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week 6

Section 001 / Fall 2004 / Susan Tichy / Tuesday 7:20-10:00 / Thompson Hall 106


READING FOR WEEK 6: Annotations for
Poetry as Discourse
& Notes on the Traditional Ballad  

Easthope Chapter 1 Discourse as Language / Chap 2 Discourse as Ideology /

Chap 3 Discourse as Subjectivity / Chap 4 Iambic Pentameter / Chap 5 Feudal Ballad

a note on the predominance of fours

Easthope & the Ballad / What is a Ballad / Ballad Structure & Aesthetic / Ballad World /

Easthope Chap 6 Shakespeare & Pope

20th Century Preview: Lorine Niedecker & Ballad

Antony Easthope: Poetry as Discourse

Depending on your reading background, this book may represent wholly new territory in the reading of poems. As a work of literary and cultural theory it is rare in its focus on poetic form. As a book on poetic form it is rare in its use of discourse theory to illuminate poetic composition and affect. If you have not previously read linguistic or cultural theory, you may find Part I hard going. (I certainly do.) Once the conceptual framework is grasped, however, Part II provides valuable readings of the ways poetic form & the conventions of poetic discourse work to create meaning. 

These notes come in three parts: 1) notes to help you find and focus on the principle definitions and concepts in Part I; 2) notes on the ballad and other 4x4 forms, tied to Easthope's chapter on the ballad as well as to his contrast between pentameter and 4-beat forms in his chapter on iambic; 3) brief notes on chapters 6 & 7, Shakespeare and Pope. Notes on chapters 8 & 9 appear in the weeks we'll read them..

The quantity of material on ballad is out of proportion to the time we will probably have to devote to it. I offer it because you are unlikely to get it anywhere else.

Oddly, Easthope does not include a discussion of blank verse per se, the pentameter form which goes farthest toward the illusion of a freely speaking voice. You could argue that in blank verse the pentameter line claims to finally supersede all other claims of the signifier, at least at the level of poetic form. Historically, too, the great age of blank verse (Shakespeare's drama followed by Milton) precedes the Augustan closed couplet, making the latter seem a retrenchment back toward consciousness of the enunciation of form. Augustan claims for transparency and clarity take on a different meaning in this context. Easthope appears to allude to this in the opening sentences of his chapter on Pope -- one wonders if a chapter on Milton's blank verse was written but later omitted. In any case, instead of taking these forms in order of their historical ascendancy, Easthope addresses blank verse after the couplet, as part of his discussion of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," in your reading for the next two weeks.

Since blank verse is also a precursor to free verse (Milton was criticized by contemporaries for writing a verse that was only verse to the eye), it is possible that we will contrive an extra class meeting this week in order to discuss blank verse in a bit more detail.

Part I: Chapter 1: Discourse as Language

In this chapter Easthope lays out the linguistic foundation of his argument. The terms may be unfamiliar to you, but the basic concepts are relatively simple. This discussion is more or less a rehearsal in the terminology of linguistics of the old argument between poets and all other users of language. 

Be sure you understand the following:

  • Signifier & signified.
  • The preliminary definition of discourse, Easthope’s modifications of conventional discourse theory, and the idea of a specific discourse tradition.
  • The precedence of the signifier or the materiality of language, as conceived by Saussure and by Derrida.
  • The foregrounding of the signifier in poetry.
  • The difference between transparency and reference.
Chapter Two: Discourse as Ideology 

Here Easthope lays out the philosophical basis of his reading of poetry and poetic discourse as historical and therefore ideological phenomena. While we are not interested in Marxist economic and sociological terminology per se, we will be discussing all semester the paradoxical nature of poems as historical objects – produced in the context of one time, place, and human writer, then reproduced by readers in wholly new contexts. We will also be interested throughout the semester in subject position -- how poems both model and create forms of subjectivity.

Be sure you understand the following:

  • The definition of ideology, its relation to a ruling class or group, and its tendency to occupy all intellectual space.
  • The relative autonomy of an ideological structure such as law or poetry.
  • The way Easthope uses the idea of the signifier to break down the notion that only the content of poems can be ideological.
  • The dual ‘production’ model of art: as produced object and as an object that produces certain kinds of subjectivity in readers or viewers.
  • The contradictory definitions of ‘subject’.
Chapter 3: Discourse as Subjectivity

This chapter begins by reiterating the idea that subjectivity is created as an effect of discourse and is not its pre-existing point of origin. Easthope’s arguments depend on this, as on other fundamental principles he has explicated. But even if we wish to disagree philosophically, we can see that as a practical matter, subjectivity as an effect of discourse is something available to us, while a theoretical subjectivity preceding the text is not. Therefore, the following discussions can be useful even to a philosophically resisting reader.

A key statement on p.32: “…human beings can only become subjects by entering a system of signifiers which relate to each other independently of the subject. So there is no discourse without subjectivity and no subjectivity without discourse.”

Be sure you understand the following:

  • Syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes as defined by Saussure, in which the syntagmatic chain equals discourse and the paradigmatic axis or associative chain is outside discourse.
  • Lacan’s revision of this, which focuses on the fact that coherent meaning on the syntagmatic chain is possible only by exclusion of all Other signifiers, which Lacan posits as source of the split into conscious and unconscious, so “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other” and “the play of the signifier.”
  • Lacan’s description of the ego not as transcendent but as a process that takes place between looking and seeing.
  • Deictics, or ‘signs of person,’ as discussed on 40-42
  • Enunciation / enounced & subject of the enounced / subject of the enunciation. The latter distinction is partly dependent on the dual status and definition of ‘subject’ and partly dependent on the differences between the signified and the signifier, the effect of transparency and the material nature of signifiers through which the effect of transparency is produced.
The destination of all this argument appears on the last few pages, where Easthope draws together the linguistic and philosophical threads he has been tracing. 
“So, for the subject of the enounced: the word is treated as meaning; the signifier is lined up with signified; the syntagmatic chain is carefully sustained in its linearity; discourse appears transparent; subjectivity becomes centred, finding a fixed position where the ego is apparently present to itself. For the subject of enunciation: the word is treated as thing; the signified slides under the signifier; the syntagmatic chain is fissured and broken; discourse is revealed as a material process; subjectivity becomes decentred, as the fixed position of the ego is shown to be a temporary point in the process of the Other. In the Lacanian conception these two positions or ‘states’ are designated as the Imaginary and the Symbolic. Like Blake’s Innocence and Experience they are contraries defined in relation to each other…. The Imaginary and the Symbolic, repetition of identity and difference, are terms of a dialectic, both necessary for the construction of human subjectivity.” 44-45
Easthope focuses on the implications for human subjectivity. When I read that passage, however, I think of the writing process.

Likewise in Easthope’s redefinition of histoire / discours (on 45-46) as terms to distinguish an impersonal or personal narrator within the enounced. As makers of poems, not just readers, we must know the difference between a poetic effect and the means for producing it. 

Please read the conclusion carefully, in which Easthope spells out three implications of the disjunction between the subject of the enounced and the subject of enunciation. These lead to his succinct final summary:

“Discourse, then, is cohesive and determined simultaneously in three respects: materially, ideologically, subjectively. English poetic discourse is materially determined, having a certain consistent shaping of the signifier inscribed in it. By the same token it is ideologically determined, being a product of history, a relatively autonomous tradition, a bourgeois form of discourse. It is also subjectively determined and is a product of the reader for whom it offers a position as transcendental ego….” 
...and a segue into Part II, in which he will analyse this transcendent position not in its own terms, but as an ideology and an effect of discourse.

Part II: Chapter 4: Iambic Pentameter

This chapter should find you back on familiar ground. Here are a few notes.

In point #1, beginning at the bottom of p.56, Easthope distinguishes the various ways a syllable of English may achieve prominence and thus count as a ‘stress’ in the metrical scheme: stress itself (narrowly defined), accent, and intonation. He then reaches the conclusion on 58 that for simplicity’s sake it’s best to call them all ‘stress’. Most writers on meter follow this practice, for the same reasons the many levels of stress in any actual line of verse are conventionalized into the binary system of stressed / unstressed. 

This leads to the chapter’s principle argument: that unlike other meters iambic pentameter is defined by counterpoint: that is, the way it negotiates between the highly abstract pattern of alternating stress and the highly variable intonation of non-metrical language. Other writers may refer to this as a counterpoint or tension between line and sentence. Easthope’s assertion that this counterpoint IS pentameter may go farther than some other writers on meter, but the essence of this argument can be found in numerous sources. 

So too can his argument re: Pentameter and Ideology. In fact, it is not at all difficult to find writers on meter who equate meter in general and pentameter in particular with the continuance Civilization as We Know It. Easthope differs from them only in that he looks at such claims (whether explicit or implicit) from the outside. As Derek Walcott has said, one need only change a pronoun to reveal the interested, non universal position of such assumptions. ‘The End of Civilization as They Knew It’ may be elegiac but it is not tragic.

Where Easthope is most original in this chapter is probably when he connects that rubbery phenomenon, relative stress, to the syntagmatic properties of pentameter verse, and then links both to pentameter’s tendency to enforce certain kinds of tone, diction, subject matter, and even pronunciation. For these effects to be realized, the act of enunciation, the act of production, must be to a great extent denied. In this denial is born our contemporary idea of the Speaker as transcendently equal to the Poet, and the poem as transcendently equal to the Poet’s presence. 

Easthope’s contention that English verse consists essentially of iambic pentameter and everything else is not far from the premise put forward by Ronald Wallace as the starting point of discussion in David Baker’s Meter in English: A Critical Engagement. Wallace argues that verse divides into iambic meter and everything else. The book’s other contributors respond to this idea is numerous ways.

Chapter 5: The Feudal Ballad

In addition to its primary subject, this chapter also provides us with an opportunity to revisit Attridge's discussion of verse structure in the 4-beat line and to see how many of Easthope's claims for the ballad can be extended to other 4x4 forms. Attridge, of course, takes an opposite position to that of Easthope and Wallace, claiming that an accurate description of meter in English would not be "iambic pentameter and everything else," but "four-beat verse and everything else," a claim that is impossible to refute if you widen your definition of poetry beyond the canonizing anthologies. But like Easthope, Attridge draws connections between the advance of printing and reading and the advance of the pentameter line. That line, with its longer, more modulated rhythm seems both to require and to reward writing as a precondition: a reader can explore nuance of meter and syntax more thoroughly and at more leisure than a listener, and the longer more modulated line can reward repeated readings in ways shorter lines can’t.

Notice I said “in ways shorter lines can’t.” I did not say “to a greater degree than shorter lines can,” though this is often the unspoken assumption of those who champion iambic pentameter.

I asked you a few weeks ago to spend a few minutes reading 4-beat verse aloud, then spend a few minutes reading pentameter verse aloud. Do more of that this week, as you are reading Easthope. The differences you hear arise from two simple facts. First, there’s more room in a longer line. This affects syntax and grammar, because it makes room for modifiers, dependent clauses, and a more leisurely development of the sentence. Second, the two lines are governed by different mathematics: a four-beat line tends to divide in two. If a line is built on antithesis or repetition, it will balance at the center, form and sense thus reinforcing each other. A five-beat line can’t divide in two. If a line is built on antithesis or repetition, that two-part structure of sense will always be in counterpoint with the line structure. This asymmetry has a profound affect on rhythm of course, but it also alters the sense or at least the tone of whatever symmetry is asserted at the level of content. The asymmetrical line also favors enjambment, as the ear wants to push over the line break seeking stability and rest.

Both these features of the pentameter line have been exploited for centuries by poets who wish to mimic the speaking voice. We’ll return to this issue of voice and speech several times during the semester. For now, it suffices to reiterate what Easthope has emphasized, that both historically and formally the pentameter line has been an important tool for allowing the apparent affect of speech to pull away from the apparent affect of form. 

Turn that statement around and we can say that the four-beat line generally hovers at a greater distance from an affect of natural speech. Poems in 4s are for the most part more clearly and avowedly poemlike (or songlike), less speechlike. Much of what Easthope says about the ballad can be generalized to 4-beat poems as a group. They announce themselves as verbal artefacts more consistently and persistently than poems in 5s. Remember the discussion of Crashaw's Epitaph on a Yong Married Couple from week 2?

A note on the predominance of 4's:

Forgetting that four-beat verse still comprises a huge portion of our literary inheritance can lead to strange misapprehensions about poets who use it -- for example, the assumption that Emily Dickinson derived her common meter and other quatrain forms exclusively from hymnody. A glance at her reading reminds us that common measure was Wordsworth’s most frequent form (though you can't tell from your anthology, can you?) and was used extensively by Blake, Whittier, and most magazine poets of Dickinson’s day. 

Historically, four-stress lines are more common in high literary verse in Scotland than in England. Though Scots of a certain economic and educational background may adopt an English (or at lest neutrally British) intonation, the notion of a single, consistent speaking voice, even a single educated voice, is foreign to Scotland's multilingual history and experience. A speechlike pentameter, then, will always have a different and peculiar status in the north. The long demotic tradition, dating to the 15th century, has tended not to split as emphatically as the English into high and low verse forms. The close interaction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ literature in Scotland may also contribute to the flourishing 4-beat, which represents speech in a quicker and wittier tempo than is normal to pentameter and shows a greater willingness to let a cleverly constructed argument or narrative foreground its construction and remain emphatically ‘poemlike.’ See notes on Burns and the Burns stanza in next week's reading, e.g.

Easthope & the Ballad

Please read, in the Norton & on line:
• Sir Patrick Spens (87) the ballad most widely included in literary anthologies. 

• Edward (84) a highly literary and “improved” version, along with its oral counterpart, “Son David”, as recorded by Jeannie Robertson, Scotland's best-known ballad singer of the 20th c. 

• The two versions of “Mary Hamilton” beginning on page 91 in the Norton. 

Babylon as recorded by Dick Gaughan, contemporary Scottish singer.

Time permitting, we'll listen to some of these ballads in class.

The 'Feudal Ballad'

To call the English and Scottish ballad a feudal form is accurate in the same sense as calling iambic pentameter a Renaissance form: both are thus named for their era of origin. Both, however, have continued as living forms down to the present day. Easthope attempts to place both modes in the context of their historical emergence. In this he differs from most literary readers, who tend to read their own forms ahistorically and to place the ballad in a quasi historical past. 

    (An antidote to this is the commentary of ballad singers themselves, or repertoire studies, in which scholars analyze the work of a particular singer, including how she learned her songs and how she shaped them to her own uses. For another contrast to the "primitive" or "natural" image of the pre-modern verse & song forms, consider that as late as the 16th century the most prestigious Gaelic bards of Scotland and Ireland received seven years of formal training, while the less fortunate spent a similar time as apprentices to older poets.)

The oral and the written, the popular and the literary, are permeable categories, never more so than in the history of the ballad, where most surviving manuscripts are presumed to have oral origins and many orally transmitted songs are known to have printed origins.

On page 81 Easthope says that Harvard scholar Francis James Child saved many ballads by writing them down. In fact, Child compiled his five-volume collection, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads strictly from written sources. In other words, he collected and collated manuscripts and published collections. He personally recorded not a single ballad directly from oral tradition. The notes in his collection are quite clear on this point. Many scholars think Child may have never heard a ballad sung.

Since feudal times, when the predecessors of the ballad were composed and sung by minstrels employed by aristocratic families, the ballad and related genres of popular song have descended the social ladder just about as far as they can go. In Scotland they withstood the onslaught of Victorian sentimental song, music hall, cinema, and pop, surviving as an oral tradition into the mid-20th century primarily in the hands of Travelers and a few other rural singers. (Travelers are also called "Tinkers," after one of  their original trades, the making and mending of metal implements, though this term eventually became derogatory and is no longer used by Travelers themselves. They are a Scottish parallel of gypsies, though not ethnically related to European Romany people.) Ballads believed to be extinct in oral tradition were discovered in the thriving song culture of Scottish Travelers in the 1950s. Jeannie Robertson's "Son David" (on the Ballads page) is a famous example.

Fused with the political vigor of American folk music, the field collection of songs from Traveler singers fueled the Folk Revival of the 1950s through 70s, giving it a distinctly Scottish character — which in turn inspired folk revivals in Germany and elsewhere. Easthope’s contrast of ballad structure and semantics to voice-based, bourgeois forms can be paralleled within the contemporary folk scene, as musicians juggle the conflicting musical, linguistic and political tendencies of traditional and (more personal) modern modes of composition and performance. 

note: What is a ballad, anyway?
The term ballad causes confusion because of its similarity to the French ballade, a verse form derived from dance songs. This has fostered the idea that long narrative songs, sung without accompaniment by single singers, are in some mysterious way descended from songs composed for dancing and sung communally. Other theories regarding this nomenclature abound. In my opinion, the best logic and the best surviving evidence indicate that early printed broadsides included so many ballades that the name transferred to the broadsides themselves, and from there to any song distributed by broadside. Of course, ballad in this sense has nothing to do with use of the same word by the pop music industry to categorize any slow romantic song.
In Scotland, traditional singers call a wide range of story songs “ballads”, including some now current in oral transmission but derived from 19th c. music hall productions or other non "folk" sources. The genre our texts call “ballad,” however, is distinguished by singers under the term “muckle sangs,” roughly translated as the Great Songs, or Big Songs. The ability and even the right to sing these songs was perceived in some communities as something distinct from ordinary singing, and in singing families the ‘ownership’ of certain songs was passed down selectively from one generation to the next. 

A, if not the key difference between a traditional ballad and literary verse is that the former nearly always exists in multiple versions, all of which collectively comprise its textual identity. Our fetish relationship to the written word and the authoritative text does not apply. The quest for some authentic "original" text for an oral ballad -- and the older the better -- is a problem imposed on oral ballads by literary collectors beginning in the Romantic era. 
  • If you are interested, you can read some definitions and discussions of “ballad” by singers and scholars, as well as my discussion of "Mary Hamilton," "Son David," and "Babylon."

Ballad Structure & Aesthetic

Easthope connects the linguistic concept of “vertical substitution along the syntagmatic chain” with several features of ballad structure. Here is the late Scottish scholar David Buchan on the ballad's formulaic language and paratactic structure:
In poems built up line by line [e.g. Homeric epics] this shows most clearly in the parataxis of grammar, but in poems built up stanza by stanza [e.g. Scottish ballads] it shows most clearly in a parataxis of narrative image, a stylistic trait that in the ballads has been compared to cinematic montage and the technique of the strip-cartoon. The phrase “adding style” implies a narrative looseness which does not in fact exist, because binding rhythms unify the poems, and produce highly patterned artefacts. In addition to their sometimes intricate aural patterns of assonance and alliteration, oral poems frequently possess quite complex architectonic patterns. These latter patterns manifest themselves, structurally, and conceptually, in all kinds of balances and parallelisms, contrasts and antitheses, chiastic and framing devices, and in various kinds of triadic groupings. David Buchan, The Ballad and the Folk 52-53
Easthope refers to the aural patterns in his discussion of the ballad’s foregrounding of the signifier. He discusses the architectonic patterns of as the process of enunciation. 
  • Formulaic substitution -- and the general sense that a ballad is paratactic, made up of moveable and interchangeable parts -- is exactly the structural feature that allows different singers of the same ballad to alter it, changing length, theme, and narrative emphasis, without losing a sense of the ballad's identity.
  • The widespread ballad "Mary Hamilton," for example, has been recorded in dozens of versions. Please read the two versions included in the Norton anthology, then click the link for a discussion of their narrative structure.
Another way different versions can take on individual character while remaining identifiably the same ballad is through substitution at the micro level of verse structure. 
  • As detailed in Attridge a 4x4 stanza generally contains two essential ideas, one in the first pair of lines and one in the latter. In a ballad stanza rhymed xaxa, the essential idea in the first pair is almost always expressed in Line 1. Line 2 reinforces that idea, either by a subsidiary idea, or, more often, by repetition.

  • The second pair of lines may follow the same pattern, but more often the third line is subordinated to the fourth, making the last line of the stanza climactic.
    • Line 2 is most consistently the “spare,” i.e. it does not carry any essential idea but reiterates the idea of line 1. Thus its function is more aural than conceptual, as it sets up the rhyme sound for the stanza. 
    • In the few cases where Line 2 does carry essential information, most often Line 4 will not. 
    • Thus: in normal cases, only one of the stanza’s essential ideas is expressed in a rhyming line, and its final sound is what establishes the rhyming sound of the stanza. The essential ideas are never carried in the two rhyming lines together.
    • With a vocabulary of formulaic phrases to choose from for the ‘other’ or spare rhyming line, a singer can easily key a rhyme to the “essential” line 4. 
    • For examples, see most of the verses of Patrick Spens and Mary Hamilton. 
  • This feature operates differently in couplet ballads like "Edward"/"Son David" or "Babylon," where the burden lines are used in various ways to heighten or delay the two lines containing action or information. Please go to the Ballads page and read the text and discussion of "Babylon", then print it out and bring it to class.
All these effects contribute to the paradoxical method of narration in the ballad. Taking one step forward, one sideways, then another forward, it seems to freeze moments in time rather than rush us forward down a progress of events.  For those more accustomed to literary verse, the density of repetition, plus the location of most essential narrative in the non rhyming lines gives the ballad a sense of dissociation between form and story. Both form and story may be relentless, but they are not congruent in the manner we expect of literary narrative verse. Lack of congruence between story and form is also felt in the elaboration of aural and structural patterning. Despite a ballad's violent and passionate events, the overall affect is often one of restraint and distance. Particularly in the tragic ballads, this contributes to an eerie feeling of fatedness and mystery.

Converting to Easthope's terms, we can say that for those of us more accustomed to horizontal narration and closure on the syntagmatic axis, the ballad's foregrounding of enunciation and the foregrounding of the signifier seem curious or inappropriate to the stories told because they draw our attention to the vertical or paradigmatic qualities of language and therefore seem to hold the story back. This affect of the ballad style creates a position for the reader or listener as subject of the enunciation that differs from either the transcendent subject position of pentameter or the simpler position offered by, say, a lyric song or poem whose 4-beat form is superficially similar to a ballad. This makes the ballad particularly useful for Easthope's argument. It also makes it particularly compelling for those who get hooked on its unique affects.
  • When a ballad is well sung, these qualities don't translate as lack of emotion, but as respect for emotion. Ballad singing is restrained or 'impersonal' in the sense that the singer does not pre-empt the ballad's passions with her own. See Traveler singer Sheila Stewart's statement (on the Ballads page, in the definitions) and  Dick Gaughan on the great Jeannie Robertson (external link)

Ballad World
Features Easthope attributes to a feudal world order or world view are also handled differently by ballad scholars, who trace the form through more complex and numerous historical settings. Since relatively little is known about the precise milieu of the ballad's emergence, emphasis usually falls on more recent ballad singing communities, such as 18th century Scottish "ferm touns" ('farm towns'), 19th century English or Scottish weaving towns, or 20th century Traveler families. Each of these singing communities modified and shaped the narrated world of the ballads in characteristic ways, but generalizations can still be useful.
  • Buchan has described the “ballad world” as “a stylized limbo,” a peculiar mix of the supernatural, the elegant and far away, and the mundane. The ballad world is distanced by its aristocratic settings and characters, its sense of a wide, non-specific world of adventure and romance. All rich men are kings, all noble men handsome, all heroines “weel-faurd” [well-featured]. Stables are full of milk-white steeds, not cattle and pigs, and black or white horses are always faster than brown or grey ones. 

  • Yet we sometimes observe a complementary process of localizing, which recasts the exotic in familiar terms. Place names intrude and often shift around as the songs shift around. Lovers arriving at castle gates must “tinkle at the pin” for admittance, and kitchen boys caught making love to king’s daughters are loath to flee without first collecting their wages. A lady goes to bed determined to die for love, yet still wraps up her head against drafts. School boys carry their books, like school boys everywhere, but when the Devil accosts them they somehow know how to outwit him. 

  • The first time I taught “Babylon” one student asked in frustration, “But WHY? Why doesn’t she know her brother? Why doesn’t he know her? Why was he outlawed?” “Why” isn’t always answered in the ballad world. Fate lies in a curious combination of inscrutable forces and human will, and finds its expression not only in action, but in image, language, rhyme, and structure. This is particularly true in "couplet ballads" -- those, like "Babylon" and "Son David" -- where there are, after all, very few non refrain lines to work with in telling the story.

  •  Hyperbole and the extravagant gesture also characterize the ballad world: fleet horses, fine clothes, fantastic sums of money. Part of this extravagance is an exaggerated sense of fate, a mood increased and perhaps created by the tendency to leave out explanations and focus on dramatic encounters. 

    • In some ballad communities (including, presumably, the aristocratic world from which the genre originally emerged) wealth and finery were symbols of personal worth and praiseworthy character.
    • In other communities the relative merit of class markers may be reversed. Aristocratic heroes may be transformed into ploughboys and deer poachers. Verses identifying a heroine as a king's daughter may be omitted so she becomes a poor woman or Anywoman seduced and abandoned by a wealthy man. Or a shepherd's daughter, instead of being carried off for marriage to the rich young man, may tell him to stuff it, she'd rather marry a ploughboy. This class-conscious and democratic strain can be observed in the repertoires of singers as far separated as Agnes Lyle, an 'amateur' singer born in the late 18th century, and Dick Gaughan, a professional singer born in the mid 20th.

Easthope Part II: Chapters Six & Seven: Shakespeare & Pope

These chapters return to the familiar ground of canonical English verse. The argument re: Pope & the closed couplet seems a bit overstated. It seems to me that the ideal of clarity and devotion to the forward force of the syntagmatic chain is always in tension with the syntactical and rhetorical display of each individual couplet. Easthope seems completely correct in stating that the strength of the syntagmatic chain is what allows for local effects of display, strung like beads on a string. Yet failure to acknowledge the elaboration of each bead as a structurally important element of the discourse seems to take 18th century statements about clarity and transparency too much at face value. Without the string you have a handful of beads, not a necklace, but without the beads you just have string. 

Be sure to you understand the following:

  • iconicity
  • irony's dependence on reference to a known reality
  • the relation between transparency and strong coherence on the linear chain
  • thematization of wordplay & its relation to coherence on the linear chain & to construction of the speaker 
  • All these points will continue to be important right up through 20th century free verse.

    20th Century Preview: Lorine Niedecker:

    Of all 20th century American literary poets, Niedecker was perhaps most firmly engaged with ballad and 'folk base' traditions. A peripheral member of the the loosely defined Objectivist group of mid-century poets, she lived nearly all her life in rural Wisconsin, working menial jobs while living in close community with both the human and natural communities of her childhood. Like other Objectivists, she valued the acute observation of phenomena, including phenomena of spoken and written language. Her politically savvy poems feature rural and working class characters drawn from life, and an ongoing critique of both family drama and scripted romance. More importantly perhaps, they feature what Rachel Blau DuPlessis has called the "implacability" of ballad, "the freezing of divested social agency into fate," -- as in this poem on the death of her deaf mother.

    Old mother turns blue and from us,
        "Don't let my head drop to the earth.
    I'm blind and deaf." Death from the heart,
        a thimble in her purse.

    "It's a long day since last night.
        Give me space. I need
    floors. Wash the floor, Lorine! --
        wash clothes! Weed!"

    Formally, Niedecker's short lines play endless variations on the four-beat rhythmic base. Some, like "The man of law", can be read visually as free verse, aurally as four-beat.

    The man of law
              on the uses
                         of grief

    The poet
              on the law
                     of the oak leaf

    Others establish a similar pattern, then veer off into an extra line or different rhythmic affect to close a poem or stanza. Her longer poems play back and forth between free and familiar rhythmic patterns, or push a "syntagmatic chain" forward across the momentary closures of her rhythmic and visual structures, as in these lines from "Wintergreen Ridge."

    Where the arrows
            of the road-signs
                      lead us:

    Life is natural
            in the evolution
                      of matter

    Nothing supra-rock
            about it

            are quicker
                    than rock

            lives hard
                    on this stone perch

    by sea
                    durable works

    in creation here
            as in the center
                    of the world

    let's say
            of art
                    We climb

    the limestone cliffs
            my skirt dragging
                     an inch below

    the knee...

    Niedecker also hewed close to a folk-like anonymity in her choice to live far from literary worlds and not to pursue a literary career. She rarely titled her poems and disliked reading them aloud,  preferring to let inner ear and inner eye negotiate the forms of her poems.