So you know the feeling, when you sit down and start listening, and that feeling of fuzzy begins to encompass your brain. That is what I began to feel when I sat down to listen to Dr. Jason Hall, explain his theories on meter, and the perception a person has of meter. Coventry Patmore claims that:
“Meter is only present in the mind”
This assumption of course leads us to believe that meter is in the mind, it is a force of the imagination and subsequently doesn’t really exist in its own right, as a solid product. This means of course that literature, especially poetry, can be considered subjectively and therefore is an individual experience for the reader.
The general question posed therefore is “Should meter be adhered to at all, when read aloud, or should we hear the poem naturally, as though it were prose?” This is especially important when one reads 20th century poets like T.S Eliot, and the idea of Modernism poses another important question to this end; where Modernism sought to break tradition and redefine traditional prescriptive writing styles, such as that of Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”. If meter truly is in the mind of the reader, then is the whole idea of writing to a certain form, or in a certain style, especially in poetry, completely invalidated by the subjective opinion of the reader?
The idea that nothing is solid, but that everything is open to interpretation is both liberating and asphyxiating, because with no prescribed, solid form, there is very little that a person can hold on to, to work through a complex and challenging text. In a sense, prescriptivism provides a hand for the reader to hold, something to focus on when one finds themselves drowning in ideas and words and structures that combine to create cataclysmic confusion. However, being without a babysitter forces you to walk alone, and to stand on your own two feet and just figure it out, alone, possibly with the dictionary as a lonely companion. The intellectual challenge therefore is made innumerably more interesting without structure or support.
I emerged from this talk thinking that I know, and understand very little, about ideas of meter and rhyme, despite a lengthy extended project (which I may upload extracts of soon) on the poetic form used in 14th Century Chaucer. However, through my confusion, I managed to make a little sense; found a little understanding in a sea of ideas that are so sophisticated, that you realise that you are barely an amoeba in the great ocean of English education.
And I can honestly say that I loved every second of it, and I hope that I never lose the want to get better, and know just a little more than I did yesterday.