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I. Rhyme and Rhyme-Related Figures

I.1. Rhyme

1. The definition of rhyme

2. The basic types of rhyme: masculine and feminine

3. The position and function of rhyme


I.2. Assonance


I.3. Consonance


I.4. Alliteration


I.5. Eye-rhyme

I.6. Enjambment

I.7. Rhyme-schemes, stanza patterns

1. Rhyme-schemes

2. Stanza patterns

3. The function of rhyme schemes and stanza patterns


II. Verse, Versification

II.1. Accentual Syllabic Verse (Metre, Metrics)

1. The definition of metre and of accentual syllabic verse

2. Feet and lines in accentual syllabic verse

3. A few hints on scansion

4. The function of metrics, the use of scansion


II.2. Combinations of accentual syllabic verse and rhyme patterns


II.3. Accentual verse


II.4. Free verse

III. Poetic Forms and Genres

IV. Exercises

V. Links

William Wordsworth:
Composed upon Westminster Bridge,
September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair;
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

The poem, written in the Petrarchan sonnet form, describes the beauty of London in the early morning just when the sun rises. We perceive the beauty of the city not so much through the description of what can be seen as through a sense of the admiration of the speaker. It is as if he is looking at a wonder, at something that cannot be but is still there. This sense of admiration is communicated through the development of a strange paradox, which states the impossible unity of two contradictory things: the industrial city and the organic beauty of nature (cf. Cleanth Brook’s analysis of this poem in his essay ‘The Language of Paradox’). This paradox is introduced through the image of dress, which the rhymes of the octave highlight: the city is fair (beautiful) because it wears ‘like a garment’ the natural beauty of the morning; but wearing the beauty of the morning in fact means that the city is bare (naked): what it wears is just ‘the smokeless air’.

The paradox is carried over and developed further in the sestet. The connection with the dress metaphor is established through the image of the city being steeped in the light of the sun and then the paradox is extended to the strange union of being dead (or asleep) and being alive. The city is now more beautiful and more alive than nature itself, but this is only so because it is steeped in the light of the sun and is thus deep asleep. The rhyming words steep – deep – asleep highlight these connections. As opposed to the city, which is ‘lying still’, the natural parts of the landscape, the sunlight, the ‘valley, rock, or hill’ as well as the river are now active, they dominate over the sleeping city, as is emphasized by the rhyming words hill – at their will – lying still. The city, represented in the last line by the metaphor of the heart, is thus alive because it is dead, because it is inactive and is dominated by its natural environment.

The thematic development of the poem is beautifully seconded by the rhythms. The enjambments (and the eye-rhyme) in the octave express the boundless admiration for this beautiful sight, the overflowing emotion of the speaker. This is further emphasised by the fact that although the lines of the Petrarchan sonnet in English should be iambic pentameters, none of these lines are exactly iambic. Even where the rhythm gets very close to this (lines 3, 4, 5, 12), the sentence structure or a caesura disrupts the smooth iambic rhythm. This is true of all the lines except the very last one where the rhythms smoothes out and a perfect iambic pentameter ends the poem:

And all that mighty heart is lying still!

One function of this metrical development is clearly to mark the end of the poem. Apart from this, however, the clear iambic rhythm also functions here on another level. By the sound effect it creates it contradicts the explicit verbal meaning of the line in which it appears. While the line says that the ‘mighty heart’ of the city ‘is lying still’, the iambic rhythm gives us a strong sense of the beating of a heart. Thus the paradox that is developed all through the poem reaches its final statement in this line. The city now is ‘lying still’, it is dead, it is not itself, it is dominated by its natural environment; and it is precisely because of this that it can come to life: the mighty heart begins to beat only when it is lying still.