Poetic Technique and Form

Poetic Technique and Form in a Cultural Context

“Readers recognize a meter from immediate textual clues and from their previous cultural experiences.”
Marina Tarlinskaja,"Rhythm and Syntax in Verse"

The intertextual verse in The Tale of the Peries, and specifically the verse that characters recite to each other, seemingly spontaneously, serves to create another element of the fantastic in this already fantastic tale. By utilizing meters that are reminiscent of normal English speaking patterns but contain elements of song, Leyden creates an effect that is both familiar and foreign at the same time.

Iambic pentameter is widely accepted to be the closest poetic meter to normal English speaking rhythm From In her article "Rhythm and Syntax in Verse: English Iambic Tetrameter and Dolnik Tetrameter (Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries)" Marina Tarlinskaja notes that, “Meter exists in a poetic tradition as a set of constraining rules that determine which word combinations (in terms of their syllabic and accentual structure) suit each particular meter” (Tarlinskaja 61)1. In The Tales of the Peries much of the verse is written in iambic tetrameter, containing one fewer foot per line, indicating a far more sing-song feel to the language. In her article, Tarlinskaja cites the sing-song aspect of iambic tetrameter, and explains that is because of a shared cultural background with language. Much of the verse also employs an AABB rhyme scheme, very simplistic and evocative of song. The song it evokes is itself familiar, but set to music, not spoken aloud. Below is an example of a verse from early on in the text, which conforms almost entirely to the meter and rhyme scheme described:

(x = unstressed and / = stressed):
/ / | x / | x / | x /
Well may the ruby boast its hew (A)
x / | x / | x / | x /
Mid jewels hanged to court the view (A)
x / | x / | x / |x /
But Golden cups of ruby wine (B)
x / | x / | x / | / /
The ruby’s richest hues outshine. (B)
(Leyden, 23)

The two spondees (two stressed syllables in a single foot) in this particular stanza, one in the very first line and one in the last line, provide more emphasis on these words, effectively giving the reader a jumping off point for the reader to move back into the prose. This is not an uncommon variation amongst the various verses within the texts. Other variations occur within the verse to create other emphasis, de-emphasis, etc.

The use of a meter evocative of song serves to create a further element of the fantastic in The Tales of the Peries. It is not just that the verse exists as different from the prose but that it is so different it is almost foreign. There is less difference between the two types of verse presented in the text than one would think. Spontaneous declarations in meter often carry the same characteristics in terms of form and meter as their (supposedly) poetic counterparts. While a reader may expect "already written" verse to be in a from that is very song like, the spontaneous exclamations of dialogue from the characters themselves can seem unnatural and strange to the average reader. What Leyden is doing here is creating another element of the fantastic along with all of the fantastic things that happen within the plot. The ambience of the story is colored by this kind of verse, based on a cultural understanding that this meter and rhyme scheme is part of a song. Leyden has created a world where it is an accepted rule that the average person can break into verse at any time.

1. Tarlinskaja, Marina. "Rhythm and Syntax in Verse: English Iambic Tetrameter and Dolnik Tetrameter (Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries)" Poetics Today (1997): 59-93. JStor. Web. 15 March 2012.