UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Songs of circum/stance-original poems and introduction Kearns, Lionel John


This thesis consists of a selection of original poems and an introductory essay which treats the subject of poetic form and sets out an original system of verse notation, called "Stacked Verse" which is used in laying out the poems. The essay may be summarized as follows. Verse, in its widest definition, is language whose sound form has been ordered or stylized for special aesthetic effect. Because verse is a time art, its essential form is a rhythm, that is, a chronological set of points and their intervals. These points may be marked by any significant feature of the language, although in English verse the speech feature most commonly used as a basis for measure is syllable stress. Yet this term is ambiguous because in English speech there are two different systems of relative stress patterning operative at the same time. On one hand there is the relative stress within individual words. This type of patterning, which we call "word stress", is stable within the language, and has functioned as the basis of traditional English metre. The other system of relative stress patterning, which we call "rhetorical stress", varies according to the speaker and the occasion. Rhetorical stress patterning is a matter of syllable groups, pauses, and equal time intervals between heavily stressed syllables. When this type of patterning is stylized we get what is known as "strong stress" verse measure. Although this latter type of measure has not occurred extensively in English verse since Chaucer's time, it has nevertheless come down to us in folk verse and in the work of such poets as Langland, Skelton, Coleridge and Hopkins, and is being practised increasingly by poets in our own day. This brings us to the question of variable, as opposed to regular, form. The stylization of speech features does not necessarily imply regularization. The prevalence of run-on line endings both in strong stress poetry of the Anglo-Saxons and in metred blank verse since Shakespeare's day testifies to the fact that regularity has never been an indispensable feature of English verse. Closely associated with variable verse measure is the theory of organic form. A poet may either begin his composition with some fixed model in mind, or he may choose to compose in utter freedom, letting the poem take the shape which his emotion, not his conscious intellect, gives it. The measure of this latter type of composition will naturally be variable, but if it is also to be organic in the sense of being truly correlative to the poet's emotion it must be based on a feature of the language that does in fact vary according to an individual's emotional condition. Such a speech feature is rhetorical stress patterning, and therefore a validly organic verse form would be one based on variable strong stress measure. The reason this type of measure is still relatively unrecognized is because it cannot be represented on the page by conventional transcription methods, our writing system being inadequate in marking the variable rhetorical stress patterns of English speech. Because the following poems have their verse forms based on such variable strong stress measure, the writer has found it necessary to devise a system of verse notation which will handle this type of verse form on the page. The writer calls this notation "Stacked Verse".

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