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It whispers in the leaves of trees,
The swelling grain, the waving grass,
That crisps the wavelets as they pass.
2. The flowers below, the stars above,
In all their bloom and brightness given,
The poetry of earth and heaven.
Attunes the soul to minstrelsy,
And all the world with poetry.
1. Crisps, wavelets, attributes, attunes, minstrelsy, tingeing.
2. How is the world like a book? What does the geologist read in it? What does the naturalist read in it? What does the poet read in it? What “whispers in the leaves”? Are the flowers the products of earth alone? How can stars be called the poetry of earth and heaven”? What is “Nature's volume”?
VII. READING POETRY.
1. Perhaps poetry is harder than prose to read well, because it is so easy for one to get into a singsong tone, which spoils the sense.
2. When Ella came home from school one day, and
tried to read to her mother the little poem “Christmas Bells,” she read it like this:
“ Hark the Christmas bells are ringing,
Ringing through the frosty air,
And release from toil and care."
4. This made Mrs. Wiseman say, “ If that is meant for reading I should call it poor, and if for singing, I do not like the tune."
5. In verse the accented and unaccented syllables follow each other with some degree of regularity. This is the reason it is so easy to “measure it off,” as Ella did. The way in which these syllables are used is called the measure, or meter.
6. If a syllable is accented it is called long, if unaccented it is short; and our mistaken idea of the emphasis in the old Latin and Greek poems has tended to hinder us from reading English poetry well, by partly loading it with the necessities of the old-time verses.
7. The ancients probably read their poems with a steady, melodious flow, almost devoid of accent or of the emphasis of force, but filled with the emphasis of quantity and place. That is, they emphasized by putting words out of their usual places in the sentence, and by using, as desired, syllables that took more or less time to pronounce.
8. The verses written in this way could be read with a regular flow of long and short syllables. In scanning them we accent the long syllables, and this gives a sing-song tone to our method of reading Latin poetry, which is probably entirely different from the reading of the Romans.
9. In reading English poetry we must be guided wholly by the sense, and, unless the natural expression brings the long and the short syllables into their proper places for the kind of verse intended to be written, the meter is imperfect.
10. There are many kinds of meter, depending on the number and combination of the long and the short syllables in each verse, but there are only two kinds of verse. In both there are regular feet, but in rhyme the last syllables of certain lines, or the last accented syllable with any others following in the same line, correspond with each other in sound, while in blank verse they do not.
11. Poetry should be read as if it were prose, with the exception that, generally, there should be a slight pause at the end of every line, even when there would be none in prose, to bring out the melody and harmony peculiar to poetry.
12. If, however, the sense does not require it, and if the force of the rhythm can be sufficiently brought out without it, this pause should be omitted. To read poetry so as to give the sense as truly as if it
were prose, and yet to give the pauses and inflection so as to indicate the meter, is the highest art.
13. There is always supposed to be a pause, called the cæsura, in each line, but in very short lines, and sometimes in rapid movement, the cæsura is often imaginary. When it occurs it is simply the same pause that we give in prose to bring out the sense.
14. In reading poetry, then, notice the pauses required by the sense, generally make a slight pause at the end of a line even when there would be none in prose, and read it just as if it were prose ; then, if the poet has done his part well, you will without effort drop into the flow of the verse as easily as a boat is drawn into the current, and find yourself reading with the harmonious and half-measured flow of sound that is so charming to the ear when it does not descend to sing-song.
15. A few verses marked may help you in marking and reading others.
“Ěternal sunshine || of the spotless mind,
Each prayer accepted || and each wish resigned.” In these verses the cæsura is marked to show that it is simply the rhetorical pause, and the syllables are marked long and short.
Lightly | they'll talk | of the spirit that's gone,
And o'er his cold ashes upbraid him;
But little he'll reck | if they let | him sleep on
grave | where a Briton | has laid him.” 16. Each perfect line contains a certain number of feet, and in this stanza each foot except one has two or three syllables. In the fourth line the middle foot has four syllables, but, in reading, the “a” unites so closely with the first syllable of “ Briton” as to be hardly perceptible. In this extract one of the syllables in each foot is long, and the lines are so written that the sense requires the voice to dwell on the long syllable in each foot.
“The way was long, the wind was cold.”
In this line a comma takes the place of “and,” and the meter and rhythm are perfect. The reading sense would be the same if “and” were inserted.
way I was long and the wind was cold.” But one foot then would contain three syllables.
* In these deep shades || a flow’ret grows,
Whose leaves || a thousand sweets disclose." These lines are perfectly regular, each having four feet of two syllables, with the accent on the last.
18. The first line of Longfellow's “Psalm of Life” has the same regularity, but with the first syllable in each foot accented: