More Sapphics

2007-02-18

As mentioned I've started to collect poems in sapphic meter. Among other things, it turns out that the two poems that I've written in sapphic meter are all wrong. As explained by Timothy Steele in All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing and Miller Williams in Patterns of Poetry, the meter of a sapphic stanza in an accentual-syllabic language such as English scans as follows (where "/" is a strong beat, "x" is a weak beat, and "|" divides one foot from another):

/ x | / x | / x x | / x | / x | / x
/ x | / x | / x x | / x | / x | / x
/ x | / x | / x x | / x | / x | / x
/ x x | / x

Here is ann example from Swinburne's poem "Sapphics":

Clothed about with flame and with tears, and singing
Songs that move the heart of the shaken heaven,
Songs that break the heart of the earth with pity,
Hearing, to hear them.

That scans quite nicely as follows (accented syllables in bold):

Clothed about with flame and with tears, and singing
Songs that move the heart of the shaken heaven,
Songs that break the heart of the earth with pity,
Hearing, to hear them.

Contrast that with, say, the first stanza of my poem Ancient Fire:

Sing me, Muse, of your bright sister -- small and dark,
they say she was, though I shall never know her.
Her song is lost, yet even her merest shards
are a vibrant spark.

Ouch. And the other stanzas are no better. No wonder the poem doesn't sing the way a sapphic is supposed to. Sigh.

Despite the disappointment of learning that my own poems are merely pseudo-sapphic, I've collected a number of properly-scanning sapphics by Sappho herself, Thomas Campion, William Cowper, Horace, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Andrew Marvell, August von Platen, Philip Sidney, A.E. Stallings, Timothy Steele, Algernon Swinburne, Lewis Turco, and Rachel Wetzsteon. And my sapphics-hunting continues, so expect more reports in the near future...


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