By John Lennard

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The 35,000 lines have 400,000+ beats ; when Spenser decided to use this stanza he effectively committed himself to a full-stop every 92 beats ; he could have others, but couldn’t omit that regular one. Yet the form was a help and opportunity : instead of pages stretching blankly away, he was confronted, once he created his stanza-form, with a series of empty moulds ready to be filled with words and articulated with punctuation ; once filled, each would have structural integrity and strength. Far from being repetitious or dull, it is a pleasure of reading The Faerie Queene to see Spenser manage the internal structure of his stanza, favouring one variant or another at different times.

Hopkins’s attempt to provide a neoclassical model of un-neoclassical practice is politically and intellectually interesting, but prosodically a mare’s nest of irrelevance and laxity that is far more hindrance than help in understanding with ear, mouth, and pen what he might have been up to. It’s his poems that matter, not his retrospective rationalisations, but it does not follow from Hopkins’s horrible theoretical self-traducement that the terminology he abused is useless or incorrigibly complex.

31 Metre pyrrhic : a foot of two unstressed beats (uu). rising rhythm : that produced by feet with stressed beats following unstressed beats. scansion : the individual metrical pattern of a particular line or poem. spondee : a foot of two stressed beats (xx). stressed : of a beat, spoken emphatically, often with the voice pitched slightly higher than for an unstressed beat. substitute foot : any foot used as a replacement for one of the regular feet in a given line ; includes inverted and distinguishing feet.

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