The Rise and Fall of Meter: Poetry and English National Culture, 1860--1930

Overview

Why do we often teach English poetic meter by the Greek terms iamb and trochee? How is our understanding of English meter influenced by the history of England's sense of itself in the nineteenth century? Not an old-fashioned approach to poetry, but a dynamic, contested, and inherently nontraditional field, "English meter" concerned issues of personal and national identity, class, education, patriotism, militarism, and the development of English literature as a discipline. The Rise and Fall of Meter tells the ...

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The Rise and Fall of Meter: Poetry and English National Culture, 1860--1930

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Overview

Why do we often teach English poetic meter by the Greek terms iamb and trochee? How is our understanding of English meter influenced by the history of England's sense of itself in the nineteenth century? Not an old-fashioned approach to poetry, but a dynamic, contested, and inherently nontraditional field, "English meter" concerned issues of personal and national identity, class, education, patriotism, militarism, and the development of English literature as a discipline. The Rise and Fall of Meter tells the unknown story of English meter from the late eighteenth century until just after World War I. Uncovering a vast and unexplored archive in the history of poetics, Meredith Martin shows that the history of prosody is tied to the ways Victorian England argued about its national identity. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Coventry Patmore, and Robert Bridges used meter to negotiate their relationship to England and the English language; George Saintsbury, Matthew Arnold, and Henry Newbolt worried about the rise of one metrical model among multiple competitors. The pressure to conform to a stable model, however, produced reactionary misunderstandings of English meter and the culture it stood for. This unstable relationship to poetic form influenced the prose and poems of Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, and Alice Meynell. A significant intervention in literary history, this book argues that our contemporary understanding of the rise of modernist poetic form was crucially bound to narratives of English national culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Winner of the 2013 Warren-Brooks Award for Outstanding Literary Criticism, Robert Penn Warren Center and Western Kentucky University
Co-Winner of the 2013 Sonia Rudikoff Prize, Northeast Victorian Studies Association
Winner of the 2012 MLA Prize for a First Book, Modern Language Association

"[T]hrough her skillful close readings, Martin reveals a generation of war poets much more finely tuned to nationalist discourses of metre and their changing relationship to them than had been previously acknowledged."—Elizabeth Micakovic, Literature & History

"Martin's great accomplishment, done with impressive detail, panache, and style, is to reveal the ideological presuppositions, political desires, and personal needs of metrical practitioners and theorists in the culture and period that she examines."—Richard Cureton, Review of English Studies

"This book open[s] new horizons for historical poetics and prosody. . . . Martin's [work] is at once the most historically capacious work to date and the one that goes the farthest toward proving not only the utility of a historically attuned prosody for the study of poetry but the necessity of the field to both formalism and cultural studies."—Ben Glaser, Modern Language Quarterly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691155128
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 5/6/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 2.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Meredith Martin is associate professor of English at Princeton University.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: The Failure of Meter 1
Modern Instability 1
Metrical Communities 5
Meter as Culture 10
A Note on Historical Prosody 14

Chapter 1: The History of Meter 16
A Metrical History of England 16
A Grammatical History of England 33
Grammatical Instability 39
Metrical Instability 42

Chapter 2: The Stigma of Meter 48
Metrical Irrelevance 48
The British Empire of Letters 52
Marking Instress 54
Acute Stress in —The Wreck of the Deutschland— 61
Mistrusting the Ear 67

Chapter 3: The Institution of Meter 79
Metrical Mastery 79
Inventing the Britannic 87
Dynamic Reading 91
Mastery for the Masses 94
The English Ear 99
A Prosodic Entity 102

Chapter 4: The Discipline of Meter 109
Patriotic Pedagogy 109
Matthew Arnold’s Metrical Intimacy 112
Henry Newbolt’s Cultural Metrics 122
Private Meters, Public Rhythms 130
The Sound of the Drum 139

Chapter 5: The Trauma of Meter 145
Wartime, Poetics 145
Sad Death for a Poet! 150
Therapeutic Measures 158
Bent-Double 171
The Kindred Points of Heaven and Home 176

Chapter 6: The Before- and Afterlife of Meter 181
Metrical Modernism 181
Make It Old: Robert Bridges and Obsolescence 187
Alice Meynell’s "English Metres" 198
Toward a Critical Prosody 203

Notes 207
Works Cited 241
Index 261

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