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  1. #1
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default meter in "Sir Thaddeus"

    O Lithuania, my country, thou
    Art like good health; I never knew till now
    How precious, till I lost thee.
    These are the opening lines of an English translation of the national epic of Poland, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz (translation by Kenneth R. Mackenzie). I'm trying to learn about English meters, and wanted to find out what meter was it here, but I don't see. Can you help me?

    PS: Is it OK to post such questions on the Ask a Teacher forum? People seem to look in on this forum more rarely.
    Last edited by birdeen's call; 19-Jul-2010 at 20:26.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: meter in "Sir Thaddeus"

    There's several meters here.

    Art like good health -- this is trochaic meter:
    '_ _ /'_ _

    I never knew till now is iambus:

    _ '_ /_ '_ /_ '_ /_

    How precious till I lost thee -- trochee:

    '_ _ /'_ _ /'_ _ /'_ _

    In the first line the beat is irregular. Here's what we get if we break it down:

    _ _ /'_ _/ _ _ /'_ _ /'_ _

    You can see that it lacks stresses in the 1st and 3d pair of syllables - it's an irregular trochee.


    P.S. " ' " is a stressed syllable.
    Slashes are just to show that the meters are disyllable.

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    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: meter in "Sir Thaddeus"

    Thank you for the insight.
    I believe there must be something more than just that here... I mean, I can find out what natural feet are in the verse. But I meant the meter, like iambic pentameter, alexandrine or anything. I'm not good at it and when I see such irregularities I'm hopelessly lost.

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    Default Re: meter in "Sir Thaddeus"

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    Thank you for the insight.
    I believe there must be something more than just that here... I mean, I can find out what natural feet are in the verse. But I meant the meter, like iambic pentameter, alexandrine or anything. I'm not good at it and when I see such irregularities I'm hopelessly lost.
    Alexandrine is another name for iambic haxameter.
    Pentameter, tetrameter, etc., indicate the number of stressed syllables in a line.
    So in your case:
    Art like good health -- trochaic dimeter (2);
    I never knew till now -- iambus trimeter (3);
    How precious till I lost thee -- trochaic tetrameter (4).
    Last edited by IHIVG; 20-Jul-2010 at 00:23.

  5. #5
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: meter in "Sir Thaddeus"

    OK, thanks. So it's nothing familiar... I find it a little bit odd. The original is in tridecasyllable with caesuras after the seventh. So it's something regular, although not regarding prosodic feet.
    I notice that if I write it another way, it becomes tridecasyllable though

    O Lithuania, my country, thou art like good health;
    I never knew till now how precious, till I lost thee.

    It's a shame I don't have more to see if it follows this patter later on. Anyway if there is a caesura here it isn't on the seventh syllable. It's strange that a translation of a regular poem can be done in such an irregular way...
    Last edited by birdeen's call; 21-Jul-2010 at 18:48.

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    Default Re: meter in "Sir Thaddeus"

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    It's strange that a translation of a regular poem can be done in such an irregular way...
    Why is it strange? It would be strange if an English transaltion of Polish turned out to have to have the same meter as the original!
    Poems don't have to be in a regular meter. Look up "free verse".

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    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: meter in "Sir Thaddeus"

    Actually, I hear there is such a translation of this particular poem. But it's not so important. I only thought that there should be some attempt to convey the feel about the poem. But then I have virtually no knowledge about translating poetry so I'll take your word for it

  8. #8
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    Default Re: meter in "Sir Thaddeus"

    Quote Originally Posted by IHIVG View Post
    Alexandrine is another name for iambic hExameter.

    Pentameter, tetrameter, etc., indicate the number of stressed syllables in a line.
    So in your case:
    Art like good health -- trochaic dimeter (2);
    I never knew till now -- iambus trimeter (3);
    How precious till I lost thee -- trochaic tetrameter (4).
    You can break up individual bits of lines to describe them more precisely, but it's traditional in literary criticism to describe the overall structure - iambic pentameter in this case. Lines 1 and 2 are pentameters; the third is presumably incomplete.

    But as Raymott said, there's no requirement to stick rigidly to one structure; the third line may be intentionally foreshortened by the writer.

    b

  9. #9
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    Default Re: meter in "Sir Thaddeus"

    PS re flexibility in metre. Wordsworth's Daffodils is in iambic tetrameter:

    I wan/dered lo/nely as/ a cloud
    That floats/ on high/ o'er vales / and hills,
    When all/ at once/ I saw/ a crowd,
    A host/, of gold/en daff/odils;
    Beside/ the lake/, beneath/ the trees,
    Fluttering/and dan/cing in/ the breeze.

    Each line has four stresses, each foot is iambic (short-long). But something odd happens in the last line. Wordsworth could have written 'They danced/ and flu/ttered in/the breeze'; that would have maintained the pattern. But would it have been an improvement?

    Emphatically not! The 'improved' version strikes me as banal. For me, the disruption to the expected metre in Wordsworth's version evokes a picture of the daffodils 'fluttering'. This is what poets do - even when they're not writing 'free verse'; they paint pictures with sounds, and they don't always stick to the rules.

    b

  10. #10
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: meter in "Sir Thaddeus"

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    You can break up individual bits of lines to describe them more precisely, but it's traditional in literary criticism to describe the overall structure - iambic pentameter in this case. Lines 1 and 2 are pentameters; the third is presumably incomplete.
    Could you please explain why it's iambic pentameter there? I can't read it in that drum-like way...

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