Main PageProsody Guide

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This last part of the manual will guide you through some of the further techniques that make a piece sound poetic (in addition to those described in former chapters); one can use these to find out what can substitute for thos, thus moving towards actual free verse (as opposed to the prosaic rambling that is often defined as such): this chapter will, in fact, be the first one using examples of it.
It is essential, in reading what follows, that one is not scared by the abundance of Greek names: they are all fully explained, while even the Present Author, for all his magnificence, doth not remember them all by heart himself.

What Is Phonetic Rhetoric?
Strictly speaking, rhetoric in general is simply the set of all techniques used in making language more effective. Most, if not all, of these techniques, therefore, concern poetry and, before these sad times of teen angst, pop lyrics, rural journals, gothic onanists, ethnic masters, creative writing majors and majorettes, men haters and plain fools, poetry was the human activity that teemed the most with them.
However, this guide is committed to treating only the phonetic aspects of the matter, and must therefore cut a distinction between those rhetorical techniques, such as the figures of speech, the nature of which is entirely conceptual, and those, like the anaphora, which have at least a partial phonetic nature.

The brightest Readers will have, by this point, have inferred that a good part of what poesy is involves phonetic repetition: repetition of syllabic patterns in chapter 1, repetition of verse endings in chapter 2, of entire lines in chapter 3, of stanza structures in chapter 4, of alliterating consonants in chapters 5 and 6. It is now time for us to consider repetition in less systematic way as a rhetorical tool. The first, and most elementary technique is quite obvious.

Iteratio (repetition of words or of groups)
This is by far the most abused, but at the same time the most subtle technique, which groups several well-known devices. The most obvious one is called geminatio, consisting in plainly saying the same thing twice in a row, as in these examples:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night

César, calme César, les pied sur toute chose (Valéry)

In the end geminatio seems to be good for one thing only, that is placing more emphasis on a vocative; it gives a poem some resemblance to a lullaby, and is generally speaking a very silly device. But Valéry's 'César' is a masterpiece, and its character depends much on it, so at least some good can come from this technique.
A more common, and more seriously used (and abused) device is the anaphora, consisting in the repetition of the same word or group at the beginning of each logical structure; this structure can be a verse:


Je congnois bien mouche en lait
Je congnois a la robe l'homme
Je congnois le beau temp du let
Je congnois au pommier la pomme

(entire poems are written anaphorically this way, e.g. Cecco Angiolieri's 'S'io fossi foco', Villon's 'Ballade des menus propos', to which the fragment above belongs, 'Ballade des contre verites' and 'Ballade des proverbes', Peire Cardenal's 'Ar me puesc ieu lauzar d'Amor', Blake's 'An ancient Proverb') or it can be a stanza:

¡Tu voz! Te la oía antes,
pura, come aquella fuente
al viento, entre el matinal

¡Tu voz! Te la oigo hoy,
en el occaso de oro
de mi sueño más despierto,
estrella en la última luz
del sol.

¡Tu voz! Paz de día nuevo
al descansado; suave
azul nocturno al cansado...
¡Tu voz!
(J.R. Jiménez)

Anaphoras are sometime used on a larger (every several stanzas) or smaller (within hemistichs) scale, and in classic poetry they serve the purpose of stiffening the structure, giving the verses a gnomic, prophetic or plainly insistent character, that sometimes suits humorous compositions. Anaphora is employed differently in free verse, where it co-ordinates the various parts of it in sort of pseudo-stanzas; this usage is very common in 20th century Spanish poetry (see for example García Lorca's 'La sangre derramada', Rafael Alberti's 'Invitación a l'aire', Antonio Machado's 'Anoche cuando dormía') but is found in other languages as well, such as in Italian (see Montale's Madrigale XV, Clemente Rebora's 'O poesia, nel lucido verso') and English (see Pound's Canto XLV, under the Present Author's guarantee that it isn't remotely as boring as the rest of the monumental, pretentious, preposterous work in which it is set).
This way of using anaphoras derives from the form of religious hymns in which a verse or couplet precedes an ample interval of free rambling, and its popularity in Spain should not, therefore, surprise us. Notice also how many structured poems have been built in this style (a fixed couplet followed by a regular stanza), for example by Baudelaire, Apollinaire, Laforgue, Rimbaud and Keats; this chant-like structure, if the opening part is too long or pompous, as is almost always the case, tends to make poems sound stuffy and oppressive; even masters like Apollinaire generally manage to irk their readers with it, and the Present Author declines any responsibility if anyone attempting to employ it gets lynched by an angry audience.
Anaphoras, especially those at the beginning of stanzas, are often slightly varied from one time to another or used in two alternating groups. The most remarkable occurrence of the latter is in the Provençal Contrast (but there are plenty of Italian and French examples as well), in which each stanza begins with a vocative, as you can see in this example by Raimbaut de Vaqueiras.

Similar to the anaphora and geminatio, but rarer than either, are epanalepsis (reiteration of a word or group in the middle of a structure) and epanadiplosis (use of the same word or group both at the beginning and at the end of a structure); the former is quite typical in Ludovico Ariosto, the latter quite rare in poetry: both are used to stress the importance of a particular sound (or concept), usually by using it with different meanings. The most detrimental use of these techniques is the cheap pun, something that really doesn't belong to poetry, as Seamus Heaney will never understand. These two examples, both his own, illustrate both devices, and how this once-great poet has fallen low for a few dimes:

Perch [the fish] on their water-perch hung in the clear Bann River

Stable [noun] child grown stabler

Less deleterious cases do, of course, exist in all Western European languages.
Of course, not all occurrences of iteratio fall into one of sub-categories above: sometimes words (or separate sounds) are repeated in distant parts of a poem or stanza with the purpose of highlighting them as 'keywords' of sorts. An English example of this will be given in the next chapter, and an even clearer one is provided by Apollinaire:

Le pré est vénéneux mais joli en automne
Les vaches y paissant
Lentement s'empoissonnent
Le colchique couleur de cerne et de lilas
Y fleurit tes yeux sont comme cette fleur-là
Violâtres comme leur cerne et comme cet automne
Et ma vie pour tes yeux lentement s'empoisonne
Les enfants de l'école viennent avec fracas
Vêtus de hoquetons et jouant de l'harmonica
Ils cueillent les colchiques qui sont comme des mères
Filles de leurs filles et sont couleur de tes paupières
Qui battent comme les fleurs battent au vent dément
Le gardien du troupeau chante tout doucement
Tandis que lentes et meuglant les vaches abandonnent
Pour toujours ce grand pré mal fleuri par l'automne.

This technique is ancient, to say the least: Raimbaut de Vaqueiras already used it extensively in one of his poems.
To conclude, one should take note that, obviously, identity rhyme is a form of geminatio as well.

This godawful word is used by Lausberg to indicate the repetition of consonants or syllables at a short distance; in prose it is a defect, he hastens to add. In poetry it is a fundamental technique; however, it is necessary to use the term a bit more broadly, and include in it the repetition of vowels. It is true that in European languages there is a stricter sign/sound correlation when it comes to consonants, and that the border among different vowel sounds tends to be a bit blurred (and to change with time), and that consonants are more or less the same in all languages, while vowels change even from town to town, or from social group to social group within England, so that homoeoprophoron is actually mostly a consonantal matter.
The repetition of the same sound or group is not very different, as far as the effect goes, to that of the same word: the usage of the same syllable consonant twice in a row, for example, in analogy to the geminatio (see above) produces childish words just as much as geminatio produces childish lines: it is almost universal that 'basic' words, the few that penetrate the minuscule brain of a new-born child, e.g., 'baby', 'papa', 'mum', are based on this basic use of homoeoprophoron; based on this fact, other words related to infancy, like 'lull' are built in the same manner. The 'argot' of French youth, the purpose of which is oftentimes to make the speaker look like a proper fool, is rife as well with words like 'zozou' and 'dodo', while there is a widespread habit among the most stupid spoilt rich in Italy of calling each other nicknames like 'Tati' and 'Giangi'. As a consequence, even words like 'vivid' sound a bit silly, and proper poets try to avoid them as much as possible. It is instead fairly common in poetry that the same few sounds are repeated several times across a couple or more lines, to give them a sort of unity; this usage is the sound equivalent of the anaphora (see above) and is found in many examples, some of them strikingly famous; Milton uses this device almost obsessively in his 'Paradise Lost' as a sort of replacement of rime in joining couples of lines, e.g.:

Of man's first disobedience and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world and all our woe,
With loss of Eden till one greater Man
Restore us and regain the blissful seat
Sing, Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire...

(other homoeoprophora are present than those indicated, which are only the most obvious ones).
Dante often conjoins this device with cacophonic writing (see next chapter) as here:

Perch'io parti' così giunte persone
Partito porto il mio cerebro, lasso!,
dal suo principio ch'è in questo troncone.
Così s'osserva in me lo contrappasso

(quite masterly, Dante reiterates the 'r' sound, one of the harshest in the Italian language, passing from a 'p+r' to a 'r+t' group).
It should be quite apparent now that several well-known poetic devices, as well as a countless multitude of others that theoreticians of rhetorics and language 'discover' from time to time are nothing but sub-varieties of homoeoprophoron. We shall not even try to enumerate them all but, as a general rule, let the Reader keep in mind that in order to make the reiteration of a sound be more clearly perceived, one ought to either create a number of close occurrences of it, or highlight it in some other way; phonetic ways of doing so include clustering several repeated sounds (thus creating the mid-verse rhyme, assonance and consonance) or placing them in a set position in the word, for example at the beginning or before the main stress (thus creating alliteration, which is often confused with homoeoprophoron).

A much more subtle application, that only a handful of extremely skilled poets have used, is that of the paragram, or distribution of sounds (technically speaking, a paragram is a different thing; we'll use the term here in de Saussurre's sense, however). This device has been theoretically recognised for the first time by de Saussurre in analysing Baudelaire's 'Spleen' series: the first three poems, out of four, contain the 'pl' group in the first line:

Pluviôse, irrité contre la ville entière (Spleen I)

J'ai plus de souvenirs que si j'avais mille ans (Spleen II)

Je suis comme le roi d'un pays pluvieux (Spleen III)

But it is the fourth of the series, which de Saussurre overlooked, that, in the second line, gives the clearest key to this technique:

Quand le ciel bas e lourd pèse comme un couvercle
Sur l'esprit gémissant en proie aux longs ennuis

Here, with adamantine clarity, the consonants preceding the last four stresses of the verse form the sounds SPLN (the sound of the vowel 'ee' does not, of course, exist in French).
Of course, not all examples of paragrammatic writing are so clear; paragrams almost always go together with anagrams; as far as the latter are concerned, it is necessary to notice that the traditional anagram you use in scrabble games (which consists merely in rearranging letters), due to the imperfect match between sign and sound in European alphabets, is not the kind used in poetry: e.g., 'lead' (the metal), phonetically, is not the anagram of 'deal', but rather of 'dell'.
Explicit examples of this transformation are given by Prévert:

Ah mes salauds, c'est Salomé

Paragrams were not invented by Baudelaire: the same technique is used in much older examples, and with the same purposes, that is giving unity to a piece, or to part of it, by disseminating some keywords throughout its length; the same authors quoted above when describing the plain homoeoprophoron apply: Dante, when introducing some key characters in the 'Inferno', sometimes uses paragrams to make them more memorable:

O Simon Mago, o miseri seguaci

rimembriti di Pier da Medicina
se mai torni a veder lo dolce piano
che da Vercelli a Marcabò dichina.

(this example can be read with a different, weaker paragrammatic key, we leave that to the Reader as an exercise).
England, ever richer in playwrights than in poets, has no Dante to boast, no Baudelaire, and therefore very few paragrams. One, very weak in truth, is found, and somewhat declared, in Keats:

[...] 'tis with full happiness that I
Will trace the story of Endymion.
The very music of the name has gone

(The omission of the sounds 'ND' is perhaps purposeful: there is little music in it. It would, however, be a little too flattering to presume such subtlety in a stuffed shirt like Keats, so let the Reader decide whether it is so or he just couldn't find any way of cramming them in). The most obvious and primitive (due, again, to the imperfect sound-sign correspondence) form of paragram is the acrostic; Villon uses it in the envoi of several ballades to sign them:

Voulez vous que verté vous die?
Il n'est jouer qu'en maladie,
Lettre vraye que tragedie,
Lasche homme que chevalereux,
Orrible son que melodie,
Ne bien conseillé qu'amoureux.

The realisation of a phonetic effect in poetry is achieved not only by accumulating similar sounds but also by systematically removing others that could be used. This procedure has a long tradition in poetry; the term lipogram was first applied by Salomon Certon in the early 17th century; explicit examples of lipogram exist practically only in French: there are a few one-vowel poems in Italian, but they are little more than a game. Here is a sonnet that does not use the letter 'E', therefore ruling out four distinct sounds of the French language, written by Certon himself:

Pour ravir la toison quand Jason courut tant,
Il y parvint pour vray, l'arrachant hors du sort
Aux dragons flamboyans: mais non par son bras fort,
Non par son bac fatal à Cholsos loing flottant.

Car sans ton fort pouvoir qui luy fut assistant
O doux fils à la nuict, par un subtil confort,
Son cas alloit fort mal; il y fust plustost mort,
Tant grand, tant bon fust-il, tant hardy combattant.

Mais tu luy fus amy, quand ton appas charmoit
Son dragon, qui sans fin son tison allumoit,
Il joüit donc par toy du prix ainsi conquis

Donc à toy qui luy fis un tant amy support,
Un tour tant à propos, un tant divin confort,
Soit un los immortal a tout jamais acquis.

Beyond the scarcity and obscurity of its 'pure' applications, the lipogram still is an extremely important archetype in poetry: an example of this is the care with which French poets before Baudelaire tried to avoid the use of nasal vowels, which hinder the fluency of reading. The importance of lipogrammatic writing is keyed to the fact that the introduction of cacophonic sounds in a euphonic poem, or vice-versa, weaken or utterly spoil its effect, and as such it will only be fully understood in the next chapter. However, lipograms can be used to create a contrast between different parts of a poem, whose separation is accentuated by the different set of sounds. The same lines by Dante used above to illustrate the homoeoprophoron is a nice example:

Perch'io parti' così giunte persone
Partito porto il mio cerebro, lasso!,

The word 'lasso', breaks a lipogram in which the letters 'L' and 'A' were kept at a minimum in order to promote the hard-plodding movement of the 'R''s; 'lasso' being an exclamation, its smooth-flowing sound comes as a sort of shock to the reader, realising exactly the desired effect.
The simplest way of creating a contrast, and European poets realised this as far back as in the 12th century, is using different languages: as hardly two languages contain the same set of sounds, the creation of two separate lipogrammatic groups is automatically granted. This usage of multilingual writing creates a sensation of sharp contrast, and it is in the Provençal form of the discord that it was first used in European poetry; a masterful example by Raimbaut de Vaqueiras ('Eras quan vey verdeyar') is still known, and is the beacon of the genre.
With the same spirit, multilingual writing is used by Pound in several of his cantos (in others it is used merely as a vulgar display of knowledge, which is common but nonetheless pathetic) e.g. in the aforementioned canto XLV, where the mix of French, Italian and Dutch names portrays the widespread damages of the practice of usury; it is used by Eliot as well, when the many loose voices at the end of the 'Wasteland' overlap themselves in different languages to give an impression of the folly (whatever Marx might think about the matter) of the multitudes, that is further reinforced by the fact that they say things that don't have anything to do with each other:

Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon -- O swallow, swallow
La prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruin
Why then Ile fit you. Hyeronimo's mad againe
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih

It is worth noticing that the error Pound so often incurs, using multilingual writing for the sole purpose of boasting, is very common among modern poetasters, making them sound like they're deeply schizophrenic, rather then deeply learned.
Multilingual writing can, and has been, used also in an attempt to expand the phonetic possibilities of a language; in this case the different languages are not used in separate lines, but blended together. The Parnasse poet Louis Bouilhet was perhaps the most obdurate pursuer of this aim, studying Chinese for years for this sole purpose. He might have succeeded splendidly: the present Author, not knowing any Chinese himself, is completely unable to tell. If the Reader is acquainted with oriental languages, here is the opening quatrain of one of his pieces:

La fleur Ing-wha, petite et pourtant des plus belles
n'ouvre qu'à Ching-tu-fu son calice odorant;
et l'oiseau Tung-whang-fung est tout juste assez grand
pour couvrir cette fleur en tendand ses deux ailes

Again, should one throw the odd foreign word in a poem just to show people that he knows it, rather than learned he'd sound delirious.

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