"An Unambiguous Tutorial on How to Write Metrical Poetry" by Lannie Brockstein
"As might a sailing bird anchor its twirl..." so begins the first stanza of my "Trembling Streams" sonnet, which I composed in iambic pentameter and that is featured further along in this post—not only its full text, but also its literary video that I made and which features a sound recording of myself on acoustic guitar whilst singing its first nine lines. I hope to record the music that I have already composed for its lines 10 to 14.
How fond I am of poems in accentual-syllabic verse which are shaped by patterning the accents and syllables of words! Doing so makes poems more musical than they otherwise could be, and much more so than poems in free verse whose lines doth often trippeth over their own feet.
If only I was taught when a teenager that the reason as to why the words of Shakespeare, Keats, and our other great English language poets of the past are so easily spoken aloud is because their words are metrical.
As it stands, I have hundreds of free verse poems and prose poems which I composed during the past two decades that never felt "finished" to me; in hindsight, now I know why: they were always meant to be rough drafts for my accentual-syllabic verse poems which are not finished until they can be sung. I've climbed their mountain only to see in the distance an even higher one!
How I regret that none of my English teachers and professors taught me that the same way in which every reputable dictionary shows the correct spelling of each word, so too does every reputable dictionary show the correct accentuation, as well as the correct syllabication, of each word. Instead, they incorrectly taught myself and my fellow classmates that "the accent of any word is placed wherever you feel it should go." In truth, there is nothing arbitrary or subjective about it.
For example, on the following image of the Merriam-Webster dictionary's "imagination" webpage, it shows a line that reads:
noun | imag·i·na·tion | \ i-ˌma-jə-ˈnā-shən \
I have used a Steemit-turquoise oval to highlight which of those it is that doth showeth the correct accentuation and syllabication of the word "imagination". If you are using a smartphone or tablet to read this article and it is too difficult for you to see the mysteriously subatomic " ˈ " symbol which denotes its primary accent as being part of its fourth "ˈnā" syllable, as well as its " ˌ " symbol which denotes its secondary accent as being part of its second "ˌma" syllable, then you can probably zoom in on that page to make its text much larger. Its ease of visibility depends on the font size on the webpage. The accentuation symbols of a word's syllables on the Merriam-Webster website can also be made as easier to see if using the left mouse button to highlight all of its syllables. Using astaxanthin and other sight-healing supplements can probably help, too!
To be specific, the " \ i-ˌma-jə-ˈnā-shən \ " part of that line refers to the correct accentuation and syllabication of that word. Anything between the \ \ of any word at the Merriam-Webster website denotes the correct accentuation and syllabication of that word.
What does the " | imag·i·na·tion | " part of that line mean? It refers to when a person is using a manual typewriter, and if there is not enough space for the word "imagination" at the end of the line on their sheet of typewriter paper, then they must hyphenate it, in order for it to fit on that line. If using standard form, they would choose to hyphenate that word, either after "imag-" or "imagi-" or "imagina-" depending on how much space they have at the end of that line on their sheet of typewriter paper, and they would therefore start the next line as either "ination" or "nation" or "tion".
When double-checking the correct accentuation and syllabication of each word, it is very important not to confuse that with its correct hyphenation. Sometimes, the correct hyphenation of a word does look similar to that of its correct syllabication; however, the correct hyphenation part does not ever show the correct accentuation. Also, the correct hyphenation part does not ever show an upside down "ə" or anything of the sort.
As can be seen, " | imag·i·na·tion | " has three choices for hyphenation, and " \ i-ˌma-jə-ˈnā-shən \ " has five syllables, two of which are accented. One of those syllables ("ˈnā") has a primary accent as part of its left-hand side, and the other of those accented syllables ("ˌma") has a secondary accent as part of its left-hand side. Why are they part of their left-hand side and not their right-hand side? Because we read English from left to right! However, it is not always the case that the primary accented syllable of a word appears before the secondary accented syllable of that word. For example, the primary accent of "imagination" is part of its fourth syllable, whereas its secondary accent is part of its second syllable.
To have a closer look, by numbering the syllables of the word "imagination" (as well as to show in brackets their everyday spelling), we can see:
1st syllable = "i" (i)
2nd syllable = "ˌma" (ma)
3rd syllable = "jə" (gi)
4th syllable = "ˈnā" (na)
5th syllable = "shən" (tion)
Its primary accent is part of its 4th syllable, and its secondary accent is part of its 2nd syllable. Why? For the same reason that we spell the word "imagination" as "i-m-a-g-i-n-a-t-i-o-n", which is to say that is just the way its correct spelling in Modern English is, and that is just the way its correct accentuation in Modern English is—because that is just the way in which the Modern English music of the word "imagination" is!
Not every Modern English word has a secondary accent, however, every Modern English word does have at least one primary accent. There are less than two dozen single-syllable words in Modern English which its speaker can choose for each of them the option for its single-syllable to not have a primary accent or a secondary accent. Regarding all other Modern English words, which syllable it is that features a primary accent, or a secondary accent, is not up to the speaker. Some Modern English words have more than one primary accented syllable, whilst others have more than one secondary accented syllable.
'Tis the music of the English language, and is much more apparent and easier to hear when words are metrically patterned and then passionately sung, rather than when they are written as free verse or prose and are then forcibly spoken or half-heartedly recited—which is what most English teachers and professors apathetically or churlishly do—that is partly why so many poets in today's day and age do not yet understand the very foundation of accentual-syllabic verse (knowing how to properly identify the correct accentuation and syllabication of each and every word), though they secretly have the talent with which to do so.
A good exercise that can help its practitioner to recognize the differences between primary accented, secondary accented, and unaccented syllables is by means of their using a reputable dictionary in order to double-check the correct accentuation and correct syllabication of each and every word in the lyrics of their favourite song on the radio, and then after typing those lyrics, by using the bold text button to make each of its primary and secondary accented syllables to stand out, and/or by using a larger text size for them, and then by listening to that song whilst looking at that page. Then they can see and hear just how their favourite vocalist did naturally sound whilst singing them, and how those accented syllables form the music of those lyrics.
When I was a child and being taught how to spell, I was not also taught the correct accentuation of each word. That is why as an adult, usually I have to look up each and every word of my accentual-verse poems in order to double-check that I have properly patterned them. So be it. Doing so helps to make my poems musical, and doing so can help your poems to be musical (or even more musical than before), too.
Because there are only a few dozen single-syllable English language words (such as "and", "the", as well as "when" in which the speaker has a personal choice as to whether its single-syllable is accented or not, and less than a dozen double-syllable words (such as "inside") in which their primary accent can be placed as part of one of its syllables or its other, I was able to have compiled a master list of such words, which is not something that I have ever seen in any poetry textbook, but which ought to be in every poetry textbook. I hope to post it on my blog at Steemit, that others may also refer to it when they are composing their own metrical poems.
In regards to every other Modern English language word—all 200,000 or thereabouts of them—their correct accentuation and syllabication is principally "written in stone" as is their correct spelling. For those of us who truly love music, as well as poetry which includes the music of words, we Modern English speakers whose hearts have a sincere love and respect for the centuries-long history of the English language as a whole do recognize that being confident in knowing the correct accentuation and syllabication of its Modern English words can be essential to helping the emotions, thoughts, and aspirations of the speaker in a poem to be expressed by its poet as deeply and honestly, and as beautifully, as is needed to be.
The musicality of words is a large part of what the fine art of Poetry be about, because it is music itself that makes us feel—that is why the human body will spontaneously start to dance and sway upon finding itself within the vicinity of such sounds! Noise does not ever make the body dance, however, music always does!
That English teachers and professors typically do not sing sonnets to their students, is something which needs to change. As the etymological root of the word “sonnet” is “sonneto”, which is itself an ancient Italian word that means “little song”, I doth proclaimeth to my fellow sonneteers that in order for any sonnet to truly live up to its name, it must not merely be able to be recited—it must also be able to be sung!
To those of you whom have read this far, I thank you kindly, and present for your reading pleasure the full text of my "Trembling Streams" sonnet, as well as its video.
By Lannie David Brockstein
As might a sailing bird anchor its twirl
For flits of movement in the morning mist,
As would a nymph’s enchanted ballet swirl
And softly spring along leaves where we kissed,
As elfin-hands that long to lightly land
On my dark-waves that floweth ringlet-locks,
To breathe thy verse my fallen heart doth stand,
And when I read thy notes, its forest talks.
Within the wind, my love, I gently dare
Thy face, for when I yearn to lay my stare
Along thy rapids, silvern-splash’d boulders,
And ev’ning gown with moonlit-swept shoulders,
O for thy breast doth beat mine heartbeat drum,
In holy quest doth purr its rhythmic thrum.
"Trembling Streams" is copyright © 2018 Lannie Brockstein. All Rights Reserved. If you would like for others to read my "Trembling Streams" sonnet then instead of copying and pasting its full text you can share with them its Steemit-based URL, and/or download and also share with them the image file that I made which appears at the beginning of this post and that shows its first four lines, and I thank you in advance for doing so. If you would like to quote any of its lines then you can do so by including mention of my name because I am its author, as well as by including mention of its Steemit-based URL, and I thank you in advance for doing so.
The following image doth double as a link which leads to the literary video that I made for my "Trembling Streams" sonnet:
Something else which none of my English teachers and professors had taught me when a child, teenager, and young adult, and which I had to teach myself, is that because the Sonnet is an Early Modern English form of Poetry, it is better to use Early Modern English as well as Modern English, than only Modern English when composing sonnets.
That the vast majority of English teachers and professors ridiculously expect their students to use only Modern English to compose accentual-syllabic verse is the regrettable reason as to how the general public became estranged from the beautifully wild spirit of metrical poetry for most of the 20th century—that most sinister and insidious of centuries during which time more people around the world were murdered than were born in all previous centuries.
Trying to bind Modern English words to fit into metrical feet typically produces metrical poems that are an affront to the English language as a whole—not nearly as much as the ancient Chinese were to women when they did barbarically bind the feet of growing girls to forever fit into the confines of child-sized shoes—but an affront, nonetheless.
Rebelling against conventional academic thought by means of expanding my literary vocabulary to include Early Modern English words is why my sonnets use the archaic but not obsolete words "thee, thy, thine, and thou", and why my sonnets doth showeth as contract'd a syllable of some words, and hath added as a suffix the syllable "eth" to some others. I love the sounds of Early Modern English words which have virtually become new to Modern English ears—and yet we can intuitively accept and understand them, the same way that everybody can immediately feel a sense of love and familiarity upon being reunited with their distant or long lost relatives.
"An Unambiguous Tutorial on How to Write Metrical Poetry" is copyright © 2018 Lannie Brockstein. All Rights Reserved. If you would like for others to read it then instead of copying and pasting its full text you can share with them its Steemit-based URL, and I thank you in advance for doing so. If you would like to quote any part of it then you can do so by including mention of my name because I am its author, as well as by including mention of its Steemit-based URL, and I thank you in advance for doing so.
To ye brave poetic souls whom hath read this far and that enjoyed doing so, I ask that you Resteem the word with me: Accentual-syllabic verse lives!