Wit's Voices: Intonation in Seventeenth-Century English Poetry

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1st Edition

Hardback, 240 x 160 mm. 256pp ...
In stock in Australia, for immediate despatch

Wit's Voices gives a theoretical explanation of how poets writing metered poetry can control the way that poetry sounds when it is read aloud. It explores how iambic pentameter was developed very much to enable that control. It then uses the theory to show how major 17th-century lyric poets controlled intonation and thereby the emotional force and meaning of their poetry. It does so by means of close readings of works by Donne, Jonson, Herbert, and the Cavalier poets.

The work begins by surveying recent treatments of poetic meter and rhythm in English, considering both the dismissal of meter by some contemporary critics and the failed attempt by generative metrists to develop a formula for determining metricity on the model of Chomsky's generative grammar. It employs the late Dwight Bolinger's account of English intonation to explain the long dominance of iambic pentameter in serious English poetry and discusses how meter is realised in performance. It concludes that the special power of iambic pentameter is that it allows poets to vary intonation while still maintaining an audible beat.

The second chapter shows, by way of background, how Surrey, who established iambic pentameter in Early Modern English, employed it in his lyrics and his translation of the Aeneid, and how Sidney, in 'Astrophel and Stella', built on Surrey to achieve a greater flexibility in performance.

The chapter on Donne demonstrates, by the close analysis of many poems from different genres, how Donne actually uses meter and syntax to achieve the dramatic range of voices and the rhetorical and dramatic power for which he is known. The chapter on Jonson discusses how, both in his iambic pentameter and his four-best lyrics, he taught later poets to use verse as a means of social interaction by controlling intonation.

The last chapter deals with the successors of Donne and Jonson, particularly Herbert, Herrick, Carew, and Marvell. These poets used the techniques of Donne and Jonson for different rhetorical purposes, from the confessional in Herbert to the courtly in the others. The author's term 'conversational lyric' describes what he finds distinctive in much 17th-century verse - how it implies and responds to the presence of a listener.

The book concludes by placing the conversational lyric in its cultural context and discusses how and why it yielded at the end of the century to the didactic heroic couplet, as transmission by manuscript among a limited coterie of readers yielded to widespread publication in print.

This book is intended for scholars and students of English literature at the university level, as well as high school/secondary teachers, and all lovers of poetry. Although its focus is on 17th-century lyrics, its analysis of the relation of meter to performance has implications for the metrical verse of all periods.

Now retired, John Cooper taught at Portland State University.

Praise for Wit's Voices:

'If I were still a full-time university teacher, [this book] would be highly recommended to students taking my specialist course on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century lyric poetry, and it would be on the list of useful books for students taking an introductory first-year course on how to read poetry' [Robert Wilcher, Senior Fellow in the Department of English and at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham].


SKU 9780874130591
Barcode # 9780874130591
Brand AUP
Artist / Author John COOPER

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