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Sect. III. Words considered as sounds.
In the first of these lines the harsh combinations of consonants make the difficulty of pronunciation very observable; in the second, the author hath not been so successful. I know not how it might affect the more delicate ear of an Italian, but if we compare it with the generality of English verses, we shall find it remarkably easy and flowing. It has nothing in respect of sound, either in the syllables separately, or in the measure, that in the least favours the sentiment, except only in its ending in a spondee, instead of an iambus. But this is too common in our poesy to have any effect that is worthy of notice. Vida's translator, in a passage extremely similar, hath been happier, if he be not thought to have exceeded in this respect: -
If some large weight his huge arm strive to shove,
First, the word verse is harsher than line; secondly, the ending is in two spondees, which, though perhaps admissible into the iambic measure, is very rare, and hath for that reason a more considerable effect. A fourth cause of difficulty in the pronunciation, is the want of harmony in the numbers. This is frequently an effect of some of the forementioned causes, and may be illustrated by some of the examples already quoted. In the following passage from Milton, one of the most unharmonious in the book, hugeness
of vivacity as depending on the choice of words.
of size, slowness and difficulty of motion, are at once aptly imitated:
Part, huge of bulk!
Tempest the ocean *.
An illustration of tardiness, difficulty, and hesitancy, through fear, the same author hath also given usia the ill-compacted lines which follow:
He came," and with him Eve, 'more loth," tho' first
Several of the foregoing causes concur in the following couplet,
So he with difficulty, and labour hard,
A fifth cause of difficulty, the last I shall take notice of, is, when there is a frequent recurrence of the same letters or syllables, especially where the measure requires a quick pronunciation, because then there is the greatest risk of mistake and confusion $.
I SHALL just mention another subject of imitation by
* Paradise Lost, B. VII. 4 Ibid. B. X. f Ibid. B. II. § An excellent cxample of this kind we have from the Iliad,
This recurrence is the happier here, as it is peculiarly descriptive of rugged ways and jolting motion.
Sect. III. T Words considered as sounds.
sound, which is very general, and may be said to comprehend every thing not included in those above mentioned. The agreeable in things may be adumbrated to us by smooth and pleasant sounds, the disagreeable by such as are harsh and grating. Here, it must be owned, the resemblance can be but very remote, yet even here it will sometimes serve to enliven the expression. -
INDEED the power of numbers, or of a series of accordant sounds, is much more expressive than that of single sounds. Accordingly, in poetry we are furnished with the best examples in all the kinds; and, as the writer of odes hath in this respect a much greater latitude than any other kind of versifier, and at pleasure may vary his measure with his subject, I shall take a few illustrations from our lyric poets. All sorts of English verse, it hath been justly remarked, are reducible to three, the iambic, the trochaic, and the anapestic. In the first of these, the even syllables are accented, as some choose to express it, or as others, the even syllables are long; in the second, it is on the odd syllables that the accent rests; in the third, two unaccented syllables are followed by one accented. The nearer the verses of the several kinds are to perfection, the more exactly they correspond with the definitions just now given; though each kind admits deviations to a certain degree, and in long poems even requires them for the sake of variety. The iambus is expressive of dignity and grandeur; the trochee, on
Of vivacity as depending on the choice of words.
the contrary, according to Aristotle +, is frolicsome
and gay. It were difficult to assign a reason of this difference that would be satisfactory; but of the thing itself, I imagine, most people will be sensible on comparing the two kinds together. I know not whether it will be admitted as a sufficient reason, that the distinction into metrical feet hath a much greater influence in poetry on the rise and fall of the voice, than the distinction into words; and if so, when the cadences happen mostly after the long syllables, the verse will naturally have an air of greater gravity, than when they happen mostly after the short. An example of the different effects of these two measures, we have in the following lines of an admired modern, whose death lately afforded a just subject of lamentation to every good man, as well as to every friend of the muses.
Thee the voice, the dance obey,
+ Rhet. Lib. III.
Sect. III Words considered as sounds.
Where'er she turns, the Graces homage pay.
The expression of majesty and grace in the movement of the six last lines is wonderfully enhanced by the light and airy measure of the lines that introduce them. —The anapest is capable, according as it is applied, of two effects extremely different; first, it is expressive of ease and familiarity, and accordingly is often used with success both in familiar epistles and in pastoral. The other effect is an expression of hurry, confusion, and precipitation. These two, however different, may be thus accounted for. The first is a consequence of its resemblence to the style of conversation : there are so many particles in our language, such as monosyllabic pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, and articles, on which the accent never rests, that the short syllables are greatly supernumerary. One consequence of this is, that common chat is with greater ease, as I imagine, reduced to this measure, than to any other. The second consequence ariseth purely from its rapidity compared with other measures. This effect it is especially fitted to produce, when it is contrasted with the gravity of the iambic measure, as may be done in the ode ; and when the style is a little elevated, so as to be sufficiently distin
* Gray's Progress of Poesy.