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VII. FALSE MÉTRE AND DUBIOUS · · · ·
VERSE in the abstract is a system of proportion in which the poetic mind embodies its creations. The poet in all ages and all countries employs this plastic tool for the same reason as the musician observes time in music. The one deals with sounds, the other with words, the rhythmic weaving of which constitutes, with either, his art. Where the sense of proportion begins, there art takes its rise, for art and proportion are one: wherever, then, we can trace proportion among words, there we shall have verse.
From the outset none should make confusion between the terms 'verse' and 'poetry. These are indeed for the most part used synonymously, but verse strictly is the warp and weft of the gorgeous texture, and might exist without poetical colours as easily as tissue might be woven without pattern or facing of any kind; the term poetry, on the other hand, only correctly belongs to the finished fancy bright woven in. Now with poetry proper—the soul of the Muse, so to say-we have little or nothing to do in this treatise save reflectively; our task is lower, less etherial somewhat: we have her blessed body to anatomise.
So much for verse and poetry; now a few words for verse and prose.
Literary prose, at least with some writers, is to the full as artificial a product as much verse, and as far removed with
its balanced forms from the run of every-day speech; but in that it has neither return of sound as rhyme, nor fixed movement as metric feet, nor settled length as the line, nor reliable and regular cadence, all and each of which severally and together form the constituents of metre, the limitation between prose and verse is hardly ever matter of doubt even for the shortest space.
The most distinguishing feature of verse from prose is, then, that it has its proportions more clearly marked-is in fact more rhythmic. The line of precision between the two, which indeed all do not draw at the same place, it will be one of our objects to carefully delineate as we proceed.
All readers of poetry must occasionally in their lives have perused the first line or so of a poem before they fell into the run of it. For such few moments the verses were as prose to them. It is this rhythm, run, or sing-song, which is the most characteristic quality of verse, being in fact the manifestation of its innate proportion.
Verse read with this rhythm or run purposely ignored no longer wears metric semblance: could prose be of sufficient regularity to allow of being repeated in such-like rhythmic manner, verse it would become, even as the highest development of the same regimen transforms further into song, articulate or otherwise. There can be no uttered verse without something of this rhythm in the tone, even as there can be no song without singing, though excessive leaning to it be voted vulgar; a question of taste there is no call to arbitrate upon. Precisely as in song a tone is lent to words they do not otherwise possess, so in all verse is rhythm a change and modulation of cadential tone conformable to the metre.
It is in the simple natural fact that all exaltation is rhythmic that verse founds its right to existence, for rhythm conversely has a tendency to produce elevation, which of course is the desideratum of the poet.
We thus see why the ordinary distinction between prose and poetry is allowed to be determined by the outward symbol of verse, suffered to rest rather on the form than on the spirit. The true spirit of poetry is often as marked in a prose writer as in a poet, sometimes more so for certain distances; but the systematic elevation of verse is the guise in which the instinct of habit teaches us to look for the genuine production, as we should for the king to the man wearing the crown. If so doing we are deceived, anger arises at the individual whose assumption of the symbol of royalty has misled us; and so it is the world has nothing but scorn for the undue assumer of the crown of verge whose claim is not warranted by performance.
For the manifestation of proportion, in one word rhythm, there must of course be some proportionate principle applied, which thus constitutes the metrical base of the verse. The nature of this base is dependent on that of the particular language, and may be of various kinds, the only requirement being metrical capability.
In English every word of more than one syllable receives a greater accent or stroke of the voice on one part than another: thus, simple, intélligible, obligation, on the first, second, third syllables respectively, the voice invariably singling one with the strong beat. Also the words which consist only of one syllable have the accents one among another according to their relative importance. Thus if we say “the leáves are fálling from the trées,' 'leaves' and 'trees' have a no less decided emphasis over their more unimportant fellows than the syllable 'fall' over 'ing' in the longer word.
This system of accentuation is an inseparable part and parcel of all our speech; and in fact the real life, movement, and soul of it. Of so great importance, and marking strongly place and place, it appears naturally to impart an idea of proportion, and lend itself to metric use, of which, as said, that is the ulterior principle.
The accents of a verse falling at regulated intervals divide it into what are called feet, the commonly accepted unit in most versification, which, however, should rather be the line. The ways in which verse may be constituted by arrange