POETRY 11: MUSICAL DEVICES
I. The use of "music" in poetry
A. In poetry--unlike normal language which is used merely to convey information--the poet

1. chooses words for sound as well as meaning

2. use sound as a means to reinforce meaning

B. It is important enough that some have made it the distinguishing term in their definition of poetry--Poe: "music combined with a pleasurable idea"
C. Most don't agree that it's that important, but verbal music--like connotation, imagery, figurative language--is an important element in communicating experience.
D. A poet may sometimes pursues verbal music for its own sake, but in the best poetry the music is just a part; it contributes to the total meaning or experience
E. A poet may achieve musical quality in two ways

1. Through the arrangement of sounds (this chapter)

2. Through the arrangement of accents (next chapter: meter)

II. The achievement of musical quality through arrangement of sounds
A. Repetition of sound
1. Art consists of giving structure to repetition and variation
a. the sea--always the same yet always different
b. baseball--same complex pattern of repetition and variation
c. art--familiarity and variety combined
d. composer of music—

(1) repeats tones

(2) " " in combinations--chords

(3) " " in patterns--melodies

2. Poet also arranges sounds in certain combinations and patterns
B. Example: "The Turtle" by Ogden Nash
1. Humorous paradox
2. But the appeal is more in how it is said than in what is said
a. The prose form falls flat
b. the unrhymed verse is better, but it is obvious that much of the appeal of the original must be in its rhyme
c. rhymed verse is much better but the original wording makes it even better
d. original used "fix" rather than "plight"
1) meaning is the same
2) but the sounds of the original wording makes connection to other words in poem

(a) "x" -- back to "sex"

(b) "f" -- on to "fertile"

3) subtle gratification to the ear, and the structure is better--emphasizes and draws together key words: "sex," "fix," and "fertile"
4) why "turtle" instead of "tortoise"? the paradox is the same; same anatomical problem
C. Poet may repeat any unit of sound from smallest to largest
1. Units of repetition
a. individual vowel sounds and consonant sounds
b. whole syllables
c. words
d. phrases
e. lines--"and miles to go before I sleep" or "Hurry up please, it's time to go" from
f. or a group of lines
2. In a good poem, the repetition will

a. please the ear

b. emphasize the words in which the repetition occurs

c. give structure to the poem

3. popularity of repetition of sounds seen in cliches
4. Repetition of syllable sounds
a. Alliteration: repetition of initial consonant sounds

(1) tried and true

(2) safe and sound

b. Assonance: repetition of vowel sounds

(1) mad as a hatter

(2) time out of mind

c. Consonance: repetition of final consonant sounds

(1) first and last

(2) odds and ends

(3) struts and frets

5. Combinations of repetition of vowel sounds
a. alliteration and assonance

(1) time and tide

(2) thick and thin

(3) fit as a fiddle

(4) Poe's "the viol, violet, and the vine"

b. alliteration and consonance

(1) crisscross

(2) last but not least

(3) a doom of a dream

c. assonance and consonance = rhyme
6. Rhyme: repetition of accented vowel and all succeeding sounds
a. Masculine rhyme: riming sounds only one syllable

(1) sex and decks

(2) support and retort

b. Feminine rhyme: two or more syllables

(1) turtle and fertile

(2) spitefully and delightfully

c. Internal rhyme: when one or more riming words are within the rhyme
d. End rhyme: riming words at end of lines

(1) most frequently used and consciously sought type of rhyme

(2) emphasizes musical effect, and it along with meter gives poetry not only its musical effect but much of its structure

(3) there is a large body of poetry which does not employ rhyme and for which rhyme would be inappropriate

(4) much of modern poetry tends to substitute approximate rhymes for perfect rhymes at the end of lines

e. Approximate end rhyme:

(1) alliteration, assonance, consonance, or any combination of these when used at the end of lines

(2) half-rhyme: feminine rhymes in which only half the word rhymes

(a) accented half--lightly, frightful

(b) unaccented half -- yellow, willow

 

D. Application of Repetition of Sounds: "That Night When Joy Began" by W. H. Auden

1. What has been the past experience with love of the two people in the poem? What is their present experience? What precisely is the tone of the poem? Discussion
2. What basic metaphor underlies the poem? Work it out stanza by stanza. What is "the flash of morning's leveled gun" (3-4)? Does line 10 mean that no trespassers reproaches the lovers or that no one reproaches the lovers for being trespassers ? Does "glasses" (11) refer to spectacles, tumblers, mirrors, or field glasses? Point out three personifications. Discussion
3. The rhyme pattern in the poem is intricate and exact. Work it out, considering alliteration, assonance, and consonance.   Discussion
Refrain: Repetition--in a fixed pattern--whole words, phrases, lines, or groups of lines

a. Shakespeare's "Winter" (650):

Tu-whit, tu-who!

A merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot

b. Shakespeare's "Spring" 

"Cuckoo!

Cuckoo, cuckoo!" O word of fear,

Unpleasing to a married ear!

E. Application: "The Waking," Theodore Roethke
1 The refrains in lines 1 and 3 occur at patterned intervals in this example of the form called "villanelle" (see page 967 for a definition of the form). Even without the definition, you can work out the repetitive pattern--but the key question is, what do these two lines mean, both as statements within the first stanza, and in each subsequent repetition? Starting with line 1, for what is "sleep" a common metaphor? What would be the meaning if the first phrase were "I was born to die"?    Discussion
2 Paraphrase the third line, in light of the idea that the first line presents an attitude toward the fact that all living things must die. Where does the speaker "have to go" ultimately? What is the process of his present "going"? Discussion
3 Explain the clear-cut attitude toward emotive experience versus intellectual knowledge expressed in line 4. How is that attitude a basis for the ideas in the refrain lines? How does it support line 10?  Discussion
4 What is it that "Great Nature has ... to do" (13) to people. How should they live their lives, according to the speaker?   Discussion
5 Explain the paradox that "shaking keeps [the speaker] steady" (16). Consider the possibility that the speaker is personifying "the Tree" (16) as himself--what then is "fall[ing] away," and how near is it (17)?  Discussion
6 Is the tone of this poem melancholy? resigned? Explain.   Discussion
F. Other sound repetitions

a. Many complex repetitions and combinations thereof which we don't have names for

b. Example: John Ruskin's "ivy as light and lovely as the vine"

(1) terms we have

(a) alliteration--light, lovely

(b) assonance -- ivy, light, vine

(c) consonance -- ivy, lovely ???

(2) but no terms for these identical sounds

(a) "v" in vine to "v"'s in ivy and lovely

(b) second "l" in lovely to first "l"

(c) final syllable of ivy and lovely

c. Nor do we have terms for related sounds

(a) m and n

(b) p and b

(c) vowel sounds in boat, boot, book

G. Analysis for sound repetition--while we hear many sound subconsciously which increase our pleasure and the poetic experience without our being overtly aware of it, there is value for analysis to increase our awareness and our appreciationof it
1 Repetitions are entirely a matter of sound. Spelling is irrelevant!

a. "bear, pair" rhyme; "through, rough" do not

b. "cell, sin; folly, philosophy" alliterate; "sin, sugar / gun, gem" do not

2 Consider (normally, not always) only stressed (or accented) syllables to find alliteration, assonance, consonance, masculine rhyme. Why?

a. only stressed syllables make a strong enough impression on the ear to be significant in the sound pattern

b. In "The Turtle" line 2, "which" and "it" is not assonance; neither stressed

3. The words involved in a pattern must be close enough together for the ear to retain the sounds

a. alliteration, assonance, consonance--same line or adjacent

b. end rhymes larger gap

E. Application: Analyzing sound repetition in "God's Grandeur" by Gerald manley Hopkins
1. What is the theme of this sonnet? Discussion
2. The image in lines 3-4 possibly refers to olive oil being collected in great vats from crushed olives, but the image is much disputed. Explain the simile (2), symbol (7-8), symbol (11-12)  Discussion
3. Explain "reck his rod" (4), "spent" (9), and "bent" (13).   Discussion
4. Using different-colored pencils, encircle and connect examples of alliteration, assonance, consonance, and internal rhyme. Do these help to carry the meaning?   Discussion
III. Use of musical devices is not always necessary or valuable; we must judge the use or lack of use in light of the poet's intention
A. Many of great works of English poetry--Hamlet, King Lear, Paradise Lost--do not use end rhyme
B. Unskillfully used, alliteration and rhyme, particularly feminine rhyme, become humorous or silly
1. If this is intention, good--Shakespeare

a. Love's Labor's Lost: The preyful princess pierced and pricked a pretty pleasing prickett

b. A Midsummer Night's Dream: Whereat with blade, with bloody, blameful blade, / He bravely broached his boiling bloody breast

2. If it isn't the intention, it can ruin the effect of the poem
C. When  well done, musical devices

1. provide pleasure

2. add depth