Through the honeyed halls of Autumn Hums the angry ageing bee; As its work faces fruition, And its life, redundancy.
This little poem was originally published in Candelabrum, a 1970 formalist hold-out that ran for forty years in the UK under Leonard McCarthy. More recently, it was just republished in Jerome Betts’ latest Lighten-Up Online.
Epigrammatic couplets and quatrains, being rhyme- and stress-based, are common throughout Indo-European languages. They hold the same natural place that haiku, senryu and tanka have in syllable-counting Japanese. It is easier to learn by heart a poem whose form uses the natural strengths of the language, rather than something written in a language-inappropriate form.
Similarly, when reading a poem in translation, you get the ideas and the imagery but you normally lose the enhancement of mood caused by the metre, the rhythm of the verse, as well as by the rhyme. So ideas and imagery alone give you prose, not poetry.
Consider the differences in tone of gravity or levity set by rhythm in these opening lines (and you need to read them aloud–in your head if you can do that, otherwise really aloud, in order to hear the rhythm, the beat of the lines):
Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky... I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he; I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three... On the top of the Crumpetty Tree The Quangle Wangle sat...
The first is meditative, the second full of action, the third is casual, informal… and those moods are set by the rhythm alone.
Metre is an essential component of English poetry. Make the metre-rule your yardstick. Don’t leave home without it.