chapter  17
11 Pages

Rhythm and Metre

Rhythm and its specialized form, metre, depend upon repeti­ tion, and expectancy. Equally where what is expected recurs and where it fails, all rhythmical and metrical effects spring from anticipation. As a rule this anticipation is unconscious. Sequences of syllables both as sounds and as images of speechmovements leave the mind ready for certain further sequences rather than for others. Our momentary organization is adapted to one range of possible stimuli rather than to another. Just as the eye reading print unconsciously expects the spelling to be as usual, and the fount of type to remain the same, so the mind after reading a line or two o f verse, or half a sentence of prose, prepares itself ahead for any one o f a number o f possible sequences, at the same time negatively incapacitating itself for others. The effect produced by what actually follows depends very closely upon this unconscious preparation and consists largely of the further twist which it gives to expectancy. It is in terms of the variation in these twists that rhythm is to be described. Both prose and verse vary immensely in the extent to which they excite this ‘getting ready’ process, and in the nar­ rowness of the anticipation which is formed. Prose on the whole, with the rare exceptions of a Landor, a De Quincey , or a

[135] Ruskin, is accompanied by a very much vaguer and more inde­ terminate expectancy than verse. In such prose as this page, for example, little more than a preparedness for further words not all exactly alike in sound and with abstract polysyllables pre­ ponderating is all that arises. In short, the sensory or formal effect of words has very little play in the literature of analysis

{104} and exposition. But as soon as prose becomes more emotive than scientific, the formal side becomes prominent.