Monday, September 21, 2009

The Inherent Rhythm of Language

The other day a lady friend of mine brought a new poem to a workshop we both attend. Her poem surprised me because it was not in her usual style, longer lines with almost no sense of a cohesive rhythm. This time she had done something completely different.

Not only were the lines short, almost all the same length, but she had marked (and left those marks on the page inadvertently) each line with the number of syllables she had used. Most lines were four syllables, with the occasional use of five or three.

Now I'm not one to advocate counting syllables in poetry instead of using and playing with established rhythms, but in this case it worked. It helped that she used a four syllable line, most usually of two words; in English it seems difficult to put four syllables together without ending up with an iambic dimeter or a close variation thereof with a trochee or spondee. There seems to be no way a unit of four syllables can stand without at least one, and more comfortably two stresses. And this becomes a natural iambic rhythm, pleasing to the ear and to the mind.

This started me reflecting on the natural rhythms of languages, especially Indo-European languages with which I'm familiar. For me, iambic feels so right for English, (much more so than for Old English and even Middle English.) daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM seems to roll so fluently from the throat. On the other hand, German, Dutch, etc. seem to come into being as a stream of trochees: DUMda DUMda DUMda DUMda.
French, again, has another and separate rhythm pattern expressed (to my ear) in anapests, dadaDUM dadaDUM dadaDUM dadaDUM (see Gilles Vigneault's "Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays c'est l'hiver.") The foot my ear finds most often in the Italian language, and I believe also in Spanish, is amphibrachic, with the stress on the penultimate of a three syllable foot, daDUMda daDUMda daDUMda daDUMda.

Ah, marvel at the subtle intricacies of the rhythms of language! Truly it is a reflection of the music of the spheres, the sound of all things working and singing together!

1 comment:

annaken said...

Interesting comment on your lady friend's poetry in general! Lucky for her, you at least liked one of them!