Philology Phriday––Iamb

30 Jul

Thanks to a good friend, I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. Thus with poetry on the proverbial noggin, I’ve decided that Philology Phriday will be dedicated to the much-understudied iamb––one of the most common metrical units w/i like all of the Western poetic canon. Meter, and this is something I’ve learned only fairly recently, has a lot of meaning w/i a poem. Its use signifies something, especially as most poets have been seen as grappling with the long long long history of poetry––the longest standing (though, one could see it as the holding on for dear life like a granny in a nursing home holds on to her walker, pressing all of her weight on to those two dusty and overfuzzed tennis balls) written/verbal art in the history of the West. And a nota bene: Hegel ate this poetry shit up. For Breakfast. Lunch. and Midnight Snacks.

But back to iambs. Let’s take this line for instance:

“Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?”

Read it out loud in your best impression of a Greek guy (who as we now know from the historical filmic data spoke most like a british guy or a scottish one). Okay good. Now again with special attention to the rhythm of the stressed and unstressed syllables. Did you hear how you said it, you dirty little iamber you? You just spake iambic-ly.

An iamb was supposed to be the most common meter of everyday speech. Yet, when its root, iambus, was used in classical Greece it meant most closely “to assail with language.” Why so harsh you (and I ask). It turns out that iambic speech, especially in the form of trimeter (meaning 3 iambs) was the form of the classical satires of the West’s first satirists, Archilochus and Hipponax.

So then when Shakespeare or Milton or Wordsworth (who pledged rather melodramatically his undying love for the speech of common men in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads) write iambs are they really just assaulting us with a barrage of stressed-unstressed syllabic ammunition? Did they know so much as to think we go on, we the common readers (in order to form a more perfect union), walk around spouting out our meditations on nightingales or old vases or death or whatever we see lying around (people of the opposite sex included) in some sort of centrally planned rationing out of this-is-stressed-this-is-not formulation of language?(!) That is a farce. They’re not that smart. And neither are we. I know I certainly don’t go thinking about what I say and write on such a base level, and I’m fairly normal. So how can this work, this apparent gap between the style of poets and the unstyles of, well, me?

Here’s one thought, maybe the recognition of a pattern in one doesn’t necessarily mean the reality or presence of said presence universally (or even within a larger context). How do you poets like them apples? So maybe I do speak and think in iambs. So what. Does this mean that everything I say and write is poetry? Am I poetic? Well, if I am, then you are too.


One Response to “Philology Phriday––Iamb”

  1. Jess August 1, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    The answer is yes. And I liked the overyly fuzzy tennis balls part.

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