Thursday, May 10, 2007

HarmoniousTension, Pt.4

After this, the breath is in a way forced out as the next line comes out, the river that has gushed out and burst its way beyond,

A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ’mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.

The first line is definitely iambic pentameter with the accents falling where they should, × / × / × / × / × /. But the following line raises a doubt about its own falling of stress in the middle of the line. Going from the second to the third syllable we pause to ponder how to say it. Should the line scan as follows, × / × / × / × / × / or should it be this way, × /× / / × × / × /? If the stress falls not on ‘half’ we can say that the effect is like ‘less’ in ‘sunless’ in the first stanza of the poem; however, if it falls on ‘half’, thus this quality emphasized, and ‘in’ from ‘intermitted’ is unstressed, then the effect is also the same, magnifying the quality of not being a full intermitted burst, and the character of being intermitted is brought out more when mingled with the rest of the word.
After the dance of sounds in the line via ‘swift half-intermitted’ the line breaks at ‘burst’ that is stressed for emphasis, and is then followed by a line that scans either of the following ways, / × × / × / × / × / or × / × / × / × / × /. Is there a trochee in the first foot? The stress can fall either on the first syllable that is the word ‘huge’ or it can fall on ‘frag’ in ‘fragments’. If it falls on the former manner of scansion, the accent on ‘huge’ brings to mind the size of the rocks that we will read about further on; but if it scans the in the latter manner, the accent on ‘frag’ in ‘fragments’ makes us think more of the pieces of rocks, and the amount, and the magnitude of the fragments is not recognized. With the stress on ‘vaulted’ we understand the river’s ability to throw and scatter the rocks through the air. And ‘rebounding hail’ possesses that same dance-like quality as the previous line. The next line scans as perfect iambic pentameter without any question. The next line breaks the rule, so to say, and returns to the feminine rhyme scheme we saw previously in the first seven lines of the stanza. It too possesses and displays the musicality and dance-like quality of the previous two lines. The obedience to the rule of iambic pentameter is fully adhered to without sounding strict and dead. The next line brings us back to questions of stress. Where does the accent fall as the reader moves from the first to the second foot? It too also ends in a feminine rhyme. The line may scan accordingly, × / × / × / × / × / or × / / / × / × / × /. If the accent is not on ‘up’ then the momentary quality is made more comprehensive; however, if there is an accent on ‘up’ it brings out more ‘flung’ that precedes it, the quickness and force of being ‘flung up’. The stanza continues,

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war.

The diction possesses the quality of the river, its meandering playfulness, yet forcefulness. The sound of the line is commanded by ‘m’ in ‘miles’, ‘meandering’, ‘mazy’ and ‘motion’. This commandeering by ‘m’ is a smooth transition from the ‘i’ in ‘five’ and ‘miles’. In the sound of ‘m’ we hear the murmur of the river. And the quality also has wildness that is shown in ‘meandering’, how the word sounds and what it means, and again in ‘mazy’. It is a feminine ending to be complimented by a later line. The word ‘meandering’ is pronounced as a three-syllable word with the ‘e’ elided after the ‘d’. The following line presents a question we have seen before – it is a trochee for the first foot, or not? It scans thusly, / × × / × / × / × / or thusly × / × / × / × / × /. Like ‘through’ in the first stanza if the accent is on this ‘through’, it tells more of the way it, the river, is running, the course it is taking, through the wood and dale it runs. If the stress is on the latter, ‘wood’, it only tells of where the river goes through. There is a difference. If we think of through the wood and the dale, we understand more and the force of the image is more; we get more of the direction, of where the river is running. And again we think of the obscurity that is essential if the sublime is to be encountered. If the accent is on ‘wood’ the image is not that forceful as the reader is hardly carried through the wood but only told that it is a wood that the river is passing through.
The next line scans in iambic pentameter. The following line is the one that couples with line twenty-five and its feminine ending. With the accent on ‘sank’ one understands and hears in the pronunciation the downwardness of the word and the river. The weighty quality of the word and the shift of the vocal muscles from ‘nk’ in ‘sank’ to a light ‘i’ makes it sound as if we almost stopped. The ‘less’ in ‘lifeless’ performs the same as ‘less’ in ‘ceaseless’, magnifying the lifelessness of the ocean into which the river has sunk. The last two lines of the stanza scan in iambic pentameter, strict and not with the playful quality from earlier lines. Rather, because of the image and the allusion to martial events, the gathering of armies for war, the lines are disciplined to convey the marshalling and arrangement of a disciplined army. What music is heard is the music of war drums. There is a stern beat, or to use a phrase from Shakespeare’s Richard III, ‘stern alarums’. This discipline holds in check the tumult of the lifeless ocean from which Kubla hears those ancestral voices that are urging him on to war, voices one of which definitely will be of his grandfather Genghis Khan, which means ‘ruler of all’, his real name being Temujin. What these feminine rhyme endings with how they go beyond the strict scansion of iambic pentameter symbolize is the freedom inherent in an orderly society. They transgress the limit, yet are not harmful to the overall order and are even essential. There is the freedom of movement allowed and even encouraged; but they go only so far and by instinct and respect for order they stop. Also, the contraction of the lines to strict iambic pentameter scansion symbolizes the retraining of certain elements from going beyond what they are allowed, from going too far. The adherence to order is like the moral law set up by a government to encourage the charitable and cooperative existence between members of society, and the restraining of selfish and immoral appetites. This rule here at the end is extremely important in that it holds in place the forces implied in the images of a tumultuous falling of water and the haunting voices that are calling for war and destruction.

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