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CHAPTER VII

RHYTHM

29. Rhythm in speech BROADLY speaking, all earnest and purposeful utterance is rhythmical. In reading poetry or prose aloud, or in speaking your own thoughts, you will observe that the progress of your thought and feeling is expressed in vocal beats, or pulsations, recurring with more or less regularity in time.

30. The function of rhythm The peculiar function of rhythm is the expression of emotion, though all well ordered thought and action is, in a sense, rhythmical. There is rhythm in the multiplication table, rhythm in one's walk, rhythm in the alternation of day and night, and in the sequence of the seasons of the year. But in vocal and written expression, sustained and strongly marked rhythm is the result of sustained, strong, and controlled feeling. “The deeper the feeling,” said John Stuart Mill, the more characteristic and decided the rhythm.” Poetry, the most perfectly rhythmic form of language, is essentially emotional. When read merely for its ideas, and without regard to its rhythm, or its emotion and spirit, it is no longer poetry, and its power, as poetry, is lost. When speech becomes strongly emotional, as in highly-wrought passages of oratory, or narrative and descriptive prose, it tends to drop into regular rhythmic order of equal, metrical time intervals.

31. The rhythm of prose (1) In the thoughtful and earnest utterance of prose, one feels the undulation of vocal energy adjusting itself in intervals of time to the demands of thought and feeling. Read aloud the following examples, and observe how the feeling they carry finds expression in sustained and decided rhythm of utterance.

Let us resolve to crown the miracle of the past with the spectacle of a republic

, compact

, united, indissoluble in the bonds of lóve— loving from the Lakes to the Gulf— the wounds of war healed in every heart as on every hill serene and resplendent at the summit of human achievement and earthly glory — blazing out the path and making clear the way up which all nations of the earth must come in God's appointed tíme!

Grady: The New South. The little voice, familiar and dearly loved, awakened some show of consciousness, even at that ebb. For a moment the closed eyelids trembled, and the nostrils quivered, and the familiar shadow of a smile was seen. The Doctor gently brushed the scattered ringlets of the chíld aside from the face and mouth of the mother. Alas, how calm they lay there, how little breath there was to stir them! Thus clinging fast to that slight spár within her arms, the mother drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the world.

Dickens : Dombey and Son, chap. I. (2) Though prose of pronounced emotional significance, such as the above, tends to somewhat regular rhythmic form, the rhythm of ordinary prose is determined largely

by the reader's understanding and interpretation of the thought. Since there is no set arrangement of strong and light syllables, as in poetry, prose rhythm is adaptable to the speaker's thinking. A change in his understanding of the meaning of a passage causes a corresponding change in the rhythmic accents of his utterance, these being adjusted in conformity with the sense emphasis ; and though prose is not marked by that regularity of rhythmical beat which characterizes poetry, the excellent rendering of it gives the sense of rhythmical order and progress consistent with purposeful thinking. As an illustration of this, read aloud the following examples, giving emphasis only to the words underlined, allowing the voice to pass lightly over intervening ones, and observe the various shades of meaning brought out by the different readings and rhythms.

Will you go with me to-morrow?
Will you go with me to-morrow?

Will you go with me to-morrow ? Which of the following readings best expresses the thought of the sentence? Which has the more regular and decided rhythm ?

I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.

I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.

I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.

Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, I, ii.

32. The rhythm of poetry Since poetry is metrical in form, with accented and unaccented syllables alternating with more or less regularity, the rhythmical stresses may not be placed wholly at the option of the reader, as in prose, but they must conform to the

metrical plan of the poem. Observance of metrical form alone will not, of course, insure good reading. A poem may be spoken with strictest attention to its structure and metre and yet be but "a dull, mechanic exercise.” Emotional response to thought is vital in the reading of poetry. The more strong and true this response, the more readily will the utterance adapt itself to the metre and rhythm of the verse, for these are means by which the feeling of the poem is communicated. This being true, careful attention to the metrical form in reading aloud helps to a fuller and truer appreciation of the spirit of the poem. Metre and rhythm are addressed to the ear. They must be heard, if the emotion from which they spring is to be felt and communicated to others. The reading of verse with little regard for its metre, line-length, or rhythmic movement, betokens lack of understanding and appreciation and a feeble response to its spirit. Sympathetic adjustment to the thought of a poem, then, is an aid to better metrical rendering, and, on

the other hand, accurate rendering is essential to the appreciation and enjoyment of it.

1. Logical emphasis and metrical accent. a. In normal verse forms, logical emphasis, that is, emphasis required by the sense of the line, does not clash with the regular metrical accent.1

The western waves of ebbing day
Rolled o'er the glen their level way;
Each purple peak, each flinty spire,
Was bathed in floods of living fire.

Scott: The Lady of the Lake, Canto I. 1 The temptation in reading verse, wherein correspondence of metrical and sense accent is pretty consistently carried out, is to sacrifice the sense of the line to the metrical beat. This results in "sing-song " reading. The student should remember that each line adds some new idea or image, and that when we are thinking well we do not express all thoughts in the same way, -on the same pitch, or with the same melody of utterance.

The charge of the gallant, three hundred,

The Heavy Brigade!
Down the hill, down the hill, thousands of Russians,
Thousands of horsemen, drew to the valley and stay'd.

Tennyson : T'he Charge of the Heavy Brigade.

b. When the logical emphasis falls upon a word not metrically accented, both emphasis and accent should be placed as thought and metre demand, the important words being given prominence without undue violence to the regular metrical beat. In this connection it should again be observed that sense emphasis may be effected, not alone by vocal force, but by change of pitch, pause, or the lengthening of the emphatic vowel. Read aloud the lines quoted below, first without regard to the sense emphasis and with attention only to the metrical accent; then read them, giving both metrical accent and logical emphasis as indicated. How are the important words emphasized ? By added force, higher pitch, or lengthened vowel quantity ?

on the pallet before her was stretched the form of an old man.

Longfellow: Evangeline.

The lost days of my life until to-day.

Rossetti: Lost Days (Sonnet).

The quality of mercy is not strained ;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath : it is twice bless'd.

Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice.

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