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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

03 December, 2004

Response to comments on Rhyme and Rhythm

This is a response to Max Babi's several poems about rhythm in response to Geetanjali's original post.

In particular, Myfanwy is spectacularly rhythmic. Thanks Max, for dredging it out of your heap. . .

I am no expert, and this is a more modern rhyme, abcb - sort of like a heroic quatrain, abab, (also called the Elegiac Stanza) but here only the even lines are rhyming.

One can do technical stuff, all very boring and vague - something like this:


So that's 11-10-11-10 syllables. (Note that "|" here is syllable boundary, not meter boundary.) Now here I am really venturing into deep uncharted waters, but presuming that the powers-that-be agree that more or less that there are four short-long sequences (iambs) and a 2 or 3-syllable meter at the end, then this could be classified as an iambic pentameter.

But all this helps you pass exams, and actually tells you next to nothing. Poets break rules all the time, most celebratedly in Eliot, e.g.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky

which is 7/10 syllables. On the other hand, who can deny the rhythm in:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

I have always felt that the best understanding of rhythm lies not in poetry, but in song. The taala cycle ensures that at the critical points in the song, you
come back to the som. In between you may have been gallivanting everywhere, playing 11 3/4 beats in a teentaal piece, but in the end, at that precise moment, you magically return to som, eliciting an "aaah" of relief in the listerner. . .

In poetry as well, in the end, the rhyme when it comes, must also hit the som. . .
But the most important reason why Myfanwy works is not because it has a fine rhythm or a fine rhyme, but the harmony between its internal cadence and its thought. The rhythm is (somehow) in harmony with the thought, the girl childs growing up, coming home, and the father's love has something heroic about it perhaps, even in its mundane-ness. I must admit though that I was looking for some tragedy towards the end as I was reading it. . .

e.e. cummings poem is deliberately disrespectful - and evokes it with a broken up rhythm.

You feel the relevance of this harmony most poignantly when translating, e.g. if you read a dark-stormcloud-rains poem in tagore's original, there will often be a heavy sound, with a heavy meter. In translation, it is impossible to do justice to that meter, and when you read otherwise fine translations you realize that what is lost is this harmony of cadence and thought. You see this also in languages one does not know, as in translations of
Pablo Neruda's , say:

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.

Escribir, por ejemplo: "La noche está estrellada,
y tiritan, azules, los astros, a lo lejos".

translated as:

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, `The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.'

Somehow the english version, though it is the best instance I know, fails to carry the tragedy of the Spanish sound, esp for the second stanza.

What makes a rhythm harmonious with a thought? Here one reaches a domain of magic and mystery, one where you once again encounter the magic of song...

Like Coetzee says in Disgrace: "The origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul. (p.3-4)"

So Geetanjali, you see, I am completely on the side of rhythm. Without rhythm, how can poetry live up to its arrogance of ending its line anywhere and everywhere, with not a hoot of thought for the right margin? How can it dance and sing and shout - "Look at me!" How can it turn up its nose at penny-pinching squished-up miserly prose, crawling around filling up space with its verbiage? Vers libre or rhyme, it is rhythm, rhythm, cadence, rhythm, all the way.


Blogger Pragya said...

Wow! What an informative discourse. Don't have to do Google searches now for understanding the technicalities of poetry.


03 December, 2004 10:43  
Blogger Sreekesh Menon said...

Dont ask me why, read this and shouted out loud: FREEDOM

03 December, 2004 10:56  
Blogger Max Babi said...

Hi Khuto,

A scholarly discourse indeed...
may be Geetanjali could understand it all.
For me I am happy discerning rhythm in a
poem purely with my ears.

Yes, Pablo Neruda's verses in Spanish were
full of a sort of compelling rhythm : long
ago I had an LP of Neruda and Lorca reciting
their poems in their wonderful voices, and
since this language itself is so rhythmic,
I used to listen to those for hours.

Ah, the good ole days !


03 December, 2004 11:23  
Blogger raindanseuse said...

Coetzee's quote from Disgrace: I never knew someone had already put into words something that I ferociously believe in. Thanks for this lovely lesson in rhyme.

04 December, 2004 09:28  
Blogger Geetanjali said...

And Max calls my piece scholarly? If I wasn't embarassed already by him saying that, I am now! Me's no scholar (atleast not yet;-)) & I definitely didn't think of going that deep into the subject! Illuminating stuff this - Khuto, I'm glad you're all for rhythm...I was just trying to figure things out when I wrote that - with the responses generated I've got things clearer in my head now! Thanks (this goes to not just you Khto, but also to Max for pulling out those examples and the others who put in their comments!)

05 December, 2004 00:59  
Blogger khuto said...

Hey guys ... dont get me wrong but I am absolutelz
a dabbler, no scholar, no expert. Just like Max
said, I also listen to the sounds. . . No formal
traning in this stuff whatsoever.

Also I had posted some very personal stuff. It
was madness, fueled bz a mad hope that someone particular maz see it. But it was stupid and I deleted the post called "Sunset Songs" ...
I am writing this from Frankfurt airport where
the y and z are screwed up.

05 December, 2004 12:42  
Blogger zigzackly said...

On translation, here's something i stumbled on while searching for something else:

Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observes, can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade — all the threads are there, but not the subtlety of colour or design.
~ Okakura, The Book of Tea

05 December, 2004 15:06  
Blogger Max Babi said...

though I am reluctant to agree about all
translation being swept under the carpet
so mindlessly as treason, I am bamboozled
indeed by this analogy about the carpet
as seen from the reverse side -amazing!

06 December, 2004 01:30  

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