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Verse, Melody And Harmony

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The poetic effects, corresponding to the rising and falling of the voice, especially as used in the inflections, will now be examined. There is a sense in which these movements of the voice enter into the pronunciation of every syllable containing more than one letter-sound. In uttering, for example, the word an, the sound of the a is at a different pitch from that of the n. In talking rapidly, however, the two sounds seem usually uttered, not in succession but simultaneously. Their effects, therefore, when combined, are analogous, not to those of musical melody, but of harmony, and of these much more closely than at first might be supposed. In flexible, well-trained voices, belonging to those familiar with the relations of musical tones, there is a tendency to sound the two at such intervals of pitch from each other as to form a true musical chord. One reason why vocal culture increases the sweetness and resonance of the speaking voice is because it enables one to sound distinctly all the elements of tone needed, in order to produce this speech-harmony.

The rising and falling of the voice with which we have to deal now, however, are not those subtle ones allying speech to harmony, but those more obvious ones which give it a very apparent melody. The effects in poetry corresponding to elocutionary inflections, are produced by the same arrangements of the syllables in the line that we have already noticed when considering metre. In our language, as a rule,-a rule which the elocutionist, of course, can violate in order to produce what for him are the more important effects of delivery,—an accented syllable is sounded on a key higher than an unaccented one. To illustrate this, in the ordinary pronunciation of conjure, meaning to practise magical arts, the con is sounded higher than the jure; but in conjure meaning to summon solemnly, the con is sounded lower. Therefore, if a line of poetry end with an accented syllable, or have what is termed a masculine ending, the voice in pausing on this, as it generally does at the end of a line, will pause, as a rule, on a key higher than that on which it has uttered the preceding syllable.

For similar reasons, if a line close with an unaccented syllable, having what is termed a feminine ending; or begin with an accented syllable, the effect is that of a constant repetition of the falling inflection. In fact, the Greeks, though arriving at their result through a different process, actually termed lines ending thus catalectic or falling.—Idem, IX.

Probably few have noticed to what an extent pitch enters as a factor into the effects of poetry. They know in a general way, of course, that in early modes of communicating thought, intonations, like gestures, were almost as significant as words; but they do not realize that the same is true in our own day, least of all that changes in pitch are and always must be elements entering into the significance of the effects produced by poetic rhythm. They know, again, if at all acquainted with the history of the art, that there was a time when poetry was associated with both dancing and music. It was so, as we are told, in the time of King David, who, on one occasion, at least, danced as well as sang his psalms before the ark. In Greece, not only lyric but dramatic poetry was chanted, and often accompanied by the lyre. As late as the sixteenth century, declamation accompanied by music, flourished in England and in Italy. In the latter country it then passed into the opera, which did not follow, as some sup-pose, but preceded all that is noteworthy in the development of the pure music, unaccompanied by words, of modern times. In our own day, however, when poetry is merely read, the movements of the waltz, the polka, the sonata, the symphony, seem to belong to an art so different, that it is difficult to conceive that it was once appropriate to speak of ballad poetry, because the Italian ballare meant to dance, or of a sonnet, because the lute was sounded while poetry was being chanted. The truth is, however, that even to-day, also, poetry and music are allied. As has been said already, the chanting of verse was not originally the cause of its tunes, but the result of them, springing from an endeavor to develop artistically the tunes natural to speech. These tunes our poetry, notwithstanding its present separation from music, still retains. They differ from those of music, yet are analogous to them. Let us consider the more important of the resemblances and differences between the two.—Idem, VIII.


That which separates the phenomena of rhythm and, as will be shown in another place, of proportion from those of harmony is the fact that, of the divisions of time or of space respectively causing effects of rhythm and proportion, the mind is directly conscious; whereas of the divisions causing the effects of harmony, the mind is not conscious, and has come to know of them only indirectly, as a result of the investigations of science. These investigations have discovered that, back of the outer ear which is shaped so as to collect the sound, and back of the drum too, is an inner ear filled with a pellucid fluid in which float the extremities of the acoustic nerve. Under the influence of impulses of sound from without, the drum is made to vibrate. Its vibrations are communicated to the fluid behind it, and, through this, they set into motion one or more of the delicate organs of sensation—minute pendulous rods and also ossicles that rub together. It is only when the vibrations are very frequent—some say sixteen in a second of time—that the ear derives from them the impression of any sound whatever. As they increase in frequency, and, at the same time, lessen in size, the sound becomes higher in pitch, its mere loudness depending not on the relative rate of vibrations, but upon the violence of the stroke producing them. When at last, the vibrations become too frequent for the ear to be aware of them—as when there are forty thousand of them, as some say, in a second of time—the effect upon the ear is the same as if there were no vibrations at all, and the sensation of sound is conveyed no longer. Very similar to the operations that take place in the ear, when recognizing pitch, are those that take place in the eye when recognizing color. Passing through the pupil of the outer eye and the transparent crystalline lens behind it, rays from objects of sight reach the vitreous humor which extends to the retina, an expansion of the optic nerve. The effect of color in this is considered to be a result—but exactly how produced scientists are not as yet agreed—of certain vibrations of the organism. As in the case of sound, too, less frequent vibrations cause one hue and more frequent vibrations cause another.—Rhythm and Harmony in Poetry and Music, VII.


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