Book Review: A Classic On Poetic Form

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Philip Hobsbaum, an English poet and critic, in his book “Metre, Rhythm, and Verse Form”, has in expertise not succumbed to pedantry, and kept my attention almost undivided (a feat) for the duration.  He does this in part by staying under two hundred pages and diving into great poetry at every turn, teaching how to scan meter, and what psychological impact a tiny alteration in form can have.  He really opened my eyes on elements of form that don’t come easily to me, discussing the nuances of various feet, like the iamb, as well as the length of line, blank verse, the length of vowels and syllables (thus the speed of lines), maintaining a fixed number of syllables per line (syllabics), and the loosening of meter through sprung rhythm.  He also defines three kinds of free verse: free blank verse, cadenced verse, and pure free verse.  Hobsbaum explores the use of rhyme and partial rhyme.  And he is always going back to the subject of how all these matters, and a few more affect the final rhythm, which he points out is a different animal from a fixed form like iambic pentameter.  At the end of the book, Hobsbaum runs through a number of popular verse forms.

One of the most interesting things about this book is how we are given access to the historical origin and development of certain types of stanzas (such as the ballad and hymn and elegiac stanza) and how their potential was discovered over time in significant usages.

To poets who want to gain more conscious understanding of the nuances of meter and form I recommend this volume wholeheartedly.

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