Lovely Reader, Meter Made

I STILL don’t know why I love rhyming poetry. Perhaps the Beatles had something to do with it, as the grooves were transferred from vinyl to my developing brain after 1968…

I picked up Poetic Meter and Poetic Form by Paul Fussell from a free book bin and then ignored it for several years. Recently, I began mining its gold with great enjoyment. Here are some words from the first chapter of the 1965 edition:

“Civilization is an impulse toward order; but high civilizations are those which operate from a base of order without at the same time denying the claims of the unpredictable and even the irrational. The impulse toward the metrical organization of assertions seems to partake of the more inclusive human impulse toward order. Meter is what results when the natural rhythmical movements of colloquial speech are heightened, organized, and regulated so that pattern – which means repetition – emerges from the relative phonetic haphazard of ordinary utterance. Because it inhabits the the physical form of the very words themselves, meter is the most fundamental technique of order available to the poet.”

This is beautiful and I agree lyrically,  metrically, and enthusiastically. But it gets even better – as Dr. Fussell brings in foot-tapping, head-nodding, Chaos and Flux several paragraphs later:

“The pleasure which universally seems to result from foot tapping and musical time beating does suggest that the pleasures of meter are essentially physical and as intimately connected with the rhythmic quality of man’s total experiences the similarly alternating and recurring phenomena of breathing, walking, or lovemaking… children and the unsophisticated receive from meter almost wholly physical pleasure, manifesting itself in foot tapping and head nodding, On the other hand, more experienced and sensitive readers probably derive much of their metrical pleasure from the high degree of rhetorical attention which meter demands (‘Meter keeps the mind on the stretch,’ one critic has said), or from the intellectual and humanistic delight of witnessing order and containment being born out of chaos and flux.”

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