POETS Day! Clement Clarke Moore

[This entry is cross posted at ordinary-times.com]

“Not a mouse stirring.”
Hamlet Act I, Scene I

This is another one of those weekends where there’s really not much need for a POETS Day. Heresy! You might say, and I’d be tempted to agree with you, but even those that don’t celebrate Christmas are the beneficiaries of an act of Congress marking the 25th of December as a federal holiday and that designation pretty well spills over to the days before and after in practice if not in fact. Even if you are at work, whoever you are supposed to be calling on or transferring funds to is probably tilting at last minute shopping or stuck in an airport because the U.S. is now apparently Hoth so it’s a wasted week. If you don’t work retail, you’ve likely already been given a pass to leave work early on Friday if you were expected to show up at all. There’s no need to adhere to the dictate Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday, but that doesn’t mean there’s no need for a bit of poetry. On the contrary, this is an excellent time to get all doe-eyed and the kind of overplayed optimistic cheerful that makes grown men cringe and wish they’d never heard the word ebullient and say, “But it’s always time for poetry!” I think that’s true. Hope you do too.

To my knowledge, there is no tradition recommending anapests when writing poetic religious narratives, but that’s where I keep coming across them. To my knowledge, they are rarely used in devotionals or similarly themed works (I say rarely because I’m holding out that just because I can’t think of a single one, there are more things in heaven and earth than I come across reading the slice of English language poetry that I prefer.) The anapest, a metric foot consisting of two unstressed followed by one stressed syllable, pops up in a lot of long form works. The Illiad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid were all written primarily using another three-syllable foot known as a dactyl, made up of a stressed followed by two unstressed syllables. The distance between stresses in either foot gives prominence the stress wouldn’t have in an iamb or trochee (two syllable feet, unstressed/stressed and stressed/unstressed respectively) and can contribute to an epic sensibility. Translations into English keep as close to the original possible. “I sing of arms and the man” is an example of keeping with the dactylic spirit if not the precise form. Stresses fall on “arms” and “man” but to make sense a throw away “I” is included. In addition to throw away syllables often anapest might be substituted for a dactyl in translation so you can know in your heart of hearts that Juvenal’s Satires are considered to be written in dactyls but can come across an essay or analysis that says they are anapestic without it ruining your world view.

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