Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Harmonious Tension, Part 2

If in the fourth line the stress does fall on the first word, ‘through’, this is understood to carry the reader in the idea of the word through the caverns the reader has now encountered. With the stress that falls on ‘less’ in ‘measureless’, this is comprehended as emphasizing the immeasurability of the caverns. But we come to the end of these first four lines of tetrameter, we immediately are brought to a line of trimeter, that is if the ‘a’ is not elided. If that is the case, the line will scan thus, / × − × / ×; the stress falling on ‘down’ acting as it did on ‘through’ in the previous line. And the stress on ‘less’ in ‘sunless’ would also emphasize the lack of sun over this ‘sunless sea.’ Yet the ear can be deceived and the line may scan in the following, / × × / × /; if ‘less’ in ‘sunless’ is unstressed, it operates the same, but in a different process, in that as the stress moves off of ‘sun’ and the speech does not stress ‘less’ one can imagine the gradual darkness that one is coming upon over the sea. The line then has a trochee at the beginning and the last two feet would be iambic. And with the darkness, we have encountered Edmund Burke’s quality of obscurity that will arouse in us the sublime, as we have now a sense of fear and the instinct for self-preservation is struck in us. In this also the poem contracts upon itself, tightening before loosening to continue.
The next line immediately lifts us away from the ‘sunless’ and describes the erection of the palace and its grounds. It is an instant shift from obscure natural surroundings to manmade construction. It is also iambic tetrameter and gives the measurement of ten miles that is enclosed within the wall; the stress falling on ‘twice’ to emphasize the length and breadth of the area to be enclosed. Coleridge could easily have said ten miles, but then the line would be short one half of a foot. After this line is another line of iambic tetrameter. It is so, because ‘towers’ is pronounced as one syllable, not two, the ‘wers’ ending is elided. The stanza then loosens to finish off in lines of iambic pentameter.
In these lines, however, there is more elision. Line eight contains one in the word ‘sinuous’; it is not pronounced as a three-syllable word; rather, the ‘u’ is conjoined to the ‘ous’. Line nine has the following conjoining of two words to come off as one: ‘many an’ is said in quick succession with nary an acknowledgment of ‘y’ in ‘many’, so we would say the two words as if they were to be ‘many-an’ or ‘man-yan’. The play of sounds is like the play of light that he describes.
There is a space between this and the next stanza of white page. What this does is give the reader a breather from the constant flow and uninterrupted imagery, another element of Burke’s for the sublime, of the first stanza. It also allows the reader to be prepared unconsciously for the next stanza and its rush. The meter is iambic pentameter and the rhyme scheme for the first seven lines is feminine, i.e. rhyming stressed syllables followed by identical unstressed syllables; these are not counted as half-feet. He, Coleridge, takes us into a “deep romantic chasm”, as he calls it, of which we are ignorant, and it is because of this ignorance of what we are seeing or might see, we are fearful. There is, in the first section, bright light and sinuous rills etc., but we are taken beyond this, suddenly, into a darkness, a kind of which we have never entered. This sudden change from light to darkness Burke speaks of in section fifteen of the same part two, when he uses the illustration of entering a building: “. . . to make the transition thoroughly striking, you ought to pass from the greatest light, to as much darkness as is consistent with the use of architecture.” Obscurity abounds from the beginning, and Coleridge hurries the mind in Miltonic manner. The scene is holy, haunted, filled with chaos and turmoil, natural; and coursing through it is the sacred river, Alph.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,

The only exception to the iambic rule comes in the second line, as the stress falls in the first syllable falls on the first word, ‘down’, as it did in the fifth line of the first stanza; again, it is to emphasize direction and magnify the slant implied by the preceding word, ‘slanted’, that breaks the first line. If said in the other way, which is to put the stress on ‘the’ the line would sound false, the language certainly would be so, and the line would be a blemish. On other occasions, not in this poem, the stress might fall on ‘the’, but that is only if the focus is to be on what, usually a noun, is following, e.g. ‘he’s gone to the best college, the emphasis not on ‘best’ but on ‘the’ to indicate that whatever college is being alluded to is the best and that there is no other in comparison. Thus the second line scans / × × / × / × / × /, and we remember that what seems an extra half-foot is not measured, because of the feminine rhyme ending.

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