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Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


I am finally getting around, finally having a sufficient stretch of time and amount of focus, to making a post I've been wanting to make for months. Here is what I understand about sprung rhythm.

First off, Gerard Manley Hopkins only coined the phrase. While he developed the concept he did not invent it. The thing goes back to prosodic rules in play in old English poetry, which itself developed out of Anglo-Saxon poetry. This is important to realize. This means that sprung rhythm, or something of a kind, was once the prosodic rule in English language poetry. This would have been before the conquest of England by the Normans. With first the Normans and then the Plantagent ruling classes came Continental cultural influences. With respect to poetry and prosody Romance language rules of procedure were brought to bear. Which rules, through their Latin origins, extend back to the rules of Classical prosody originating with Greek language poetry. (The Romans borrowed it from the Greeks.) Classical prosody is quantitative in nature. The counting and matching of certain syllabic sequences is at the base of Classical prosody, which leads to the counting and matching of metrical constructions.

This is a pretty fascinating tidbit of information. It could be argued that prosodic rules taken for granted, the system of which ultimately relies on Classical rules of procedure, amount to an artificial overlay on English language metrical patterns, a kind of pseudo-morph of what makes for good poetry in English. It could also be argued that sprung rhythm is more natural to English poetry because of having organically grown out of the language itself. This is the situation as it appeared to Hopkins. This amounted to his Eureka! moment, what he intuited. And so he opted to return to prosodic rules in play when the English language was a much younger language. What he intuited and developed is what greatly influenced so many poets of the 20th C. It's what they took from him, from Eliot to Dylan Thomas to Ted Hughes.

I have in front of me Hopkins' explanation of sprung rhythm. It is from his essay, Preface to Poems that first appeared in 1918, long after he had died. While it makes for slow reading it cannot be improved upon. There are several operative concepts that should be kept in mind. They are key to sprung rhythm's manner of procedure: sprung rhythm, roaving over, hovering stress, outriders or hangers. Keep these concepts in mind, keep coming back to them, and his system of word patterning and line construction will make sense. One other concept should be kept in mind: logaoedic. For Hopkins English poetry was word-centric and not metrical foot based. Here is Hopkins on sprung rhythm.

"It is measured by feet of from one to four syllables, regularly, and for particular effects any number of weak or slack syllables may be used. It has one stress, which falls on the only syllable, if there is only one, or, if there are more, then scanning as above, on the first, and so gives rise to four sorts of feet, a monosyllable and the so-called accentual Trochee, Dactyl, and the first Paeon (a foot of one stressed and three unstressed syllables). And there will be four corresponding natural rhythms; but nominally the feet are mixed and one may follow any other. And hence Sprung Rhythm differs from Running Rhythm in having or being only one nominal rhythm, a mixed or 'logaoedic' one, instead of three, but on the other hand in having twice the flexibility of foot, so that any two stresses may either follow one another or be divided by one, two, or three slack syllables...It is natural in Sprung Rhythm for lines to be rove over, that is for the sanning of each line immediately to take up that of the one before, so that if the first has one or more syllables at its end the other must have so many less at its beginning...Two licenses are natural to Sprung Rhythm. The one is rests, as in music...The other is hangers or outrides, that is one, two, or three slack syllables added to a foot and not counted in the nominal scanning. They are so called because they seem to hang below the line or ride forward or backward from it in another dimension than the line itself..."

There it is. In Hopkins' own words. And I sure do love this stuff! Its flexibility especially. But also I find that it lets me follow the language itself in rhythm and patternings. Does this make sense? I am less confined within the parameters of some sort of overlay, some sort of template, and more able to let each new rhythmic beat to lead me to the next beat and rest. It is the word's sound and stress, or lack thereof, I follow. They don't follow me. The first collection in which I intentionally pursued sprung rhythm was written between '93 and '97. It is called "Waypoints". Borrowing from Hopkins I developed a rhythmic unit I called implicate rhythm. The primary notion being that each rhythm implicates the next, just as Hopkins intended.

I bet I can find online where a Hopkins poem has been parsed. Let me look around and supply the link. Maybe I should also supply a poem from the Waypoints collection and parse it.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Apr/4/2009, 1:18 pm
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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


Finding a link to a Hopkins' poem scanned may not be so easy. I might have to do it myself. But here is a link that may be of interest.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/march-20-2009/gerard-manley-hopkins/2478/

Tere
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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


I'm really looking forward to getting back to this at some point. Thanks Tere. back to read and reply when I'm able.
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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


Dave, I hope you do return to the post. I almost mentioned as much when I made it, but more than once your poetry has brought to mind Hopkins' sprung rhythm. Not that your poetry fits in his rhythm exactly. But it does work similarly to my ear in how it proceeds in packets of rhythm, so to speak, which is how I understand what Hopkins meant by roving over and the hovering stress. So I kind of had you in mind when I made the post.

By the way, you can find much Hopkins info online. And there is more to his preface I quoted from.

Tere
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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


Post three gives a helpful definition of how sprung rhythm works.

http://plagiarist.com/poetry/6111/comments/


Also this. Last paragraph I think is especially helpful, suggesting how really easy and natural the method of sprung rhythm is.

http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/5789/Sprung-Rhythm.html

Note especially mention made of two related concepts: inscape and instress. Hopkins was a deeply religious man. He felt that all created things, animate and inanimate, were in possession of their own inscape held together through a tension he called instress which is individual to each and every thing. By means of sprung rhythm he also felt that the inscape/instress of everything could be expressed.


Tere

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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


Making this post has been good for me, allowing me to clarify a situation that has bugged me for years.

The traditional (formal) scansion of English language poetry according to foot (syllable) quantification treating in units or packets of stressed and unstressed syllables has never actually been settled business. The debate has been of long standing, going back to the days of Chaucer's Middle English poetry. As suggested above the system of scansion by foot (syllable) quantification is foreign to English language poetry. It was a prosodic import pressed upon the language following the Continentalization, so to speak, of English poetry. The fit between Classical prosodic rules and our language has always been a misfit. And the reason is simple. Unlike French, for example, which is an unaccented language, English is what they call syllabic accentual. Tonally the language itself rises and falls: tonally the language itself rises and falls. This is what is meant by running rhythm. And why iambic pentameter, for example, is so natural to English language poetry. Anybody can scan a prose sentence in English and find its IP. Try it sometime. Read a newspaper article and scan it for IP. So again. Scansion based on Classical prosodic (quantification) rules has never nor will it ever fit English language poetry.

Hopkins knew as much. I think others possibly came before him. Swinburne comes to mind. But he was the first to consciously try to reclaim rhythm(s) more organic to the language. Think of it. Think of all that opens up with his notions of roving rhythm, hovering stress, and outrides. Better yet. Find a recording of Dylan Thomas reading his own poetry. And follow along with a copy of the poetry on a page in front of you. There you will have a specimen of sprung rhythm as it sensually sits on the ear.

Lordy, I am tired of arguing the point with the usual (formalist) suspects. Almost as tired as I am of the usual lang po folk who would denature English poetry of its rhythms.

Tere
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Katlin Profile
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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


Tere,

I have read through your posts but have yet to follow up on the links, which I hope to do later this week, and at which time, I'm sure I will have many questions. In the meantime, and I hope this isn't too far off-topic, I'd like to post the link to an essay on Hopkins by Jane Hirshfield I first read a few years back:

http://www.aprweb.org/issues/jan00/hirshfield.html

Here's how she concludes her short essay:

"The gap between the descriptive voice of Hopkins's Journal and the voice of his poems isn't simply the difference between a rough diary jotting and a finished work, or even the difference between prose and verse. I'd like to suggest that what you've just heard is the distinction between a poet's seeing and poetry's seeing. One may help make the other possible, but they are not the same, in kind or intention--and the difference exists because poetry itself, when allowed to, becomes within us an organ of perception, pursuing its own kinds of passionate knowledge and its own subtle forms of discovery, unlike any other.

Hopkins's work is one of the great exemplars we have of poetry's knowing; the quality of an active and original perception emanating from the words themselves lies somewhere close to the marrow of his genius. Part of it comes from the marriage of vision and ear; the poet's desire to know the "dearest freshness deep down things" opened to him, and to us, a new music for English verse. The same desire to enter a wellspring-perception led the poet to recognize the core beauty of "all things counter, original, spare, strange." The resulting permeability to what comes, however "counter" or strange, sustains the intense aliveness we find in even the darkest of his works. An elixir vitae, the forms of knowledge inherent to poems are an infusion that works against whatever diminishes the soul, even despair. Seeing through poetry's eyes, we come to know ourselves as less tempered, more free than we were, and connected to--emancipated into, if you will--a larger world."

Do you think there is a relationship between Hopkin's use of strung rhythm and what Hirshfield describes as "poetry's knowing; the quality of an active and original perception emanating from the words themselves" and what she also refers to as "a new music for English verse"? Any conjecture as to why more English language poets not have followed Hopkins lead? Does something to do with the fact that "Seeing through poetry's eyes, we come to know ourselves as less tempered, more free than we were, and connected to--emancipated into, if you will--a larger world"? I ask this because as we've become more "cultured," we've also become less free in a sense and less connected to nature. If I'm not mistaken, you wrote "Waypoints" at a time when you were living close to nature, so close, in fact, that it radically affected your perceptions?


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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


Tere,

I never knew this:

"the Christ-haunted Victorian poet whose work, although never published in his lifetime, came into its own in the second half of the twentieth century, exerted a major influence on such poets as Elizabeth Bishop and John Berryman".

Still trying to wrap my brain around this:

"It [“The Wreck of the Deutschland"] is Hopkins’s first real effort at what he calls “sprung rhythm,” a rhythm generated by “scanning by accents or stresses alone, without any account of the number of syllables, so that a foot may be one strong syllable or it may be many light and one strong.”

But the mystical poetry grabs me:

"Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces."

He's like a combination of Mother Teresa and Rumi.

And then, there's this:

"I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse."

Has anyone expressed it better?

I am comtemplating the paradox, some call dichotomy, of what the article cites as Aquinas' "unity of all things" versus the individual "thisness" of Scotus."

Wonderful article. Thanks for posting the link.

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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


I just found what I think is a terrrifc article with an equally terrific section on Hopkin's use of sound (scroll down to section II):

http://www.richard.austin.sh/reviews/review4.html

"Further, each stage incorporates the dominant feature of the stage that precedes it. As the italicised phonemes illustrate, the acoustic logic is unbroken. Nor is this patterning mere reduplication. None of the stages could be elided or substituted without disrupting its organic unity.

Thus, in an inversion of Pope’s famous dictum, ‘sense’ becomes ‘an echo’ to the ‘sound’, which can only progress through the phonetic hoops and tunnels of an overarching, acoustic grammar. The words still mean what they mean as words, but the role of sound is reclaimed and, in the process, promoted. Reclaimed, in that we are encouraged to notice their acoustic texture, something that tends to have been worn away in words that are common in the language; promoted, in that the detail of this texture constrains and determines the run of thought. A phono-semantic dialectic also operates as each flurry of chimes recalls and provokes fresh phono-semantic associations according to what Roman Jakobson describes as the ‘neuropsychological laws of synaesthesia’."

And there's more:

"There is a feeling that Hopkins has momentarily thrown off, in Max Müller’s phrase, ‘the bit and bridle of literature’.11 Untrammelled by syntax and strict narrative sense, language is set free. Free in the sense of spontaneous, as Hopkins is faithful to the characteristic imperfections of such extemporary outpouring, through his use of repetition, ellipsis, circumlocution and half-realised images.12 The poem also expresses a far more striking sense of liberty arising from the puissant acoustic logic that underpins it."

The article is long and I'm still trying to absorb all of it, but some of it is already making good sense to me.


Last edited by Katlin, Apr/6/2009, 10:54 am
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ChrisD1 Profile
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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


Wow. Kat and Tere,

I was muddling around with sprung rhythm and decided to just read Hopkins. Now between Dylan Thomas and Hopkins, I have two loves that
dare not speak their names. Not in this climate.

I'm going to read Kat's link.

Chris

there's a review of a new biography of Hopkins
at artsandlettersdaily.com

Last edited by ChrisD1, Apr/6/2009, 3:24 pm
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Terreson Profile
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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


Oh, I do love rubbing elbows with smart people. I figure a little of the smarts is bound to rub off on me.

Chrisfriend, I must tell you my two favorite Hopkins poems are, "Binsey Poplars," and "The Winhover." The first mourns the loss of trees cut down at (I think) Oxford. The second makes metaphor out of a windhover (a kestrel or sparrow hawk) for Hopkins love of Christ. Rhythmically and metrically two such sensual poems. Anyway, it makes perfect sense that if D. Thomas is a main poet for you, Hopkins would speak to your ear.

And Katfriend, I am so glad you posted a link to the Richard article on Hopkins and linguistics and sense-in-sound. As it happens I also found the article yesterday and was taken up by it. But I thought perhaps it was TMI for the board. Thanks for posting it. It is some great and incisive thinking. The author is clearly a friend to poetry with how he takes on, I think what he called, reductive linguistics.

The Hirshfield article looks mighty intrigueing. I will read it. I have to slightly disagree with one comment she makes about how Hopkins introduces "new music for English verse." Sprung rhythm, in a sense, leads one back to early English verse. It is how poets proceeded, or by means of something of its kind, in old and middle English poetry. Hopkins was Oxford educated. Wiki something called the Oxford Movement. It was a religious movement centered at Oxford involving sudden, fervorous conversions to Catholicism. (I think there was a bishop involved by the name of Newman.) Hopkins got snagged and converted to Catholicism, to become a jesuit. But as a student he had been a scholar of both Classical lit and early English lit. (The famous Walter Pater had been his mentor.) This was all in the 1850s. My point is this. Hopkins was deeply versed in Old and Middle English poetry, which poetry tended to be alliterative and sound emphatic, syllabic accentual and stressed. Many years ago, when starting out, I was drawn to much the same poetry. I think the anonymous "Green Knight" poem, written in alliterative verse, is still one of my all time favorite poems.

What I am getting to is that, as a young man, Hopkins would have been impacted by early English poetry practices and prosodics. After his conversion to Catholicism he swore off poetry. He then returned to it. And when he came back he came back looking to revive the older, all but forgotten, practices. It seemed more natural to him, more organic to our syllabic accentual language. Maybe it helped that Hopkins pretty much worked alone. He wasn't a member of any clique or group. About the only friend he had in the poetry world was the Victorean poet laureate, Robert Bridges. Do you see what I am getting to? Hopkins poetry doesn't exactly constitute new music. But music in the language all but forgotten and then rediscovered. Man, I am thinking about stuff I haven't thought about in years.

Yes, indeed, I am loving the Hirshfield notion of "poetry knowing." It is how I see the case too. I am absolutely convinced poetry has its own way of knowing, original to itself, and cannot be parsed by any other discipline or way of knowing.

About the Waypoints collection, Katfriend. You are right. In those years I was in a deep forest environment. I realized things look differently in such an environment. Experience is layered. Perceptions are therefore different. There are no horizons, no vanishing perspectives, no far away and no close up. There is only what is near and what is nearer and what is deep in detritus and what is in canopy clerestory. Hopkins' way enabled me to express the depth experience.

Tere
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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


Three posts upthread Katfriend gives a link to an article on, so to speak, the sense of sound in poetry. The author's thesis has to do with the importance of sound and the poverty that ensues when poetry is stripped of sound, is, in effect, denatured, reduced to sense or logic only. It is a very good article. And I for one agree with its argument on a gut level.

Last night late I was playing around on line. On You Tube I found both videos and recordings of different poets reading their poems. I was particularly struck by the video of Anne Sexton and the recordings of Sylvia Plath. And then I remembered the Richard article Kat linked us to. While listening to Sexton and Plath it struck me forcefully just how right the article's argument is. Really forcefully. Like everybody else I know the poems read. But I had never read them before in the way I heard them last night. And once again it seems to me poetry disses the sensuality of sound at its own peril, which is what the Richard article comes down to in my opinion.

I've posted two threads. One with links to Sexton reading her material and one devoted to Plath reading hers. Stylistically they could not be more different from each other. And yet both poets in performance are absolutely affecting and, I feel, in a way that positively doesn't come across on the page. It occurs to me that Hopkins, with his sprung rhythm, was going after the impossible or near impossible, which is to effect on the page what really only carries across to the ear.

As time allows I want to find links to other poets reading and performing their own stuff. Maybe a game can be made out of it all. Maybe everyone would want to share links to poets in performance. The prospect excites the bejesus out of me.

Tere
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Re: Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm


Another Hopkins resource.

Tere
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