All entries for Tuesday 13 February 2007
February 13, 2007
It is interesting to consider poetry that concentrates more on the music of the line and language than the actual meaning. Cynghanedd and the englyn are Welsh forms of poetry that do just this. There is a very good webite on these forms at the Kalliope Website or you could buy Mererid Hopwood’s excellent book, Singing in Chains .
Meanwhile, here is a very basic explanation. The Welsh poetic line often uses Cynghanedd (meaning Harmony) or as it is sometimes known, Canu Caeth (Captured Song). Here are a few kinds. There are more on the Kalliope website.
1. Cynghanedd Lusg (Drag Harmony)
Here the second syllable and first syllable of the penultimate word rhyme.
eg. The great man and his irate wife…
2. Cynghanedd Sain (Tonal Harmony)
Here there is a development of a sound from the first main word to the second main word and the second main word chimes slightly differently with the third main word:
e.g. The passion will fashion the fascists.
3. Cyngahnedd Drychben (Chief Mirror Harmony)
Here there is a kind of mirroring of consonant sounds.
Spaghetti westerns, spies, ghettos, whist turns.
sp gh t w st rns / sp gh t w st rns
A Simple Form of Englyn
The englyn is another form of syllabic poetry. Written in a verse of four lines, it contains thirty syllables and is usually organised in the following pattern:
Line 1: 10 syllables
Line 2: 6 syllables
Line 3: 6 syllables
Line 4: 7 syllables
The seventh or eighth syllable of line 1 rhymes with the last syllables of lines 2-3. There should also be a rhyme/chime between the last syllable of line one and syllable 2/3 of line 2. There is usually cynghanedd in the lines too.
Here is an example:
O ryfedd dorf ddi-derfysg y meirwon
Â gwymon yn gymysg!
Parlyrau’r perl, erwau’r pysg
Yw bedd disgleirdeb addysg.
In Memoriam – to a sailor
In a strange, unclamorous host, the dead
And the seaweed tangle;
Pearl parlours, acres of fish
Are tomb to learning’s splendour.
But you don’t really get a sense of the wonderful sounds if you don’t understand the Welsh, so here is an englyn that I have been working on in English. It bends some of the rules but it may give you a sense of the effect that I want you to aim for:
The Wives’ Englyn to Malinche
Amidst raw livers rives stumped cedar,
livened knot of knitted hives;
branches sing of broaching scythes,
prizes stung by priesting wives.
objects – music – shapes
The poet, Louis Zukofsky, was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1904. He came from Lithuanian-Jewish origins and later he went on to study at Columbia University, NY, completing his MA in 1924. He taught at the University of Wisconsin during 1930s Objectivist movement. Throughout his life he was a teacher, writer and editor.
The Objectivist movement had a number of aims which included:
• To write poems in which the form also made the same case as the content.
• To reinvigorate the word which had been degraded by a culture that lacked awareness of how words were arranged.
• To experiment with form and syntax, language on the page and visual poetry.
Poets who had some connection to the Objectivist movement include: Ezra Pound, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, William Carlos Williams, Carl Rakosi, Kenneth Rexroth, Basil Bunting and E.E. Cummings.
The text is the range of pleasure it affords as sight, sound and intellection. —Louis Zukofsky
Interestingly, one focus of Zukofsky’s poetry was its musicality. See the following extract from Peter Jones’ essay which can be read in full at: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=6388
The poem becomes a score. As he [Zukofsky] abandons metaphor, symbol and connotation in language, meaning takes a subordinate place. The clearest example of this approach is in his Catullus, prepared in collaboration with his wife (1969). His ‘translations’ of Catullus are into a language that attempts in his words to ‘breathe the “literal” meaning with him’. – Peter Jones
From Catullus’ poem CXII:
Multus homo es, Naso, neque tecum multus homost qui
descendit: Naso, multus es et pathicus.
You’re a made man, Naso, nor is he who lays you made:
you’re a made man, Naso, and a — maid.
Mool ‘tis homos’ ‘Naso, ‘n’ queer take ‘im mool ‘tis ho most he
descended: Naso, mool’tis — is it pathic, cuss.
Which is nearer the Latin? But that begs the question: what is Latin? What do we mean by ‘being nearer’? The larger question Zukofsky has spent a lifetime probing is, What is language? – Peter Jones
So it seems that Zukofsky is more interested in the music than the literal meaning of the poem, although his translation of Catullus does convey something of the original message, doesn’t it? Michael Schmidt writes of this tendency in The Lives of the Poets describing Zukofsky’s ‘music’ as ‘the poem as score rather than realisation of score’.