machine - A literary device that introduces into the story line a person, thing, or event that provides a solution to an immanent tragedy. It is considered a weak literary practice if the device is used as a way of solving a problem that in reality has no real way of being solved, a coward’s way out of a structural weakness in the plot - a fault of the writer. The term evolves from deux(s) ex machina meaning divine intervention where the contrived or surprising result provides a dramatic reversal of inevitable calamity. At one time the idea of divine intervention was accepted. In Sakuntala, a 6th century drama from the Golden Age of India, Kalidasa introduced the god of fate to lift a spell. It first appears in Greek drama in Sophocles as theos ex machina. Euripides in Alcestis provides a deus ex machine conclusion as Hercules rescues Alcestis from Hades. The practice of intervention by Gods was continued in Roman drama by Menander. Some critics suggest Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as a deus ex machine. Much later Edgar Allan Poe revived the practice, introducing an unexpected savior or unlikely event to bring “order out of chaos” of impending annihilation. The Fall of the House of Usher, where a supernatural storm is introduced as the instrument of a curse. Another Poe example is The Pit and Pendulum. In modern times we have Hollywood studio entertaining the world by presenting story lines that build audience suspense then send in the superman, spider man, etc. to save the day. In a reverse way there are a number of jokes built around the “machine,” this one for example: a man is trapped on the roof on his house surrounded by a flooding river – he denies help, announcing that God will save him. When he drowns he asks God why he didn’t save him – God replies “I sent you a raft, a boat, and a helicopter - you refused them.”
masculine ending - A poem where each line ends with a rhyming, stressed syllable. The pattern is a - a - b - b. See this example from Wordsworth’s Lucy Poems:
Also the most familiar Newton’s Amazing Grace:
masques - In France the enactment of events through character disguise, dance and music was the favorite (only) entertainment of the public. In England, it was the form of entertainment for royalty. Made popular in the late 1600's (Tudor England) it was written in rich allegorical verse and combined with dialogue, speech, dance, and song. The "essential and invariable feature is the presence of a group of dancers called masquers". They represented real members from politics and royalty. Far from the plain, improvised costumery of earlier times, these masquers, numbering more than a dozen, were eloquent in speech and dress.
It was Ben Jonson, then the court poet, who established the boundaries of each performance and the rules of performance. If we examine his Masque of the Queens, we find that there is a preset choreography and entrance for those who took the part of masquers, torchbearers, galliards, corantos, and la voltas.
Jonson also developed the ante-masque to contrast to the elegance of the masque. The ante-masque drama portrayed events with grotesque, vile caricatures with members of the troupe representing satyrs, cyclopes, and witches. In later years the form developed into what we recognize today as the opera and operetta.
melody - The melody of writing or melodic style, prose or poetry, is created by the use of long and short words. We look for great melodious writing from Shakespeare:
The melodic effect is created by the lingering aspect of the length of the word. Conversely chosing a string of long words could not be described as melodic style.
metaphor - A figure of speech the metaphor is an indirect comparison, indirect because it does not use clue words: like, than, as or as in. The comparison may be a person, an object, or an idea or a transformation of an idea. It also may be suggested by comparison but not necessarily. This a metaphor can be explicit or implicit. Emily Dickinson’s Hope Is the Thing with Feathers where we discover the Hope is a bird. Some poets use the metaphor to imply that one thing is another that it literally cannot be: “All the world’s a stage.”
metaphysical poetry - The term is used to describe those poets of the 17th century a revolt against the “love poetry”or “sonnets” of the 16th century Elizabethans. Later critics characterized the school as anti-feminist. This was a spill over from the baroque Spanish and Italian schools of the “fantastic” era where the use of imagery was all the rage through the publication of Joaquin Bell lay Defense et illustration de La Langue Francaise. The school (more of a school as opposed to a movement) was founded by John Donne but the term “metaphysical” first appeared in Samuel Johnson’s Lives of English Poet. It was Donne who established the characteristics as:
. realism involving unusual metaphoric language.
The major poets were George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Francis Quarles, Andrew Marvel, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Abraham Cowley, and John Cleveland. The school spawned a second group of followers in the 20th century: T. S. Eliot, Horace Gregory, Einor Wyllie, Richard Eberhart, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, and R. P. Blackmore, and in some ways we would include Gerard Manley Hopkins and Emily Dickinson.
First let us look at George Herbert (1593-1633). He has been called “the poet of a meditative and sober piety”. His poems are loaded with symbol and imagery as he wished them to be in order to follow his disciple, John Donne. Here are five of his most often cited poems:
And a fourth poem:
In the third poem the title word is an abbreviation of "quid pro quo" or “sharp reply”. Which line contains the reply? Which of the Donne’s metaphysical requirements do the poems reach? The first maintains a rhyme patterns of ABAB; the second is irregular. What type are the third and fifth? The rhyme pattern for the fourth poem is ABABA. The metaphors in the final lines of each poem are important. Why did he choose the word “pulley” to introduce the fourth poem? And what is “the redemption” in poem five?
metaphysical poets - The term is used to describe the school of poets of the 17th century, in a revolt against the “love poetry”or “sonnets” of the 16th century Elizabethans. Best described as “a kind of poetry created in England during the first two thirds of the seventeenth century, distinguished by a radical use of conceited imagery, rational or argumentative structure, a specifically intellectual emphasis manifesting itself usually in a non-sensuous texture, a language sometimes colloquial, sometimes learned from which all traces of special poetic diction have been purged, a markedly dramatic tone, and a pre-occupation, in both amorous and devotional piety, with theme of transcendence and aspiration.” A simpler explanation is that it refers to “A special type of wit where in the gravity makes fun of itself, and the levity takes itself seriously.”
Not all literaries were favorable toward the group, commenting that they have reduced poetry to “metaphysical ideas and scholastical quiddities”... ”violators of principles of decorum”.
Documents to examine for the development of metaphysical poetry are: Essays of John Dryden, 1926. J. B. Leishman’s The Metaphysical Poets, 1934, The Breaking of the Circle by M. H. Nicolson, 1962, and R. Wallerstein’s Studies in Seventeenth Century Poetic, 1939. The school was founded by John Donne but the term “metaphysical” first appeared in Samuel Johnson’s Lives of English Poets. Others who wrote of the group there was Isaak Walton, the first biographer of the group (1640), and John Dryden (under his common nickname Bayes) who commented that John Donne (1572-1631) established the characteristic style of metaphysical verse:
There was not total agreement that Donne’s poetry was worthy of the term great, “the poetry of Donne is nothing but a continued heap of riddles.” Donne himself didn’t view his poetry as a major part of his life in fact they were presented to the public after his death. The poems can be divided into two periods: before religion and afer religion. Notably The Flea, The Indifferent, Holy Sonnets: A Hymn to God the Father, Song, Three-person’d God, At the Round Earth’s Imagin’d Corners, and Since She Whom I Lov’d.
In prose he wrote this warning: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Next in line for discussion would be Andrew Marvel (1621-1678). Students remember him by the phrase “On again, off again, back again Finnegan” because of his religious vacillation, born a high Anglican, he converted to Catholicism, and later converted back to Anglican. His best poetry is his earliest and falls into three divisions:
affairs of state. Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland. Marvel never affiliated with any political party but was a supporter of Oliver Cromwell. Later he wrote “I think the cause was too good to have been fought for, men ought to have trusted God, they ought to have trusted the King with the whole matter.” In the poem he expresses regret for the execution of Charles I, he felt that Cromwell acted for the good of his country. But in the ode he pays tribute to the courage of the King in accepting his fate:
verses of love. Notably To His Coy Mistress, where he followed a characteristic syllogistic style of argument “If we had time, I could court you at leisure. But our life only lasts for a moment; therefore” and conceits like:
verses of nature. “Fragrant gardens, shady woods Deep meadows and transparent floods” Of his grasp of nature he held a natural gift of observation, a mystics view connecting man with nature and one oddity, an obsession with the word “green” (numbering 38 in all poems) recalling V. Sackville West on Andrew Marvell, 1929 on his green sickness.
“the principal clue to Marvell’s nature-mysticism lies, I think, is the obsession that green had for him. Most commentators on Marvell have remarked upon his frequent use of the word. He used it in and out of season, moreover he supplemented it by constant references to shade and shadow, which were all part of the same line of thought.. Marvell was highly sensitive to color...but of all colours it was green that enchanted him most;
Here are some notables:
“Annihilating all that‘s made To a green though in a green shade” The Garden
“As under this so straight and green” Upon the Hill
For his utmost in metaphysical verse turn to The Garden, The Coronet, Nymph and Faun, The Mower (Damon poems), and On a Drop of Dew.
In contrast to the witty, wry Marvell with his emotion driven poetry and the hate, disgust, jealousy, lust, and mistrust of Donne poetry; George Herbert offered verse as “passionate, personal drama” as a metaphysical conceits. He also differed from John Donne in his approach to marriage. Herbert was quite set on wifely qualities not about to leap at the first beauty encountered, as John Donne did. Herbert thought “the choice of his (then a country parson) wife was made rather by his ear than by his eye; his judgment, not his affection found out a fit wife for him, whose humble and liberal disposition he preferred before beauty, riches, or honor.” He sought peace and tranquility not in women but in the doctrine and discipline of the Church.
In Dullness Herbert argues for the love or God over love of women:
Sonnet I (1619) was sent to his mother as a New Year’s gift. It was accompanied by a note announcing “my resolution to be, that my poor abilities in poetry shall be all, and ever consecrated to God’s glory."
Biographical notes of Herbert point out two conflicting forces of his life: the first was his ambition to be part of the elite in society with all its foppery and opulence and the second, to serve God in quiet piety Once he had made his decision to offer his poetic gifts exclusively to the service of God he never wavered. He repeated his position over and over in The Temple, a collection of 160 religious poems. Herbert, like John Donne, published his poetry posthumously. At that time poetry was more of a pastime of the gentrified population, those in government and royalty. When finally published it went through thirteen editions for a total of twenty thousand copies. This seems small to us but at that time it meant enormous success. Strangely, the 18th century public rejected his work but in the next century, returned to it.
Up until the time of the “metaphysicals” poems adhered to a single dominant meter. Then came Herbert with his mixed meters so where meter was the major way of stabilizing a rhythmic pattern through the word’s meaning to stir up emotional feelings of the reader, metaphysicals ignored both line length and meter.
We offer comments on several of the 160 lyric poems from The Temple collection. In Affliction he speaks of his experience as “fierce and sudden youth” and in The Collar he tell us his life was not one of “quiet submission” but in the end the love of God prevailed. The Altar is one of two of Herbert’s shape poems (see Easter Wings); it actually describes a broken altar. In the five stanza Paradise the first word is cut off as in an acrostic and appears at the end. It reveals another aspect of Herbert: that of interest in word games.
Affliction is believed to reference his long struggle with tuberculosis. Church Monument metaphorically references the container of the soul” ...”shell” “cover” while Prayer is a continuous set of metaphors.
This attempt at the “mannerist style” (ornate and exotic conceits) or as one critic wrote “exotic and self-consciously inappropriate metaphors” offers a seque to Richard Crashaw (1612-1649), our next metaphysical poet and the Baroque mannerists. He also wrote a collection of religious poems titled Steps to the Temple. First there is the epigram On Marriage:
And then the lyric poem Wishes (1646) where he reflects Herbert’s view with the wifely characteristics wished for are too angelic to be human. He left us with another set of religious verse titled Carmen Deo Nostro, the crown jewel of that collection is The Flaming Heart. Here Crashaw attempted to bring the Baroque movement of music and art into the literary circles of England. However, it fell short of that goal. The coming of the Puritan Commonwealth did away with any thought of pomp and ornate materialism. This change, along with the disruption brought about by the Civil War, forced Crashaw to abandon the public service and seek a solitary, spiritual life. Actually after reading Flaming Heart (Hymn to our Lord) one is ready to move on to an era of plain and simple talk; less elaborate, a little lighter.
Miles Pinkney (Thomas Car) was Crashaw’s lifelong friend and writes of him in this anagramme:
One student once asked if Crashaw slept with his clothes on an example of how poetry speaks to the reader.
Moving on not to our last metaphysical, Herbert Vaughn (1622-1695) whom I refer to as “the great imitator”.
Next, we examine the poetry of Henry Vaughan and characteristics of poets and characteristics of metaphysical poets. They are well defined by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) as “a group of lyricists who expressed their religious and emotional experiences through the medium of sacred poetry”... metaphysical poetry, religious or secular,. is poetry written by men for whom the light of day is God’s shadow”. And second, from this same source these words “The third requisite in our poet is imitation, to be able to convert the riches or substance of another poet to his own use.”
Henry Vaughan passes both tests. He copied copiously from his mentor and fellow metaphysical, George Herbert. His best work is a collection of poems titled Silex Scintillans (1650). He writes in the preface that “whatever influences combined to make him a religious man, Herbert was instrumental in making him a religious poet.” This work was spawned “when the power of God struck him and his rocky heart flashed with the fire of love.” He calls Herbert “whose holy life and verse gained many pious converts (of whom I am the least)”
We should mention the metaphysical preference for morning, evening, and night events, either in titles like The Dawning or in lines such as these:
"How the Spring that smiled and curled about his beames"
The Morning Watch is believed to be the most perfect among his poems and also one spawned by a phrase from a Herbert poem: “Prayer is a kinde of tune which all things heare and fear” in the Vaughan version “Prayer is the world in tune, a spirit voyce and vocal joyes”.
Most of the criticism of Vaughan’s poems is that they appear “unfinished” with single stanzas, half-lines. To Vaughan nature and God are synonymous. Death is not to be feared it is a beautiful mystery. At one time, upper level textbooks offered good samples of Vaughan’s poems, alas most have been culled so as not to offend the inner values of students. But metaphysical poets wrote to feed the “Godly nature” of the mid-seventeenth century seeking relief from the “Godlessness of Romantic verse” and reassurance from an overwhelming aura of death. We close with this most famous of all metaphysical verse, John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions No. 6 or as others recall it, Meditations 17:
metempsychosis poetry - (Gr:) In classical philosophy the term refers to the transmigration of the soul or the doctrine of reincarnation, a belief held by many Eastern religions. The belief of transmigration of the soul, especially its reincarnation after death, was not accepted by all Greek philosophers: Plato, Yes; Aristotle, No. In more modern times it has received attention from modern philosophers, notably Schopenhauer, Kurt Godell, and Nietzsche.
meter - The meter is the rhythm that can be measured in a foot, a line and sometimes a stanza of a poem. It is a recurring pattern of accented, or long and unaccented or short, syllables in lines of a set length. Three meters are the most common in English language poetry: accentual meter also called “stress meter” where the accents or stresses are measured and counted; syllabic meter where only syllables are counted and stresses vary appearing in the ballad form and nursery rhymes; and a third in which both syllables and accents are counted. The last is most frequent and the preferred in English poetry. For example, in Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 the opening verse line contains ten syllables:
We agree that this is the set length for this line. After the syllable the next largest metrical unit is the foot. To find the foot we look for the beats or accents in the line. Remember that the foot is made up of each pair of accented and unaccented syllables:
This line contains five feet.
If you recall the iamb is a foot containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. We now know that there are five feet in the line, they are all iambic, the meter of the line is iambic pentameter.
There are six types of feet:
Iamb (Iambic) Unaccented followed by an Accented Two Syllables
The meter can change when the length of line changes. Here are the types of meter and the corresponding line length:
Monometer One Foot
Meter is determined by the type of foot and the number of feet in a line. Thus, a line with three iambic feet is known as iambic trimeter. A line with six dactylic feet is known as dactylic hexameter.
Two facts to remember about meter: one, it is not fixed or strictly regular but there is a basic pattern that is, it is made for the poem. Two, it rises (iambic and anapestic) and falls (trochaic and dactylic).
metonymy - A figure of speech or trope in which a word or phrase is substituted for the another word or phrase with which it is closely associated. As in Yeats An Irish Airman Foresees His Death:
Where “fate” stands for death and “clouds above” heaven.
mirror rhyme - This form occurs when the first and last lines rhyme; the second line and the second from the last line rhymes; continuing until there is a meeting in the middle of the poem. The most extraordinary example is Dylan Thomas’ Prologue. 102 lines meeting at line 51:
mock heroic - Also called mock epic. Where common place events are raised to the level false dignity and faned importance. William Hazlitt wrote of it “the perfection of the mock-heroic, the triumph of insignificance, the apotheosis of foppery and folly.” The two great examples that have never been equaled to this day are Hudibras (1662) by Samuel Butler and The Rape of the Lock (1714) by Alexander Pope. Interest in the mock heroic as a distinct species of poetical composition was fueled by a readership interested in what was being said about famous, well-known, well-connected persons, royal or papal; an interest now served by present-day tabloids. A need which spiraled after the restoration and the ascent of Charles II. Actually this era in English history is frequently called the age of wit in honor of Butler and Pope.
The mock heroic had its roots not in England but in Italy. It was Berni and the Italian burlesque who produced hilarious Petrarchan verse on such trivial subjects as “peaches, thistles, a friend’s shorn beard” and the like. Then came Boileau in France with Le Lutrin who wrote four cantos about a quarrel between two ecclesiastical dignitaries over where to place a lectern in a chapel:
An early English attempt was The Apothecary by Samuel Garth with allegorical personages of Sloth, Envy, Fortune, Stento, and Celsius. Garth was a zealous Whig and practicing doctor who took it upon himself to resolve the disagreement between Apothecaries and Physicians as to who should be allowed to not only dispense medicines (sound familiar), but dispense them free of charge to the poor. Prompting Pope to remark: “if there ever was a good Christian without knowing himself to be so it was Dr. Garth.” However, it fails the first test “that the form requires a frivolous, minor topic” Garth’s Dispensary was a serious topic.
So that brings us to Hudibras. The reputation of this incomparable poem is so thoroughly established in the world it needs no further praise. King Charles II, whom the judicious part of mankind will readily acknowledge to be a sovereign judge of wit, was so “indecently fond of it, that he would often pleasantly quote it in his conversation prompting Butler to comment:
Next we should examine Pope’s seven hundred and ninety-four lines over The Rape of the Lock. This qualifies as a mock-epic: by subject, by wit, and by length. An episode involving Lord Petre, who cut off a lock of hair of Miss Arabella Fermor which, at one point, embroiled a good portion of London society as arbiters on one side or the other. Enter Mr. Caryl, good friend of both parties, to halt the growing argument now dividing long friends and once agreeable families. His solution was to enlist the wit of Pope to ridicule the matter in a poem in such a way as to reveal to all parties the folly of the contest:
This opening is a parody from the first two lines of the Iliad. References in Greek and Roman – Homer and Virgil – follow throughout the work.
We close with these wise words about wit:
“Wit in King Charles the second’s reign, seemed to be the Fashion of the Times; in the next reign it gave way to politicks and religion; while King William was on the Throne, it revived under the protection of Lord Somers and some other nobleman, and then those geniuses received that tincture of elegance and politeness which afterwards made such a figure in the Tattlers, Spectators, etc. throughout the greatest part of the reign of Queen Anne. But since it has broke out only by fits and starts. Few people of distinction trouble themselves about the name of wit, fewer understand it, and hardly any have honoured it with their example. In the next class of people it seems best known, most admired, and most frequently practiced; but their stations in life are not eminent enough to dazzle us into imitation. Wit is a start of imagination in the speaker, that strikes the imagination of the hearer with an idea of beauty, common to both; and the immediate result of the comparison is the flash of joy that attends it; it stands in the same regard to sense, or wisdom, as lightning to the sun, suddenly kindled and as suddenly gone; it as often arises from the defect of the mind, as from its strength and capacity. This is evident in those who are wits only, without being grave or wise, just, solid, and lasting. Wit is the result of fine imagination, finished study, and a happy temper of body. As no one pleases more than the man of wit, none is more liable to offend; therefore he should have a fancy quick to conceive, knowledge, good humour, and discretion to direct the whole. Wit often leads a man into misfortunes, that his prudence would have avoided; as it is the means of raising a reputation, so it sometimes destroys it. He who affects to be always witty, renders himself cheap, and, perhaps, ridiculous. The great use and advantage of wit is to render the owner agreeable, by making him instrumental to the happiness of others. When such a person appears among his friends, an air of pleasure and satisfaction diffuses itself over every face. Wit, so used, is an instrument of the sweetest musick in the hands of an artist, commanding, soothing, and modulating the passions into harmony and peace. Neither is this the only use of it; 'tis a sharp sword, as well as a musical instrument, and ought to be drawn against folly and affectation. There is at the same time an humble ignorance, a modest weakness, that ought to be spared; they are unhappy already in the consciousness of their own defects, and 'tis fighting with the lame and sick to be severe upon them. The wit that gently glances at a foible, is smartly retorted, or generously forgiven; because the merit of the reprover is as well-known as the merit of the reproved. In such delicate conversations, mirth, tempered with good manners, is the only point in view, and we grow gay and polite together; perhaps there's no moment of our lives so sincerely happy, certainly none so innocent. Wit is a quality which some possess, and all covet; youth affects it, folly dreads it, age despises it, and dullness abhors it. Some Authors would persuade us, that wit is owing to a double cause; one, the desire of pleasing others, and one of recommending ourselves: The first is made a merit in the owners, and is therefore ranged among the virtues; the last is styled vanity, and therefore a vice; although this is an erroneous distinction, as wit was never possessed by any without both; for no man endeavors to excel without being conscious of it, and that consciousness will produce vanity, let us disguise it how we please. Upon the whole, vanity is inseparable from the; heart of man; where there is excellence, it may be endured; where there is none, it may be censured, but never removed.”
(From The Weekly Register, July 22, 1732, No. 119, as reprinted in The Gentleman's Magazine, II, July, 1732, pp. 861-2.)
monosyllables - During the Old English period roots of words were dropped. This change, i.e. dropping endings like –en and -an turned words, nouns, and verbs into monosyllables. By the time of Shakespeare, Arnold, and others, inflected words were now monosyllabic. From Arnold’s The Last Word where discounting the Latin words “contention” and “tired” all words are monosyllabic:
Even Tennyson saw the impact value of monosyllable and in Lord of Burleigh, when the sorrowful husband comes to look upon his dead wife he wrote:
And this sonnet:
Mora, morae pl. - The minimal unit of stress in any language but shorter than a syllable in application. Thus one syllable would be monomoraic, two syllables would be bimoraic. The word is taken from Latin for linger or delay.
Monomoriac syllables are called light syllables, biomoriac syllables are called heavy syllables, and trimoriac syllables are super heavy. No language uses syllables of four or more morae. For example in words like back, ramp, tick; have two morae. The initial consonant does not count as a syllable.
Languages differ. For example, in Japanese, the coda or final represents one mora; in Irish it does not. The word cat in English is bimoraic. The word haiku is trimoraic.