12 mar. 2008

Gary wanted more. Here's one from James Matthew Wilson, an English professor, strange as it might seem:

These claims for the difficult craft of verse are valid insofar as they go. It takes work to learn to hear meter as it does to write it. But like grammar, once one gets the hang of it, it becomes very easy.

He means "as far as they go." ("Insofar" means something different.) There should be a comma after "but" in the second sentence. The prose here is clear, acceptable, but a little clunky. Every native speaker of a language knows grammar, so grammar is easy in that sense, but how does that apply to "the difficult craft of verse"? Does he mean that it's easy to write in verse that scans (in which case I agree), or that it's easy to write good verse (in which case I don't)..

Let me amend that last statement by removing the simile: versification is a branch of grammar. To ancient grammarians we owe our knowledge of classical prosody; Dante referred to poetic composition as grammar per se. One must know how to punctuate a sentence to write sound prose. One must know how to write a sentence in meter and, perhaps, in rhyme, to write verse (we shall return to this).

The sentences are becoming increasingly choppy. The claim that versification is a branch of grammar needs a better explanation; doesn't he mean that phonology, and hence prosody, is a branch of linguistics? That would be be more accurate. A direct quote from Dante would be nice; I'm sure Dante said it more eloquently than this, without the vague "per se." The implied comparison between punctuation and versification is not clear to me. Obviously you can write in meter but not rhyme, so it's logically possible to write verse without knowing how to rhyme at all.

And why amend the simile? Just say what you mean the first time around.


But once one has learned grammar—including the grammar of verse—it becomes quite easy, and one turns not to other things, but to more things, which is what is meant by developing a style. One may write in form, after a few hard jogs, with ease; but style is the work of a lifetime, and few men truly live.

The "not to other things... but to more things" construction is quite awkward, as is "what is meant by developing a style." Why be so wordy? Change the semi-colon to a comma after the word "ease," and lose the existentialist melodrama of "few men truly live." What about women? Are they truly alive?

The basic point comes through clearly enough in this paragraph, if the reader puts some effort into trying to understand the relation between grammar and verse, but the prose is stiff, graceless and unidiomatic. The writer hasn't thought of an eloquent way to express his thoughts. He comes off as priggish, hectoring, condescending in tone. He seems to have the answers, but his coarsely imprecise style undermines his implied authority to give writing advice, whether about prose or verse.

3 comentarios:

Gary dijo...

I disagree that he needs to lose the existential melodrama. Why, my good man, were it not for that, I would not be able to ascertain the exact color of his bow tie!

Steve dijo...

Jonathan wrote:

"Gary wanted more. Here's one from James Matthew Wilson, an English professor, strange as it might seem:

'These claims for the difficult craft of verse are valid insofar as they go. It takes work to learn to hear meter as it does to write it. But like grammar, once one gets the hang of it, it becomes very easy.'

He means 'as far as they go.' ('Insofar' means something different.) There should be a comma after 'but' in the second sentence. The prose here is clear, acceptable, but a little clunky. Every native speaker of a language knows grammar, so grammar is easy in that sense, but how does that apply to 'the difficult craft of verse'? Does he mean that it's easy to write in verse that scans (in which case I agree), or that it's easy to write good verse (in which case I don't).."


Actually, there should be a comma used BEFORE the coordinate conjunction in the third, not second, sentence. (Consult Frederick Crews' _Random House Handbook_ or _The Little, Brown Workbook_. The third sentence, which begins with the coordinate conjunction "but" -- a major no-no in "straight, academic prose," as opposed to "poets prose," which takes liberties and too often sets a very "bad" example for students who need to learn the standards that will get them the grades they deserve in their various undergraduate and graduate classes -- should NOT begin with a coordinate conjuntion. It whould be linked to the previous sentence or begin with a conjunctive adverb like "However," in which case, a comma following it would be appropriate and required.

Yeah, the the English professor's sentiments about meter are silly, obnoxious, and, at best, pompous.

Just the same, YES, by all means, the professor's grammar sets a shitty example for students, and it confuses many a conscientious kid who probably dearly desires to do well in college and get some reasonably good opportunties in life but could very well get mediocre grades because the so-called "grammar" taught by some bullshit Ph'd's NEVER truly clarifies the proper way to do things.

(Personally, this issue in academia infuriated me. I knew many English Department colleagues
who were obscenely inconsistent in their grammar instruction. In most cases, they did not know the correct grammatical and mechanical
rules to apply or teach. Some were poets, but most were bourgeois jerks who taught primarily to make a nice, comfortable, tenured middle-class life for themselves. Two such buffoons "let me go" after 7-8 years of out-performing them and pushing for colleagues to adopt higher standards. They had tenure and I was "an Adjunct."

Jonathan dijo...

I disagree that you shouldn't start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction in "academic prose." That's not really a distinction I would maintain. You should look not at manuals but at actual authentic practice in the field. In other words, what good writers actually do.

You are right. I meant the third sentence not the second.

I wasn't focussing on grammar. There are no grammatical problems, just bad writing.