mail-/cover'd ba/rons, who prou/dly to bat/tle led their vas/sals from Eu/rope to Pa/lestine's plain/,
The escu/tcheon and shield/,  which with e/very blast ra/ttle, are the on/ly sad ves/tiges now/  that remain/.

(Lord Byron, “On leaving Nowstead Abbey,” stanza 2.)

The blending of (10) and (11) is shown in the following, where it is curious to note how the humorous writer changes the metre from duple to triple :—

(1la.) “When wo/man,’ as Gold/smith declares/,  “stoops to fol/ly, and finds/  out too late/  that false man/  can betray”/,
She is apt/  to look dis/mal, and grow/  melan-cho/ly, and, in short/,  to be an/ything ra/ther than gay/.

– 648 –

He goes on/  to remark/  that “to pun/ish her lo/ver, wring his bo/som, and draw/  the tear in/to his eye/,
There is/  but one me/thod” which he/  can disco/ver that's like/ly to ans/wer—that one/  is to “die”!/

(A. H. Barham (Ingoldsby),. “The Black Mosquetalre,” canto 11.)

The quadruple metre may vary in this way also, but no examples have been encountered; when found, they readily fall into place in the scheme.

5. The whole of the examples given in paragraphs 3 and 4 constitute one group of the varieties into which Romance verse is divided. The group may be summarized and tabulated as follows :—

Group A.
Variation 1.

  • Subvariation;(a.) Ordinary duple Example (1).

  • (b.) Triple, with opening and midduple Example (2).

  • (c.) Triple, with opening duple Example (3).

  • (d.) Quadruple, with opening and mid-duple Example (3a).

  • (e.) Quadruple, with opening duple and mid-triple.

  • (f.) Quadruple, with opening duple.

  • (g.) Triple, with mid-duple;Example (4).

  • (h.) Ordinary triple Example (5).

  • (i.) Quadruple, with opening triple and mid-duple.

  • (f.) Quadruple, with opening and mid-triple Example (5b).

  • (k.) Quadruple, with opening triple Example (5c).

  • (l.) Ordinary quadruple with mid-variants if any found.

Variation 2. (Mid or fifth unit abrupt in all eases.)

  • Subvariation(a.)Ordinary duple Example (6).

  • (b.) Triple, with opening duple Example (7).

  • (c.) Quadruple, with opening duple.

  • (d.) Ordinary triple Example (8).

  • (e.) Quadruple, with opening triple.

  • (f.) Ordinary-quadruple.

Variation 3. (Mid-feminine—i.e., fourth unit with feminine ending.)

  • Subvariation (a.) Ordinary duple Example (9).

  • (b.) Triple, with opening duple Example (10).

  • (c.) Quadruple, with opening duple.

  • (d.) Ordinary triple Example (11).

  • (e.) Quadruple, with opening triple.

  • (f.) Ordinary quadruple.

Key to Group and Variations.


Any Romance verse whose first unit is ordinary duple, triple, or quadruple—i.e., two-, three-, or four-syllabled, with stress on the last syllable—and whose last unit is stressed on the last syllable, irrespective of number of syllables from one to four, belongs to Group A.


Any such verse whose fifth unit contains two or more syllables, up to the number of syllables in the normal unit of that verse, belongs to variation 1—that is, in duple metre the fifth unit must have no more than two syllables; in triple, no more than three; in quadruple, no more than four; and in no case less than two.


Any verse whose fifth unit has only one syllable, and that one stressed, making the second half-verse abrupt, belongs to variation 2.


Any verse whose fourth unit has a feminine ending followed by a normal fifth unit belongs to variation 3. In a duple verse the fifth unit will then contain three syllables; in triple, four; and in quadruple, five.

– 649 –

A combination of variations 3 (a) and 2 (a) will result in an ordinary duple verse; of Nos. 3 (b) and 2 (b), in variation 1 (b); of Nos. 3 (c) and 2 (c), in variation 1 (g).


There may exist rare examples where the fourth unit of a verse falling within this group may end with a double-feminine. Should such verse be found it would be classed as variation 4.

In the examples given illustrating the variations of the above group, regular verses have been selected—regular, that is, in so far that a duple verse is composed of duple units, a triple or quadruple verse of triple or quadruple units. In all poetry the tendency of the units appears to be towards this regularity. The formal school of Pope and Dryden almost insisted upon the necessity for such regularity, but the fact that poets gifted with keener vision and more facile utterance than Pope or Dryden showed repeatedly that the best poetry could be conveyed in irregular verse is conclusive proof that whilst the tendency towards regularity exists the necessity does not. A great many readers derive more pleasure from a regular than from an irregular verse, and there are many who for this reason would still impose the syllabic fetters. Coleridge's “Christabel” is largely irregular; still more typically so is Shelley's “Sensitive Plant.” When Leigh Hunt, in 1835, first published his “Captain Sword and Captain Pen,” he found it necessary to remark in the advertisement, “The measure is regular with an irregular aspect, four accents in a verse, like that of Christabel, or some of the poems of Sir Walter Scott :—

Càptain Swòrd got up one dày—
And the flàg full of hònour as thoùgh it could feèl—

He” [the author] “mentions this, not, of course, for readers in general, but for the sake of those daily acceders to the list of the reading public, whose knowledge of books is not yet equal to their love of them.” Though this development was regarded by many as new, it was in reality a “reversion.” The original constitution of poetry was irregular, purely duple and purely triple verses being the result of a slow development.

6. Take again the opening stanza of “The Sensitive Plant” :—

A sen/sitive plant/  in a gar/den grew/,
And the young/winds fed/  it with sil/ver dew/,
And it o/pened its fan-/like leaves/  to the light/,
And closed/  them beneath/  the kis/ses of night/.

The first verse opens and closes with duple units, and the second verse opens and closes with triple units, as italicized; in all cases the stress is on the last syllable of the unit. These facts accord with the requirements of paragraph 1 of “Key to Group,” and therefore the verses belong to that group. Again, the fifth unit of the first verse contains a triple and the fifth unit of the second verse a duple unit; and as neither exceeds the length of units found in other parts of the verses, these accord with the requirements of paragraph 2 of the key, and consequently belong to variation 1 of the group. For the rest, the verses are a blending of subvariations (a), (b), (c), (g), and (h).

7. Group B.—This differs from Group A in one unit only, the eighth or last. This unit has a feminine ending, or, in other words, is followed by an extra unstressed and unaccented syllable. The variations and sub-variations of both groups are identical, and it will not, therefore, be necessary to quote examples for all the subvariations—one for each main variation will suffice.

– 650 –

Variation 1, Subvariation (a) :—

(12.) And is/  she dead ?/—and did/  they dare/  obey/  my fren/zy's jea/lous ra/ving?
My wrath/  but doom'd/  my own/  despair/: the sword/  that smote/  her's o'er/  me wa/ving.

(Lord Byron, “Herod's Lament for Mariamne,” stanza 2.)

Variation 2, Subvariation (a) :—

(13.) a. Awake!/  my love/,  the sun's/  bright ray/,  hills/  and val/leys now/  ador/ning.

(T. Blake, “Good Morning,” opening.)

b. Oh may/  it prove/  for Scot/land's good!/  bon/nie lad/die, High/land lad/die,
But why/  so drench/  our glens/  with blood ?/  bon/nie lad/die, High/land lad/die.

(James Hogg, “Highland Laddie,” last stanza.)

Variation 3, Subvariation (a) :—

(14.) Her voice/  did qui/ver as/  we par/ted, yet knew/  I not/  that heart/  was bro/ken.
From whence/  it came/,  and I/  depar/ted heed/ing not/  the words/  then spo/ken.

(Shelley, “On Fanny Godwin.”)

Example (14) is prosodically imperfect in the second half-verse of the second verse, which begins abruptly instead of ordinarily. This metre is, however, very rarely met with.

8. Group C.—This differs from Group B in one unit only, the eighth or last. This unit has a double-feminine ending. It is seldom met with except in humorous verse, and even then the perfect form occurs only in occasional verses.

Variation 1, Subvariations (c) and (h) :—

(15.) And e'en/  as Macbeth/,  when devi/sing the death/  of his King/,  heard “the ve/ry stones prate/  of his where/abouts“;
So this shock/ing bad wife/  heard a voice/  all her life/  crying “Mur/  der!” resound/  from the cu/shion—or there/abouts.

(R. H. Barham, “Ingoldsby Legends”: “A Lay of St. Gengulphus,” stanza 73.)

Variation 3, Subvariation (b) :—

(16.) Her li/ttle red eyes/  were deep-set/  in their so/cket-holes, her gown-/tail was turn'd/  up, and tuck'd/  through the po/cket-holes;

(R. H. Barham, “Look at the Clock.” seen. 1.)

Variation 4, Subvariation (c) :—

(17.) And a ten/derer le/veret Ro/bin had ne/ver ate; so, in af/ter times, oft/  he was wont/  to asse/verate.

(R. H. Barham, “The Witches' Frolic.”)

9. These three Groups, A, B, and C, comprise Division 1 of the Romance metre. Division II has also three groups, with their variations and subvariations exactly as in Division I. The two divisions are distinguished by the first unit of the verse. All ordinary duple, triple, or quadruple openings belong to Division I; all abrupt openings to Division II. The former therefore contains all so-called iambic, anapestic, and amphibrachic measures; the latter all trochaic and dactylic. As in the latter division the first units of the verses contain only one syllable in all instances, this division does not exhibit the same amount of subvariation. One or two examples will suffice.

Division II, Group A, Variation 1, Subvariation (a) :—

(18.) Aske/  me why/  I send/  you here/  this sweet/  Infan/ta of/  the yeere?/  Aske/  me why/  I send/  to you/  this Prim/rose thus/  bepearl'd/  with dew?/

(Herrick, “The Primrose,” stanza 1.)

– 651 –

Variation 2, Subvariation (a) :—

(19.) He/that loves/a ro/sy cheek/,  or/a co/ral lip/  admires/,
Or/  from star-/like eyes/  doth seek/  fu/el to/  maintain/  its fires/;

(Carew, “He that loves …”)

Variation 3, Subvariation (a) :—

(20.) God/be with/thee, glad/some O/cean! How glad/ly greet/I thee/  once more!/
Ships/  and waves/  and cease/less mo/tion, and men/  rejoi/cing on/thy shore/.

(Coleridge, “On revisiting the Sea-shore,” stanza 1.)

Division II, Group B, Variation 1, Subvariation (a) :—

(21.) An/nan Wa/ter's wa/ding deep/,  and my/love An/nie's won/drous bon/ny;
I/  will keep/  my tryst/  to-night/,  and win/  the heart/  o'love/ly An/nie.

(“Annan Water,” stanza 1.)

The key to the division, then, is in the first unit: if the unit be ordinary (duple, triple, or quadruple), the verse belongs to Division I; if abrupt, to Division II. The key to the groups is in the last units, and to the variations in the fourth and fifth units, as particularized in paragraph 5.

10. Ballad, Nibelungen, and Alexandrine metres vary in the same way, though not to the same extent, owing to the fact that the two latter are the results of a mid-variation of the Ballad. It may be noted that should a Romance verse drop its last syllable (stressed), it is no longer Romance, but Feminine Ballad; should it drop the last syllable (stressed) of the first half-verse, it becomes that peculiar and uncommon verse found as the swell of Nibelungen stanzas, which is regarded as Nibelungen reverting to type (see remarks in example No. (16). g in paragraph 10). Should a Ballad verse drop the last syllable (stressed) of the first half-verse, it becomes Nibelungen; and should a Nibelungen verse drop the last syllable (unstressed) of its first half-verse, or should a Ballad verse drop the last unit of its first half-verse, an Alexandrine results. Should a Ballad verse drop its last unit, it becomes an unpaused Alexandrine; and this latter verse can drop nothing from its last unit without also dropping itself out of the category of metrical verses, unless, indeed, it may be said to result in a Heroic verse of five stresses.

The full tables of the Lyric metres are therefore as follows :—

1. Romance Metre.

Division I.

Group A.

Variation 1.


  • (a.)    ../../../../ ../../../../    (2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2)

  • (b.)    ../../.../.../ ../.../.../.../    (2 3 3 3 2 3 3 3)

  • (c.)    ../.../.../.../ ../.../.../.../    (2 3 3 3 3 3 3 3)

  • (d.)    ../..../..../..../ ../..../..../..../    (2 4 4 4 2 4 4 4)

  • (e.)    ../..../..../..../ .../..../..../..../    (2 4 4 4 3 4 4 4)

  • (f.)    ../..../..../..../ ..../..../..../..../    (2 4 4 4 4 4 4 4)

  • (g.)    .../.../.../.../ ../.../.../.../    (3 3 3 3 2 3 3 3)

  • (h.)    .../.../.../.../ .../.../.../.../    (3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3)

  • (i.)    .../..../..../..../ ../..../..../..../    (3 4 4 4 2 4 4 4)

  • (j.)    .../..../..../..../ .../..../..../..../    (3 4 4 4 3 4 4 4)

  • (k.)    .../..../..../..../ ..../..../..../..../    (3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4)

  • (l.)    ..../..../..../..../ ../..../..../..../    (4 4 4 4 2 4 4 4)

  • (m.)    ..../..../..../..../ .../..../..../..../    (4 4 4 4 3 4 4 4)

  • (n.)    ..../..../..../..../ ..../..../..../..../    (4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4)

– 652 –

Variation 2.


  • (a.)    ../../../.././../../../    (2 2 2 2 1 2 2 2)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../..././.../.../.../    (2 3 3 3 1 3 3 3)

  • (c.)    ../..../..../...././..../..../..../    (2 4 4 4 1 4 4 4)

  • (d.)    .../.../.../..././.../.../.../    (3 3 3 3 1 3 3 3)

  • (e.)    .../..../..../...././..../..../..../    (3 4 4 4 1 4 4 4)

  • (f.)    ..../..../..../...././..../..../..../    (4 4 4 4 1 4 4 4)

Variation 3.


  • (a.)    ../../../../.../../../../    (2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../.../..../.../.../.../    (2 3 3 3 4 3 3 3)

  • (c.)    ../..../..../..../...../..../..../..../    (2 4 4 4 5 4 4 4)

  • (d.)    .../.../.../.../..../.../.../.../    (3 3 3 3 4 3 3 3)

  • (e.)    .../..../..../..../...../..../..../..../    (3 4 4 4 5 4 4 4)

  • (f.)*    ..../..../..../..../...../..../..../..../    (4 4 4 4 5 4 4 4)

Variation 4.


  • (a.)    ../../../../..../../../../    (2 2 2 2 4 2 2 2)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../.../...../.../.../.../    (2 3 3 3 5 3 3 3)

  • (c.)    ../..../..../..../....../..../..../..../    (2 4 4 4 6 4 4 4)

  • (d.)    .../.../.../.../...../.../.../.../    (3 3 3 3 5 3 3 3)

  • (e.)    .../..../..../..../....../..../..../..../    (3 4 4 4 6 4 4 4)

  • (f.)*    ..../..../..../..../....../..../..../..../    (4 4 4 4 6 4 4 4)

Group B.

This group need not be particularized in all its details, seeing that it is exactly the same as Group A, excepting that the last unit is followed by an unstressed syllable, making a feminine ending.

Variation 1.


  • (a.)    ../../../../../../../../    (2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 +)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../.../../.../.../.../    (2 3 3 3 2 3 3 3 +)

(And so on through the variations of Group A.)

Group C.

As was the case with Group B, there is no need to particularize this group in all its details, seeing that it is exactly the same as Group A, excepting that the last unit is followed by two unstressed syllables, making a double-feminine ending.

Variation 1.


  • (a.)    ../../../../../../../../..    (2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 + +)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../.../../.../.../.../..    (2 3 3 3 2 3 3 3 + +)

(And so on through the variations of Group A.) Division II.

This division differs from No. 1 in that all verses under it begin abruptly, or with a stressed syllable.

[Footnote] * Note.—Lest it be supposed that the forms (d), (e), and (f) are impossibilities, the two following, specimens of the first and last, are given :—

And from verge unto verge of the starlit profundity
In a murmur of wings is a sound borne along,
And the sound is the cry of the ages' fecundity,
That is visioned in beauty and voiced in song.
And to the centre of the whirlpool with a swift impetuosity
We were impelled and drawn resistlessly along the rapid flow,
With an accelerated motion and a quadrupled velocity
We were engulphed within the Maelstrom in a headlong plunge below.

[Footnote] Truly these may be the veriest doggerel, but both are possibilities, and a classifier must open his ears to admit the pipings of Pan no less than the lyrings of Apollo.

– 653 –
Group A.

Variation 1.


  • (a.)    ./../../../../../../../  (1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2)

  • (b.)    ./.../.../.../../.../.../.../.../  (1 3 3 3 2 3 3 3)

  • (c.)    ./.../.../.../.../.../.../.../  (1 3 3 3 3 3 3 3)

  • (d.)    ./..../..../..../../..../..../..../  (1 4 4 4 2 4 4 4)

  • (e.)    ./..../..../..../.../..../..../..../  (1 4 4 4 3 4 4 4)

  • (f.)    ./..../..../..../..../..../..../..../  (1 4 4 4 4 4 4 4)

Variation 2.


  • (a.)    ./../../.././../../../  (1 2 2 2 1 2 2 2)

  • (b.)    ./.../.../..././.../.../.../  (1 3 3 3 1 3 3 3)

  • (c.)    ./..../..../...././..../..../..../  (1 4 4 4 1 4 4 4)

Variation 3.


  • (a.)    ./../../../.../../../../  (1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2)

  • (b.)    ./.../.../.../..../.../.../.../  (1 3 3 3 4 3 3 3)

  • (c.)    ./..../..../..../...../..../..../..../  (1 4 4 4 5 4 4 4)

Group B and Group C vary in the same manner as these two groups vary in Division I-that is, eoch verse of Group A is followed by a feminine or double-feminine ending.

2. Ballad Metre.

Division I.

Group A.

Variation 1.


  • (a.)    ../../../../../../../  /   (2 2 2 2 2 2 2 -)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../.../../.../.../  /   (2 3 3 3 2 3 3 -)

  • (c.)    ../.../.../.../.../.../.../  /   (2 3 3 3 3 3 3 -)

  • (d.)    ../..../..../..../../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 4 2 4 4 -)

  • (e.)    ../..../..../..../.../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 4 3 4 4 -)

  • (f.)    ../..../..../..../..../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 4 4 4 4 -)

  • (g.)    .../.../.../.../../.../.../  /   (3 3 3 3 2 3 3 -)

  • (h.)    .../.../.../.../.../.../.../  /   (3 3 3 3 3 3 3 -)

  • (i.)    .../..../..../..../../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 4 2 4 4 -)

  • (j.)    .../..../..../..../.../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 4 3 4 4 -)

  • (k.)    .../..../..../..../..../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 4 4 4 4 -)

  • (l.)    ..../..../..../..../../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 4 2 4 4 -)

  • (m.)    ..../..../..../..../.../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 4 3 4 4 -)

  • (n.)    ..../..../..../..../..../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 4 4 4 4 -)

Variation 2.


  • (a.)    ../../../.././../../  /   (2 2 2 2 1 2 2 -)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../..././.../.../  /   (2 3 3 3 1 3 3 -)

  • (c.)    ../..../..../...././..../..../  /   (2 4 4 4 1 4 4 -)

  • (d.)    .../.../.../..././.../.../  /   (3 3 3 3 1 3 3 -)

  • (e.)    .../..../..../...././..../..../  /   (3 4 4 4 1 4 4 -)

  • (f.)    ..../..../..../...././..../..../  /   (4 4 4 4 1 4 4 -)

Variation 3.


  • (a.)    ../../../../.../../../  /   (2 2 2 2 3 2 2 -)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../.../..../.../.../  /   (2 3 3 3 4 3 3 -)

  • (c.)    ../..../..../..../...../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 4 5 4 4 -)

  • (d.)    .../.../.../.../..../.../.../  /   (3 3 3 3 4 3 3 -)

  • (e.)    .../..../..../..../...../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 4 5 4 4 -)

  • (f.)    ..../..../..../..../...../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 4 5 4 4 -)

Variation 4.


  • (a.)    ../../../../..../../../  /   (2 2 2 2 4 2 2 -)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../.../...../.../.../  /   (2 3 3 3 5 3 3 -)

  • (c.)    ../..../..../..../....../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 4 6 4 4 -)

  • (d.)    .../.../.../.../...../.../.../  /   (3 3 3 3 5 3 3 -)

  • (e.)    .../..../..../..../....../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 4 6 4 4 -)

  • (f.)    ..../..../..../..../....../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 4 6 4 4 -)

– 654 –

Group B and Group C.

The same remarks apply in Ballad that applied in Romance metre–that is, the two groups are the same as Group A except that they have feminine and double-feminine endings respectively.

Division II.

This again, as in Romance, differs from Division I only in that the verses all begin abruptly, or with a stressed syllable.

3. Nibelungen Metre.

Division I.

Group A.

Variation 1.


  • (a.)    ../../.././../../../  /   (2 2 2 + 2 2 2 -)

  • (b.)    ../.../..././../.../.../  /   (2 3 3 + 2 3 3 -)

  • (c.)    ../.../..././.../.../.../  /   (2 3 3 + 3 3 3 -)

  • (d.)    ../..../...././../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 + 2 4 4 -)

  • (e.)    ../..../...././.../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 + 3 4 4 -)

  • (f.)    ../..../...././..../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 + 4 4 4 -)

  • (g.)    .../.../..././../.../.../  /   (3 3 3 + 2 3 3 -)

  • (h.)    .../.../..././.../.../.../  /   (3 3 3 + 3 3 3 -)

  • (i.)    .../..../...././../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 + 2 4 4 -)

  • (j.)    .../..../...././.../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 + 3 4 4 -)

  • (k.)    .../..../...././..../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 + 4 4 4 -)

  • (l.)    ..../..../...././../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 + 2 4 4 -)

  • (m.)    ..../..../...././.../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 + 3 4 4 -)

  • (n.)    ..../..../...././..../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 + 4 4 4 -)

Variation 2.


  • (a.)    ../../../././../../  /   (2 2 2 + 1 2 2 -)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../././.../.../  /   (2 3 3 + 1 3 3 -)

  • (c.)    ../..../..../././..../..../  /   (2 4 4 + 1 4 4 -)

  • (d.)    .../.../.../././.../.../  /   (3 3 3 + 1 3 3 -)

  • (e.)    .../..../..../././..../..../  /   (3 4 4 + 1 4 4 -)

  • (f.)    ..../..../..../././..../..../  /   (4 4 4 + 1 4 4 -)

Group B and Group C.

Again the remark concerning these groups in Romance and Ballad metres apply.

Division II.

As in Romance and Ballad, the verses in this division begin abruptly.

4. Alexandrine Metre.

Division I.

Group A.

Variation 1.


  • (a.)    ../../../  /../../../  /   (2 2 2 - 2 2 2 -)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../  /../.../.../  /   (2 3 3 - 2 3 3 -)

  • (c.)    ../.../.../  /.../.../.../  /   (2 3 3 - 3 3 3 -)

  • (d.)    ../..../..../  /../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 - 2 4 4 -)

  • (e.)    ../..../..../  /.../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 - 3 4 4 -)

  • (f.)    ../..../..../  /..../..../..../  /   (2 4 4 - 4 4 4 -)

  • (g.)    .../.../.../  /../.../.../  /   (3 3 3 - 2 3 3 -)

  • (h.)    .../.../.../  /.../.../.../  /   (3 3 3 - 3 3 3 -)

  • (i.)    .../..../..../  /../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 - 2 4 4 -)

  • (j.)    .../..../..../  /.../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 - 3 4 4 -)

  • (k.)    .../..../..../  /..../..../..../  /   (3 4 4 - 4 4 4 -)

  • (l.)    ..../..../..../  /../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 - 2 4 4 -)

  • (m.)    ..../..../..../  /.../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 - 3 4 4 -)

  • (n.)    ..../..../..../  /..../..../..../  /   (4 4 4 - 4 4 4 -)

– 655 –

Variation 2.


  • (a.)    ../../../  /./../../  /   (2 2 2 - 1 2 2 -)

  • (b.)    ../.../.../  /./.../.../  /   (2 3 3 - 1 3 3 -)

  • (c.)    ../..../..../  /./..../..../  /   (2 4 4 - 1 4 4 -)

  • (d.)    .../.../.../  /./.../.../  /   (3 3 3 - 1 3 3 -)

  • (e.)    .../..../..../  /./..../..../  /   (3 4 4 - 1 4 4 -)

  • (f.)    ..../..../..../  /./..../..../  /   (4 4 4 - 1 4 4 -)

Group B and Group C.

Again the remark concerning these groups in Romance, Ballad, and Nibelugen apply.

Division II.

As in Romance, Ballad, and Nibelungen, the verses in this division begin abruptly.

Division III.

In this division may be classed the “unpaused” Alexandrine :—

  • ../../../../../../  /   /    (2 2 2 2 2 2 - -)

This can vary only at opening and close, with ordinary duple, triple, or quadruple, or abrupt, at the former, and feminine or double-feminine at the latter.

In the foregoing groups will be included all poems whose stanzas are regular; stanzas, that is, composed of a definite number of full verses. To each group will be appended one or more subgroups where an exceptional construction is met with, as in the following :—

Winds are loud and you are dumb,
Take my love, for love will come,
Love will come but once a life.
Winds are loud and winds will pass!
Spring is here with leaf and grass:
Take my love and be my wife.
After loves of maids and men
Are but dainties drest again:
Love me now, you'll love me then:
Love can love but once a life.

(Tennyson, “No Answer” from “The Window.”)

When, dearest, I but think of thee,
Methinks all things that lovely be
Are present, and my soul delighted:
For beauties that from worth arise
Are like the grace of deities,
Still present with us, though unsighted.

(Sir John Suckling, “A Song.”)

The construction of these is similar to the construction of the Dowsabel stanza, but the effect is entirely different. The whose difference lies in the third and sixth lines, which in the two above examples contain four stresses, against three in the Dowsabel. The former will therefore more naturally fall into Division I of the Romance metre, under variation 1 of Group A; the latter into the parallel division of Ballad metre. A fuller discussion concerning exceptional forms will be more in place in the chapter on the stanza.