Impelled toward a Momentary Regularity

Emerson’s remark helps suggest the all-important difference: “It is not meters, but a meter-making argument that makes a poem.” In this kind of poem the poet establishes regularity only to depart from it expressively. When he does compose a metrically regular line it is not because the metrical scheme tells him to, but because something in the matter he is embodying impels him toward a momentary regularity.   […] 

The poet working in free verse has already chosen to eschew one of the the most basic expressive techniques in poetry.

Paul Fussell: Poetic Meter and Poetic Form
(from Chapter 3, Metrical Variations)

Medieval Simulacra of Pleasure


Medieval theories of meter, in fact, frequently assume that the pleasure man takes in meter is a simulacrum of the pleasure he takes in the observation of the principle of order and recurrence in a universe which is itself will and order incarnate.

from: Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, Paul Fussell 1965

by simulacrum I guess he must mean an insubstantial form or semblance of something; or maybe the replacement of reality by its representation – or perhaps merely an image devoid of the substance contained in the original?


To the Perplexed Reader

…since the would-be quantitative poet was obliged to remember constantly the arbitrarily assigned “quantities” of the English syllables he chose to use, quantitative composition was a laborious academic-theoretical business, like all such nonempirical enterprises more gratifying to the self-congratulating practitioner than to the perplexed reader.

P. Fussel, Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, Ch. 4: The Historical Dimension

Lovely Reader, Meter Made

I STILL don’t know why I love rhyming poetry. Perhaps the Beatles had something to do with it, as the grooves were transferred from vinyl to my developing brain after 1968…

I picked up Poetic Meter and Poetic Form by Paul Fussell from a free book bin and then ignored it for several years. Recently, I began mining its gold with great enjoyment. Here are some words from the first chapter of the 1965 edition:

“Civilization is an impulse toward order; but high civilizations are those which operate from a base of order without at the same time denying the claims of the unpredictable and even the irrational. The impulse toward the metrical organization of assertions seems to partake of the more inclusive human impulse toward order. Meter is what results when the natural rhythmical movements of colloquial speech are heightened, organized, and regulated so that pattern – which means repetition – emerges from the relative phonetic haphazard of ordinary utterance. Because it inhabits the the physical form of the very words themselves, meter is the most fundamental technique of order available to the poet.”

This is beautiful and I agree lyrically,  metrically, and enthusiastically. But it gets even better – as Dr. Fussell brings in foot-tapping, head-nodding, Chaos and Flux several paragraphs later:

“The pleasure which universally seems to result from foot tapping and musical time beating does suggest that the pleasures of meter are essentially physical and as intimately connected with the rhythmic quality of man’s total experiences the similarly alternating and recurring phenomena of breathing, walking, or lovemaking… children and the unsophisticated receive from meter almost wholly physical pleasure, manifesting itself in foot tapping and head nodding, On the other hand, more experienced and sensitive readers probably derive much of their metrical pleasure from the high degree of rhetorical attention which meter demands (‘Meter keeps the mind on the stretch,’ one critic has said), or from the intellectual and humanistic delight of witnessing order and containment being born out of chaos and flux.”