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MUSICAL FEET, AND MODULATION OF VERSE. 269
MUSICAL FEET, AND THE MODULATION OF VERSE.
ONE of the principal sources of the pleasure which verse yields, especially to the cultivated, is its rhythmus, or the music of its measured sound, when properly pronounced, resulting from the order in which the long and short syllables of which it is formed are combined. Besides the beauty of the thought, the graces of the expression, and the splendor of the scenery, Milton's great poem undoubtedly had to his ear the charm also of a musical movement, or modulation, that answered to the stately march of the verse; that rose now to passion, and now subsided to softness; and, like the successive parts of a great musical composition, terminated at the principal pauses, sometimes in a peal or abrupt interception, as it were, of a note ere it is finished, and sometimes, and more frequently, in a gentle and soothing cadence, like a distant strain that fades
away on the ear, or the soft and delicate amen in which a rapturous chant sometimes breathes out its last accents, and sinks into silence. To discern this musical element, and feel its full force, a knowledge is necessary of the means by which its fine movements and subtle charms are produced.
That which mainly distinguishes verse from prose is, that it consists of a regular alternation or succession of syllables that differ in length; the long occupying in the pronunciation twice the time of the short, or receiving an emphasis that gives them to. the ear an equivalent distinction. The different combinations in which the long and short syllables are united are called musical feet. The principal
The Pyrrhic, or two short syllables, marked
The Spondee, or two long syllables, marked
The Iambic, or one short and one long syllable, marked.
The Trochee, or one long and one short syllable, marked.
The Dactyl, or one long and two short syllables, marked
The Anapest, or two short and one long syllable, marked
The Amphimacer, or a long, a short, and a long syllable, marked
The Amphibrach, or a short, a long, and a short, marked
Other feet, of which there are several of three and of four syllables, are seldom used in English verse. The differences of the several species of verse lie partly in the number, and partly in the nature of the feet of which they are formed. Each species consists mainly of one particular foot. Thus heroic, or blank verse, like Milton's Paradise Lost, has ten syllables to the line, and they are generally iambics, or feet consisting of a short and a long syllable. A trochee, or a spondee, is introduced perhaps once in two or three lines; sometimes because the words forming those feet are requisite to the most vivid exhibition of the act, feeling, or quality that is described or expressed, and more often for the purpose of giving variety and sprightliness to the modulation. Thus Milton's first line consists of an iambic, a spondee, and three iambics; his second, of five iambics; his third, of a spondee, a trochee, and three iambics; his fourth and fifth, of iambics; his sixth, of a spondee and four iambics; his seventh and eighth, of iambics; his ninth, of a trochee and four iambics; and his tenth to the pause, of a spondee and one iambic and a half:
"Of man's first dīsŏbēdiěnce, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mōrtăl taste
Sing, heavenly muse, that on the secret tōp
Of Oreb, or of Sinăi, didst inspire
That shepherd who first taught the chōsen seēd,
Thus of fifty-two feet, all but six are iambics. All ten syllable lines, whether blank verse or rhyme, are in like manner formed mainly of iambics. So also are all octo-syllabic poems, such as Scott's Marmion and Byron's Giaour. In sacred verse, the eight syllable, or long metre, the eight and six syllable, or common and short metre, are formed of iambics, with the exception occasionally of a trochee, or spondee, as the first foot of a line. In long metre, all the lines have four feet; in common metre, the first and third have four, the second and fourth, three feet; in short metre, the first, second, and fourth have three feet, the third four. There is also an eight syllable verse, formed of an iambic and two anapests, as:
"The moment a sinner believes."
Lines of eleven syllables consist of but four feet, the first being usually an iambic, trochee, or spondee, and the others anapests, or dactyls. When the dactyl is first, the last foot is a trochee. Thus:
"I would not live alwǎy, I wish not to stay,
In the last hymn quoted in the volume, the first and third lines have a dactyl first, and close with a trochee; the second and fourth begin with an iambic and close with an anapest. Lines of seven syllables are formed of three feet, two trochees and one amphimacer:
"What could your Redeemer dō
Mōre than he has done for you?"
Seven and eleven syllable lines are usually employed only in songs, hymns, or poems of such moderate length, that the unvarying recurrence of the same movement does not tire. Were iambics, however, to be used exclusively in eight and ten syllable lines, the modulation would be too monotonous. To avoid that, trochees especially are used at the commencement, and occasionally in other