What We Expect Of The Poet: Sound (2015-07-14)
Around the middle of the Nineteenth Century, we broke the bonds of formal metrical structure that had restrained English poetry for several centuries. More and more poems were written in so-called ‘free verse’. It may have been freed of often-arbitrary prosodic rules, but it wasn’t freed of the need for the sound of the poem to be effective.
From 1750 to 1830 (the Classical Period) musical structure was largely constrained by a set of rules, with, for example, the structure of a symphony as clearly defined as that of the sonnet. Then—also around the middle of the Nineteenth Century—along came Beethoven, who ushered in the Romantic Period. Composers were no longer required to conform to the rules. That Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony included a choral section didn’t matter, because no one could deny the musical beauty of the work.
It is analogous with poetry. That Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass didn’t have a formal metrical structure didn’t matter, because no one could deny that he was using the sound of his poems to great effect.
Unfortunately, too many would-be poets fail to realize that they aren’t freed of attending to the sound of a poem. If they fail to realize that, what they’re writing has no right to be called a poem.