poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poets, poetry, and the po-biz (with 8-string stuff)
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A Traveller from an Antique Land

Of course that’s from Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” and I quote it in the post heading because the pop-sci book on human genetics I’ve just started, Bryan Sykes’ The Seven Daughters of Eve, quotes it without acknowledgement in the second paragraph of the prologue:

Our DNA does not fade like an ancient parchment; it does not rust in the ground like the sword of a warrior long dead. It is not eroded by wind or rain, nor reduced to ruin by fire and earthquake. It is the traveller from an antique land who lives within us all.

It’s not that Shelley’s copyrights have long expired and the author knows he can quote the poem with impunity: Sykes expects his readers to know exactly where the phrase came from, to appreciate its appropriateness in the context of rusted swords and faded parchments, and to be moved by the associations created by the memory of Shelley’s poem.

There may be no one writing now in English snippets of whose verse will be instantly recognizable 200 years from now, but if there are such poets, you may be certain their work will share with Shelley’s, at the very least, techniques for remaining in the memory of its audience. Meter and rhyme are among the most effective of such techniques. They do not, of course, guarantee the quality of the poem, which is something perhaps forever mysterious. But however fine a poem may be, if it is forgotten it is gone. And Uncle Wystan taught us that “no work of art is unjustly remembered.”

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8 comments

1 Patrick Gillespie { 02.21.09 at 4:53 pm }

Meter helped actors to memorize drama during Elizabethans times (when some actors couldn’t read). The rhythmic power of meter has always been a mnemonic aid, in English and nearly every other language I know of, whether the meter was accentual syllabic or quantitative.

Meter makes language more memorable and rhyme even more so. I like to think of meter as counterpoint, rhyme as harmony, and the line as the melody. (I’ve been meaning to write a post to this effect, and will.)

Free verse, to me, is all melody.

And that’s OK. But I’ve always preferred Baroque to the frequently simplistic melodists of the rococo. I like music rich in harmony and counterpoint.

2 Mike { 02.21.09 at 8:24 pm }

Patrick, please send me a note when you post that — I want to be sure not to miss it.

3 Patrick Gillespie { 02.23.09 at 9:16 am }

By the way, Mike. You misspelled “Traveller”. It only comes with one l.

*Not* that *I* don’t embarrass myself with my *own* typos. :-)

4 Rhyme & Meter Online: Sunday February 23 2009 « PoemShape { 02.23.09 at 9:53 am }

[…] A Traveler from an Antique Land […]

5 Mike { 02.23.09 at 12:03 pm }

Patrick, it’s the British spelling, used by Sykes and Shelley. But I read so much more Brit than American lit I’d probably have spelled it that way writing about WC Williams.

6 Rhyme & Meter Online: Sunday February 22 2009 « PoemShape { 02.23.09 at 1:25 pm }

[…] A Traveler from an Antique Land […]

7 Patrick Gillespie { 02.24.09 at 7:55 am }

Wow!

You mean the British all spell it wrong too?

8 Mike { 02.24.09 at 8:33 am }

You should see the way they spell “curb” and “jail”!

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