9 nov. 2006

HOW many bards gild the lapses of time!
A few of them have ever been the food
Of my delighted fancy, --I could brood
Over their beauties, earthly, or sublime:
And often, when I sit me down to rhyme,
These will in throngs before my mind intrude:
But no confusion, no disturbance rude
Do they occasion; 'tis a pleasing chime.
So the unnumber'd sounds that evening store;
The songs of birds--the whisp'ring of the leaves?
The voice of waters--the great bell that heaves
With solemn sound,--and thousand others more,
That distance of recognizance bereaves,
Make pleasing music, and not wild uproar.

Here is the classic statement of the poet sitting down to write while surrounded by the echoes of poets of the past. The first line is a metrical joke on the concept of "lapses of time," since it has ten syllables but is dactyilc rather than iambic: "How many bards gild the lapses of time / Give me a dollar, a nickel, a dime." Somehow, the poet doesn't explain how, these confusing throngs of voices do not form a disharmony, but a "pleasing chime." They all rhyme with one another when the poet sits down himself to rhyme.

So too with the "unnumber'd sounds" of the outside world. It's a nice pun: "unnumbered" meaning simultaneously "not subject to metrical laws" and "innumerable." This is the free verse of real life, unstructured and also boundless. Many sounds are indistinguishable because they are too distant ("that distance of recognizance bereaves"). This too makes a "pleasing music." There is a synthesis of all this sound--presumably in the poet's own sonnet. It's a funny simile because the tenor comes before the vehicle. It would make more sense to present the unstructured aural experience before the poet's own rhymes. Keats' sonnet makes me think of some posts of Dan Green's a little while ago on Dewey and the concept of art creating order out of chaos, "gilding the lapses" as it were. But I feel a more Cagean impulse here: finding artistic unity in life as it actually is, rather than (only) in formalized artistic representations.

It is never really explained how confusion is overcome here.

9 comentarios:

Rocco DiStreitlmahn dijo...

Your scansion of that first line brought to mind the (vexed) question of the place of meter (and, more generally, prosody) in the interpretation of poetry. Curious to know your thoughts on the subject.

Jonathan dijo...

The short answer to that is that scansion is not primarily a means of interpretation. In other words, how we interpret a line rarely has anything to do with its scansion. A metrical joke like this one is fairly unusual.

If you want the long answer you'd have to take my course.

Rocco DiStreitlmahn dijo...

"How we interpret a line rarely has anything to do with its scansion" -- this is debatable. I wonder if you're familiar w/ the work of Harvey Gross?

I think you'd find me among the most annoying and insufferable students you've ever encountered, so I think I'll pass. . . . :)

Jonathan dijo...

I knew about Harvey Gross before you were born. Scansion is not (primarily) an interpretive device. That's really not what it's for. Everyone should scan a line the same way, but not necessarily interpret a line the same way.

Tony dijo...

Do you really think that everyone should scan a line the same way?

Hm..

Rocco DiStreitlmahn dijo...

"I knew about Harvey Gross before you were born."

Should I scan that chastisement as an alexandrine, or a line of pentameter w/ an extra metrical foot?

Jonathan dijo...

Neither. In the first place an "alexadrine" is a pentameter with one more foot, so there's no difference. In the second place, it scans more easily as five iambic "feet" with two anapests thrown in:

I knéw / about Hár / vey Gróss / befóre / you were bórn.

It wasn't meant to chastise you--for all I know you are sixty years old--but to suggest that I have been through all the traditional metrical analysis. I've been there and back again.

Rocco DiStreitlmahn dijo...

"Neither. In the first place an 'alexadrine' is a pentameter with one more foot, so there's no difference. In the second place, it scans more easily as five iambic 'feet' with two anapests thrown in:

I knéw / about Hár / vey Gróss / befóre / you were bórn.

It wasn't meant to chastise you--for all I know you are sixty years old--but to suggest that I have been through all the traditional metrical analysis. I've been there and back again."

I was only kidding, Jonathan -- I apologize if that didn't come through (or, for that matter, come off).

Jonathan dijo...

I'm a little tone deaf on the internet. Obviously I knew you were being jocular, but maybe with an undertone of resentment... So I wanted to back off a little from my "chastisement."