In those days the hills revealed themselves to be the prophet,nwhen the chamber of seasons dressed in scarlet openednto let in the spring with its nectar-brimming flowers.nThen, yes then, on the undying earth they flungntresses of lilacs, roses were braided in hair,nand an unearthly voice echoed to flutes as choirs made their waynto crown Semele,nher sorrows ended at last.nPindar the hognfrom the Boeotian outback glimpsed the godsnin the blinding light off the hills of Athens haloednin violet, the fortress of Hellas against the East,nwhen the sons of Athenians laid the foundations of libertynat Marathon, Salamis, and off Cape Artemisium,nremembered by their stepsons in the days of our freedom.nIn English as much as in Greek, poetry is rhythmicnspeech. Good poetry is something more, but it is nevernanything less. All the other devices of verse—symbol andnmetaphor, plot and character, rhetorical argument, rhymenand alliteration—are available to writers of prose. (In thenancient world, rhyme in particular was typically a prosentechnique.) While good prose is often rhythmical, especiallyntoward the end of a sentence, it can never display anregular rhythm without becoming poetry.nSimple people have always grasped the fundamentalnconnection between rhythm and poetry. Popular songs,nproverbs, prayers, and advertising jingles all tend to be castnin rhythmic form. (In modern languages, they also rhyme.)nA trivial observation or the tritest of platitudes, whennexpressed in verse, assume a power that is unrelated eithernto the thought or the expression. How else to explain thenpersistence of “a stitch in time saves nine” or the popularitynof rapping?nOn this point Aristotie made an uncharacteristic error.nDisdaining the popular Greek attitude that identified poetrynwith rhythmical expression, the philosopher groped fornmore functional definitions that would describe the objectn(rather than the nature) of poetry and only succeeded innmisleading countless generations of critics and scholars evernsince. In their search for a metaphysical explanation, criticsncame to define poetry in such a way as to include only thenmost sublime and perfect examples by the same train ofnthought that leads us to regard intelligence as the only trulynhuman attribute. Coleridge insisted that “poetry of thenhighest kind may exist without metre.” One might just asnwell say that computers are more human than half-wits. It isna serious mistake to define anything not by what it is but bynwhat it can become: We leave out the essentials. To leavenout any reference to rhythm in a definition of poetry is likenomitting tone from a discussion of music. It is preciselynbecause they ignore the most obvious and fundamentalnproperty of their subject that writers on poetics so readily flynoff into “faery lands forlorn.”nThe obvious advantage of such an approach is thenopportunity for creativity it affords the critic. Most criticsnand literary critics could not write a passable schoolboyncouplet, and yet they proceed to write grandly of techniquenor sound/sense echoes. Without ever baking a loaf or eatingna slice of bread, they discourse with a gourmet’s affectationnon the qualities of wheat and the effect of bricks in the oven.n: One unintended effect of this search for the genuinelynpoetic is that poetry has come to be linked with everythingnthat would be unsavory in prose. The worst thing one cannsay about a novelist’s style is that it is “poetic,” by which wenusually intend to signify a certain straining after effect,nlong-winded descriptions, and a flair for inappropriatenmetaphor. (Lawrence Durrell, Thomas Wolfe, and JohnnUpdike are among the most “poetic” prose writers of thencentury.)nBy sticking to the most prominent facts, a powerfulntheory of poetry might be constructed. An important firstnstep in this direction was taken by Frederick Turner (himselfnan interesting poet) in collaboration with a neurophysiologist.nIn an article on rhythm in Poetry several years ago,nTurner backed up his declaration that all poetry wasnrhythmical with evidence that the brain responds differentlynto rhythmical verse than it does to prose or (what amountsnto the same thing) free verse.nSome of what is called “free verse” is actually not all thatnfree. Eliot’s imitations of vers libre typically have the qualitynof blank verse that has been broken up rhetorically andndeclaimed by an actor, and there are passages in The FournQuartets that are quite regular. Eliot’s lead, in English atnleast, has been followed by a great many conservative poets,nand it is impossible to say that this technique is entirelynunsuccessful. There are, however, two major drawbacks.nIn the first place, the poet becomes his own interpreternand deprives the reader or reciter of some of the freedom tonimpose his own voice upon the text. With Laforgue andnEliot, one often has the sensation of being led by the nosendown a flight of stairs. But that is a minor point. A morenserious consequence of vers libre is that the poet is neverncompelled to learn his craft completely. There is nonrhythmical effect in Eliot that was not possible in traditionalnverse, but the opposite is not true. Dryden and Browningnhad at their disposal dozens of rhythmic modulations whichnare only available within the rigid framework of expectationnimposed by strictly metrical verse.nGonsider the question of syllabic quantity. The firstnsyllable of “butter” is counted as a stress as much as the firstnsyllable of “grandstand,” although the latter is much longernand harder to say. Inspired by ancient poets, Tennyson did angreat deal with quantity, but his studied effects would all failnin any scheme of versification that did not (like traditionalnEnglish verse) number both syllables and stresses, becausenwe can only really appreciate quantity as a secondarynphenomenon, a variation upon the strict pattern of stressednand unstressed syllables. Vers libre, by liberating itself fromnmechanical counting, is often reduced to making itselfnmerely poetic or to using the simplest, not to say vulgar,njingles. (One has only to turn to “Prufrock” for intentionalnexamples.)nA far more succesful alternative to traditional verse isnfound in Gerald Manley Hopkins and his imitators, whongive up the un-Germanic insistence upon counting syllablesnand treat the so-called tetrameter and pentameternlines as an affair of four and five stresses. In Hopkins theneffects are often magnificent: Summer ends; now, barbarousnin beauty, the stooks arise.nIt is not, unfortunately, always this good, and Hopkinsntook his theory to such absurd lengths that it is impossible tonread his observations on rhythm—with all their strangc-nnnOCTOBER 1987111n