Tag Archives: Auden

Rhyme’s Reason – The Repetitions Build the Villanelle- Villanelles by Auden and Bishop

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;

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Two glimpses of Icarus


This painting is Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. You will probably need to click on the picture to enlarge it in order to see Icarus clearly. If you were visiting the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels in a bit of a hurry and didn’t know the painting’s title, you might even walk by without even noticing that Icarus is in the painting at all. This, according to two very great poets who wrote about this painting, is the whole point.

The human mind has a few very unuseful questions it seems to be tugged back to by some kind of primeval mental gravity whenever it can’t think of anything better. One of them is Whose is it? – which has probably caused more trouble than any other question we are capable of framing. Not  far behind is Which do you prefer? We love splitting into teams, especially if we can reduce ourselves to just two of them which are bitterly opposed over something totally unsubstantial, as in the case of the Blues and Greens in Byzantium,  Catholics and Protestants or the Big Enders and Little Enders who Gulliver ran into.

So while I will try very briefly to  make a comparison between the approaches taken by W.H. Auden and William Carlos Williams to this painting, I want to stress out of hand that, although they get there by different routes, they are in my opinion both as good as one can get. Read more…