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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

01 December, 2004

All About the Rhythm?

For a while now, I’ve been toying with this question regarding poetry – is rhythm integral to it? Can any beautifully composed thought and/or statement, broken down and spread over a few lines be called poetry? At a recent rendezvous Sonia rasied a similar question and I’ve been mulling over the issue since then. I still don’t have an answer. Perhaps it’s my academic background that probed me to indulge in this, I don’t know. Humour me please…

Free Verse or Vers Libre, is a 19th century poetic innovation that liberated French poetry from its traditional prosodic rules. Used notaby in the 188os by Stephen Mallarme, free verse became popular among 20th century poets, beginning with the American poets Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens. There is NO regular metrical scheme and rhythm is derived from the sounds, words and images employed by the poet.

Imagism, a poetic movement led by Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell, that flourished in the U.S and England between 1909 and 1917, placed primary importance on the use of precise, sharp images as a means of poetic expression and stressed precision in the choice of words, freedom in the choice of subject, matter and form and the use of colloquial language. Most Imagists thus, tended to use free verse, using literary devices as assonances and alliteration rather than formal metrical schemes to give structure to their poetry.

Modernists, too, have been noted for their rejection of the meter, in their rejection of the stilted formality of Victorian poets. This arose from their anxiety over the status of verse vis-à-vis prose. History of Prose reveals concentrated efforts to make it as memorable and appealing as verse, giving it a “quasi-metrical integrity” (Timothy Steele) and an edge of the emotional power that poetry wields over its readers. The modernists, radical as they were in their approach, took to integrating prose into poetry – to the point that poets like Ford Madox Ford asserted that verse might be written profitably as the novel is written – sans meter! T.S.Eliot went as far as saying that “conventional metrical composition is less admirable than poetry which eschews meter in preference for some more ‘difficult’ quality of rhythm.” (Ibid)

Coming to what I read and hear today in the name of poetry… “Modern Indian English Poetry” I think is blossoming as we speak and its fruits are as varied as strict compositions that stick rigidly to rhythm (infact rhyme!) to free verse that flouts every known rule of rhythm, meter and structure. The latter, in my opinion is our problem child. There seems to be no dearth of compostions that strike me as gool ol’ plain prose. The rhythm of words, lilt of emotions, cadence and intonation I associate with poetry simply doesn’t exist and it makes me question the essence of poetry as I understand it, know it, and see it.


Blogger manisha lakhe said...

you said it... in the very first sentence: you were regarding poetry. Stop right there.

And you will hear the rhythms in your heart.

01 December, 2004 20:34  
Blogger Anil said...

I'd like to think that the movement of poetry towards free verse reflects/parallels the movement away from tonality to atonality in Western Classical music (incidently this happened almost at the same time if I'm not wrong!). One can argue that something was lost in th process but I'd say that a lot has been gained by going in this new direction. And if I can talk about myself I'll make a very bad 'poet' in the classical sense because I can hardly ever write keeping rhyme, rhythm and meter in mind.

01 December, 2004 20:42  
Blogger SPECKLED_BAND said...

I think it's reasonable to say that there are no rigid answers to this thorny - and sensitive - question. The proponents of vers libre, free verse, call it what you will, would however do well to bear in mind that the Eliots and Pounds were very solidly grounded in classical tradition: they COULD and DID write competently in rhyme and metre when they chose to. And the precise, sharp images and precision of language which they employed in their free verse was an inevitable consequence of that very classical tradition. They could afford experiment with form - or absence of it - because of their complete mastery and control of idiom. But the less felicitous consequence of this freedom from metric shackle was the very same freedom turning to anarchy in inept hands! Of course, it's quite another matter that the inept would display ineptitude even in rhyme; there have been execrable rhymesters in every age, ours included. But this revolution made for easier dissemblance or concealment. And then again, the very definition of poetry has changed over the years: which - and to my mind, rightly - squarely puts the ball back in the poet's court. Ultimately each poet writes according to his/her preferences, and these are usually dictated by his/her own literary upbringing or evolution. This also answers Anil's atonality question to an extent.

But somewhere, I think, the form vs. content argument has to be addressed.

01 December, 2004 21:56  
Blogger Max Babi said...

hey Geet
see my blog -the comment would've
spilled over.



01 December, 2004 22:32  
Blogger Sreekesh Menon said...

Rythm and Rhyme are but words that resonate our feelings. Poetry is a sudden cascade of emotions, feeling and thoughts bundled into sweet simple words.

The poems rhyme to the feelings of the poet and his/her heart gives the poem its rythm.

Poets and Poetry cannnot be classified.

Poetry is no literary marvel , its just simple words packed with strong emotions.

Poetry breathes life into mere words!

02 December, 2004 01:34  
Blogger Sreekesh Menon said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

02 December, 2004 01:34  
Blogger . : A : . said...

I agree with what Sreekesh Menon says, poetry goes beyond rhyme and meter. It is not only about what is written, but also about what is not.

03 December, 2004 20:46  
Blogger raindanseuse said...

It's wonderful of you to have brought up this discussion on the board. As I was complaning earlier, I too can't appreciate poetry without a rhythm. For me it's simply not poetry. What I find intolerable is how some poems, written in free verse, have absolutely none, and yet they're called poems. It's true we're in the age of modernists but that element, that spirit of poetry needs to be defined nonetheless. Or else, I could go add white spaces to any piece of text and voila call it poetry!
On the other hand I also believe that simply containing a good rhyming pattern doesn't confer the title of poetry to a piece. Limericks rhyme too. What's the difference?

A stallion would bedazzle
running in the wild or marching in a file
But put it in the sea
And anyone would see
It's just not the same

04 December, 2004 09:46  
Blogger Geetanjali said...

When I posted this piece, I had no idea it would spawn so much discussion...I'm so glad it did. Sure gave me a whole load of things to mull over, and clearing up certain issues on my mind...

Sonia - I loved that analogy of a stallion!

05 December, 2004 01:38  

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