Saturday, February 23, 2013

Random Literary Devices – End-Stopped Lines, Caesura, and Enjambment

All about punctuation in poetry: last week the Nardvark was all confused about rhythm and metre, and Nerdvark stopped playing WOW long enough to sort him out.  Now, surprisingly, Nardvark is confused again.  Seems he copied and pasted an excellent essay about a poem, but that wasn’t good enough for his teacher, even though it had awesome literary terms in it like ‘enjambment’ and ‘caesura.’

Nerdvark is pretty dang cranky because he was in the middle of building the most awesome life-sized King-Kong replica in Mine Craft and now he has to help that ninny Nard with his homework AGAIN, but whatevz.

So it seems punctuation can either enhance the rhythm or disrupt it.

End-stopped line: this refers to the placing of a punctuation mark at the end of a line of poetry.  The effect – causing the reader to pause briefly before reading the next line.  It is generally consistent with the rhythm.

For example, the first two lines from Roald Dahl’s excellent iambic tetrameter poem, “Mike Teevee...”

The most important thing we've learned,  (end-stopped)
So far as children are concerned,  (end-stopped)

Caesura: this refers to the placing of a punctuation mark in the middle of a line of poetry.  The effect – causing the reader to pause briefly in the middle of the line, which breaks up the rhythm and emphasises the word or phrase before and/or after the caesura. 

There are a few examples in the next lines of “Mike Teevee...”

Is never, NEVER, NEVER let  (caesura)
Them near your television set -- 
Or better still, just don't install  (caesura)
The idiotic thing at all. 

Enjambment: this refers to the LACK of punctuation marks at the end of a line of poetry.  The effect -- causing the reader to flow into the next line without pausing.  This also breaks up the rhythm and allows the poem to read more like normal speech than a song or poem.  It can give the effect of an internal monologue, dialogue, or informal prose, and is often used in free verse (non-rhyming, non-rhythmic) poetry.

There are some examples in the next few lines from “Mike Teevee...”

In almost every house we've been, 
We've watched them gaping at the screen. 
They loll and slop and lounge about, 
And stare until their eyes pop out. 
(Last week in someone's place we saw (enjambment)
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.) 
They sit and stare and stare and sit  (enjambment)
Until they're hypnotised by it, 
Until they're absolutely drunk  (enjambment)
With all that shocking ghastly junk. 

To read the rest of “Mike Teevee...” please click here: Roald Dahl is awesome!  And as you read, see if you can spot more examples of end-stopped lines, caesura, and enjambment.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Poetry - Rhythm and Meter One Two Three

If you get the joyous privilege of studying a poem with rhythm and metre, you need to understand what rhythm and metre mean.  No matter how many times Nardvark’s teacher explains it, no matter how many diagrams and Powerpoints she uses and how many times she claps her hands, Nardvark just doesn’t get it.  And that’s NOT because he is sitting in the back of the classroom reading his friends’ tweets from math class, honest!


George and Ira Gershwin had rhythm.  Alan Jackson's got rhythm.  Enrique Iglesias's got Rhythm Divine.    Rhythm is beat.  Poetry can have a beat?  Yes.  Listen to Snoop Dogg if you don’t believe me.  Lyrics need to fit the beat, and that’s part of the skill of freestyling, making the words fit the beat without sounding stupid, right?  Same with poetry.  If a poem is written in a particular rhythm, it means the words are arranged in a way that creates a beat.

Eg: Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

In the well-known nursery rhyme, the syllables that your voice stresses when you say them are bold.  The syllables you don’t stress are not bold.  Make sure nobody is in the room with you.  Say the line slowly, accentuating the naturally stressed syllables.  Clap on the stressed syllables.  Clap, clap, clap, clap.  It’s a rhythm.

Eg: I've got the moves like Jagger.

In the well-known song lyric above, every second syllable is stressed.  This is what is known as “Iambic.”
OH! NOW THAT’S STARTING TO RING A BELL!  Shakespeare, that old dude we all get acquainted with in English class from time to time, seemed to love something called “Iambic Pentameter.”
So where does the “Pentameter” part come in?

Ok, we’re getting to that.

There are other rhythms besides iambic.  The combination of stressed and unstressed syllables together make up a “foot.”  
Nice try, Nard...
not that kind of foot.

We can also think of the combination of stressed and unstressed syllables in terms of delightful nonsense words such as “da” and “DUM,” or by writing x for unstressed and / for stressed.

Meters with two-syllable feet are:
  • IAMBIC (da-DUM, or  x /) eg: I've got the moves like Jagger. (Maroon 5)
  • TROCHAIC (DUM-da, or / x) eg: Oppan Gangnam Style,(pause) Gangnam Style (PSY)
  • SPONDAIC (DUM-DUM,  or / /) eg: Hey, ho! Let’s go! (The Ramones)
Meters with three-syllable feet are
  • ANAPESTIC (da-da-DUM, or x x /) eg: You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. (Dr. Seuss)
  • DACTYLIC (DUM-da-da, or / x x) eg: So won't the real slim Shady please stand up, please stand up, please stand up? (Eminem)
Now for the “Pentameter” part.

It’s simply telling you how many feet there are!  “Penta” is Greek for five.  The Greeks loaned us their cool counting words so we could count metrical feet and sound all knowledgeable when writing about poetry on an exam.

One foot = monometer
Two feet = dimeter
Three feet = trimeter
Four feet =  tetrameter
Five feet = pentameter
Six feet =  hexameter
Seven feet = heptameter
Eight feet = octameter

Kinda sounds mathematical, doesn’t it?  Why do poets use mathematical formulas for writing poetry?  Well, Shakespeare used a lot of iambic pentameter because, as Eminem knows, the rhythm sounded good on stage, and it also made it easier for the actors to remember their lines.  

Ooh, iambic pentameter...
There are a lot of effects of rhythm and meter in poetry, too.  Poets can employ a song-like effect, can use the metrical pattern to emphasise certain words, can emphasise words by straying from the rhythm, can create a specific tone by following a certain style such as a sonnet or ballad; the beat might be used as a sound effect to echo or imitate the subject of the poem; the rhythm might emphasise the tone or atmosphere of the poem, or might even contrast it to create paradox.  When you study a rhythmic or metered poem, try to figure out why the poet used a rhythm and/or metre.

Now, let's get real... here's the prologue to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  A famous sonnet, written in iambic pentameter.  You know you love Shakespeare: when you're finished enjoying the fun below, click "exit" for more.

[Enter] CHORUS.
  1    Two households, both alike in dignity,
  2    In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
  3    From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
  4    Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
  5    From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
  6    A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
  7    Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
  8    Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
  9    The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
 10    And the continuance of their parents' rage,
 11    Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
 12    Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
 13    The which if you with patient ears attend,
 14    What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoy my blog, please check out my website,  Have a rhythmic day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stop Hitting Yourself!

Nerdvark gets really irritated when The Nardvark tries to sound more intelligent than he actually is by misusing the English language.  It makes Nerdvark so angry, he wants to take a flame-thrower to the language-abuser.

When it comes to this, Nerdvark has a lot of pet peeves (see his top ten here), but today’s post is going to focus on the misuse of the word “myself.”

Example #1: Whenever someone says “Ralph, Ignatius and myself are the moderators of this forum,” they’re using the word incorrectly and they’re just doing it to make themselves sound important, but they are really just silly grammar-dumb-dumb-heads.

Example #2: When a fellow English teacher at my school sent out an email that said “Please send your exam scripts to myself” she was using the word incorrectly, and thereby proving that she had no business being an English teacher until she went back to school and brushed up on her grammar herself.

Myself is a reflexive pronoun.  A reflexive pronoun, you say? What’s a reflexive pronoun?

Well, when it comes to pronouns, as we all know, there are subject pronouns, for when you’re doing a verb, and object pronouns, for when someone or something’s doing a verb to you. Like in this example:
He is scorching him.
In this example, Nerdvark is so fed up with Nardvark spewing out "myself" and "it begs the question" when he means "it brings up the question" and so on that he turned his all-over-body-spray into a blow-torch. (Don't try this at home.)  The point is, Nerdvark is doing the action; "He" is the subject pronoun. Nardvark is receiving the action; "him" is the object pronoun.

A reflexive pronoun is used when you are doing a verb to yourself. There, I just used one; did you see that? So Nardvark will give us an example:
He is hitting himself.
It would be very confusing if you said "He is hitting him," because there's only one (slightly bizarre) creature there, and if you read that sentence in a book or an email and didn't get an accompanying photo, you'd be wondering, whom? Whom is he hitting? So, hence the invention of the reflexive pronoun.

***Note: It’s ok to say “Stop hitting yourself” because that sentence is an imperative, and in imperatives, the subject of the verb is you, but it’s not there, it’s implied.  Say, “You stop hitting yourself.” It means the same thing. We use imperatives as commands or orders. They sound more authoritative or urgent.  Moms and drill commanders use them all the time: “Clean your room! Do your homework! Stand up straight! Suck in your gut, you yellow-bellied sack of liver and onions! Stop feeding your spinach to the dog – eat it yourself!” There, see, another reflexive pronoun. Aren't they great?

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