Main PageProsody Guide

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How many times have you heard idiocies like:

'She's not into grammar at all, she's into expression'
'Poetry comes from one's soul'
'Rhyming tethers one's expression'
'I write it because my analyst said it does me good'
'Yeah, I really dig pooms'
'Meaning is more important than grammar'
'A great poet? Bob Dylan'
'The Beat Generation rocks'
'I like to feel, not to think'
?

How many times have you heard the (barely English) prose that followed or preceded such statements under the weeping flag of poetry?
The aim of this reference is to try to make you forget all this for a while, introducing you instead to the phonetic nature of poetry, and how it has been exploited in Western Europe in the Middle and Modern Ages. We shall only incidentally have a look at works from the current century, not out of scorn, but rather out of lack of time ('free verse' is mostly a label under which incompetence hides, but it can also be a technical choice that would require long and twisted explanations). Not all the techniques we'll cover here have been used in English: although, we deem they could be; when they have, we shall try to provide you with English examples; when not, we are sorry to abuse your patience with not easily understood originals. We do agree with Robert Frost in defining poetry as 'that which is lost in translation'.
As a language we have chosen British English, not out of contempt or nationalism (neither of the authors is British), but because we deem it is what is closest to being the world's language; therefore 'hooker' will be assumed to sound exactly like 'hookah', 'clerk' to rhyme with 'park', and most male readers to be wearing trousers.

Conventions
In the remainder of this treatise, an underline sign, _, between two words will indicate a synalepha, a pipe sign, | a caesura, while bold letters within a verse will point out a vowel sound (not necessarily a single vowel character) bearing a major stress.

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