John Hollander – Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse (Yale Nota Bene)
I love poetry but I have never found it easy to get excited about spondees, trochees and anapests. It would probably be of great benefit to me if I could, however there is something about books that discuss metre and prosody that clamps down on my brain. Perhaps I have never got used to the idea that verses can have feet, but more likely I find it depressing that people can write about the most exciting and adventurous way of writing – poetry – in prose which is pinch-faced with lumbago. There are exceptions to everything and one of the most pleasant I have found is John Hollander’s book Rhyme’s Reason. The secret in the book is not just that Hollander is a poet and is interested in what poetry does and not just the rules which try to govern it, but that he uses his own verse examples to explain metre and form. He uses tercets to describe tercets, quatrains to describe quatrains. Various kinds of sonnets tell us how the various kinds of sonnets work. Here he tells us how couplets and caesura work and then illustrates the difference between end-stopped lines and enjambment:
In couplets, one line often makes a point
Which hinges on its bending, like a joint;
The sentence makes that line break into two.
Here’s a caesura: see what it can do.
(And here’s a gentler one, whose pause, more slight,
Waves its two hands, and makes what’s left sound right.)
A line can be end-stopped, just like this one,
Or it can show enjambment, just like this
One, where the sense straddles two lines: you feel
As if from shore you’d stepped into a boat;