Friday, May 11, 2007

Harmonious Tension, Pt. 5

The variety we have so far seen, read and heard through our reciting of the poem reminds one of what Russell Kirk called the principle of variety, remembering Edmund Burke’s belief in the inherent variety that is found in nature and civilization.
Coming immediately after this scene that conjures the sublime, there is the space on the page that relieves the reader. Then the poems constricts as it did before in the first stanza. The imagery is a sudden change from that of the obscure and haunted to something completely different.

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice.

In this constriction, the poem does not suffocate upon itself; rather, it dances in its diction. The first line scans thus × / × / × /, with the feminine rhyme ending. The next line goes thus, / × / × / × /, a trochee that is three and a half feet; then next is another trochee, the same, / × / × / × /, with the feminine rhyme ending; and then another trochee, with three and a half feet, / × / × / × /. When we hear the accent falling on the first half of ‘shadow’, there is to be the sense of dread and the sense that what we are seeing is not the real thing, but its shadow. At the end of the line, with the accent falling on ‘pleasure’ we are lifted, so to say, from the effect/s of ‘shadow’. We are also to understand what is happening in the second line of this stanza as we observe where the accents are falling, ‘float’ from ‘floated’ and the position, ‘mid’ from ‘midway’ and where, ‘on’ and ‘waves’. The next line draws from this statement of where, for it indicates the source of the noise that is heard and the accent on ‘Where’ points us back to what we have just read, the shadow of the dome of pleasure that floated on the waves. And again our sense of hearing is paid attention to with the accent on ‘heard’. The most dance-like word and term are ‘mingled’ and ‘mingled measure’ respectively. The ‘m’ in both of the words contribute a murmuring quality that comprises of their sounds as consonants and the ‘ing’ in ‘mingling’ and the ‘easure’ in ‘measure’; they are both easy and light after ‘m’. We are brought back to thinking about the caves, the place where the mingled measure of the fountains was heard. The accent on ‘From’ tells us the mingled measure came from the fountains and the caves. Because of the musicality of these lines, the trochee is the most suitable meter.
The next line scans as iambic pentameter, × / × / × / × / × /; and so does the final line, × / × / × / × / × /. This return to iambic pentameter contrasts with the musicality of the previous lines. There is the less than magical moment after the illusion or vision is gone.
Another space of whiteness for the mind to relax, to continue looking on the disappearing vision, and prepare for what follows. The poem constricts again from iambic pentameter.

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Another vision appears, or is recalled, after that of the shadow of the dome of pleasure. The transition is straightforward. He tells us right away what it was he saw, not building up, a young, unmarried woman, a damsel. The line scans × / × / × / × /, iambic tetrameter. But the next line is a trochee with three and a half feet - / × / × / × /. The stress on ‘once’ tells us of the fleeting characteristic of the vision; he never saw it again. The sound of the first half of the line possesses a different quality as that in the second half of the line. ‘In a vision’ has that dreamy, fuzzy sound, whereas the second half, begun with the consecutive ‘on’ in ‘once’, after the soft ‘on’ in ‘vision’, carries the line into a clearer sound, ‘once I saw’. Then we have iambic tetrameter again, × / × / × / × /; ‘Abyssinian’ is pronounced as a four-syllable word, though one is tempted to count the ‘i’ as a syllable in itself. It is very small things like this that can affect the meter of a line. The next line is iambic tetrameter. But what follows then is a line that breaks the pattern of the previous two lines. The first half of the line is a dactyl, / × × and the second half a trochee, / × / ×, so in full the line looks like this / × × / × / ×. Here again is Progress.

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