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Volume 43, 1910
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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

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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.