Monday, 25 September 2000

From "Unfree Verse: John Wilkinson's _The Speaking Twins_"

By Simon Jarvis.

It quickly becomes clear that there is nothing corresponding to what could be called a ‘metrical set’: that is to say, there is no system of recurrences which becomes rapidly enough established for a skilled performer to relate it to some metrical design or other in which he or she might already know how to perform. For example, whereas a ‘metrical set’ would allow some disambiguation of metrically ambiguous monosyllables such as ‘all’ or ‘is’—and how often, in fact, the tension between rhythm and metre in metrical verse is repeatedly evoked and brought to bear centrally on the semantic content at precisely such monosyllables—there are in this poem even fewer guides to intonational melody even than ordinarily exist in a writing system which accords to intonation little more than the highly approximate sketches given by punctuation markings, or, as it used aptly to be called, by ‘pointing’. This, of course, is also often the case in metrical verse, because decisions about metrically ambiguous polysyllables are very often not disambiguated by metrical set, and so they become closely bound up with questions of rhetorical organization (one thinks of the word “so” in Milton) or of thematic interpretation (“all” in Shakespeare’s sonnets). Here in this poem, even the weak assistance offered by metrical set to intonational disambiguation is absent.

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