Prosody: The Rhythm Of Prose (extract)
This is an extract from a presentation I gave during my Master`s Degree, written out in prose, on the topic of "Prosody", or prose rhythm.
Date : 30/09/2017
"One of the differences between mediocre prose and great prose is that great prose has fine rhythm... the rhythm of poetry consists, with a few exceptions, of a regular pattern of stresses... the rhythm of prose depends entirely on subtle variations"1
Certain rhythmic techniques are oft used in prose, such as using "light" endings to sentences so as to suggest a need to continue, or the use of a "heavy" ending to give a feeling of finality. A passage can suggest the kind of movement it described by its sound. Repetition and metre, as found in poetry, are not usually wanted in prose (though some stylised writers have used lines of verse, such as Joyce). Prose can be "scanned" divided into feet, by marking the stressed syllables in the test. This allows for a rhythmical analysis. There is often more than one way to divide a passage into feet - but the same is true in poetical analysis."By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy. Fed and feeding brains about me under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind`s darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds. Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms. Tranquility sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms."2In English prose there are many more technical terms than in poetry, where the smaller forms usually suffice. By dividing a section of prose into feet, defined by the number of syllables in each, and whether they are stressed or unstressed, one can define those feet term by term. Below are the four forms of two-syllable feet, with examples of their use:
- Iambic (Unstressed - Stressed) "Aside"
- Trochaic (Stressed - Unstressed) "Needle"
- Spondee (Stressed - Stressed) "Songbird"
- Pyrrhic (Unstressed - Unstressed) "... of the..."
- Anapaest (Unstressed - Unstressed - Stressed)
- Dactyl (Stressed - Unstressed - Unstressed)
- Amphibrach (Unstressed - Stressed - Unstressed)
- Bacchic (Stressed - Stressed - Unstressed)
- Anti-Bacchic (Unstressed - Stressed - Stressed)
- Cretic (Stressed - Unstressed - Stressed)
- Molossus (Stressed - Stressed - Stressed)
- Tribrach (Unstressed - Unstressed - Unstressed)
- Antispast (Unstressed - Stressed - Stressed - Unstressed)
- Choriamb (Stressed - Unstressed - Unstressed - Stressed)
- Di-iamb (Unstressed - Stressed - Unstressed - Stressed)
- Dispondee (Stressed - Stressed - Stressed - Stressed)
- Ditrochee (Stressed - Unstressed - Stressed - Unstressed)
- Epitrite (Any combination of four syllables that includes three Stressed syllables)
- Ionic a Majore (Stressed - Stressed - Unstressed - Unstressed)
- Ionic a Minore (Unstressed - Unstressed - Stressed - Stressed)
- Paeon (Any combination of four syllables that includes three Unstressed syllables)
- Proceleusmatic (Unstressed - Unstressed - Unstressed - Unstressed)
- Dochmiac (Any possible combination of five syllables in a single unified foot)
- Ditrochee / Paeon / Cretic / Dactyl / Bacchic / Cretic.
- Trochaic / Cretic / Anti-Bacchic / Ionic a Minore / Iambic / Amphibrach / Di-iamb / Ionic a Minore / Trochaic / Iambic / Iambic / Cretic / Anti-Bacchic / Ditrochee / Dactyl / Trochaic / Cretic.
- Choriamb / Trochaic.
- Amphibrach / Paeon / Dactyl: / Iambic / Pyrrhic / Cretic.
- Paeon / Cretic / Dactyl: / Cretic.
- Hwæt wē Gār-Dena in geārdagum,
- Þēodcyninga Þrym gefrūnon,
- Hū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedon.
- Oft Scyld Scēfing sceaþena þrēatum,
- Monegum mægþum meodosetla oftēah,
- Egsode eorl[as], syððan ǽrest wearð
- Fēasceaft funden hē þæs frōfre
- Wēox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum
- Oðþæt him ǽghwylc þ[ǽr]
- Ofer hronrāde hŷran scolde,
- Gomban gyldan. þæt wæs gōd cyning!
- So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
- And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
- We have heard of the princes` heroic campaigns.
- There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
- A wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
- This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
- A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
- As his powers waxes and his worth was proved.
- In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
- Beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
- And begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.3
- Lo! The glory of the kings of the people
- of the Spear-Danes we have heard tell,
- how those princes did deeds of valour.
- Oft Scyld Scefing robbed the hosts of
- foemen, many peoples, of the seats
- where they drank their mead, laid fear
- upon men, he who first was found
- forlorn comfort for that he lived to
- know, mighty grew under heaven,
- throve in honour, until all that dwelt
- nigh about, over the sea where the
- whale rides, must hearken to him and
- yield him tribute - a good king was he!4
1 Marjorie Boulton The Anatomy of Prose (1954)
2 James Joyce Ulysses (1922)3 Seamus Heaney Beowulf (1999)4 J.R.R. Tolkien Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary (1926 published 2014)
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