“Then There’s Rhythm”

(If you can keep your ancient Greek FEET)

"Then There's Rhythm"

In her book 52 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A POEM published by Chatto and Windus in 2002 Ms Ruth Padel chooses as her first poem a piece called ‘Mrs Noah: Taken After the Flood’ by Jo Shapcott. Here it is:

I can’t sit still these days. The ocean
is only memory, and my memory as fluttery
as a lost dove. Now the real sea beats
inside me, here, where I’d press fur and feathers
if I could. I’m middle-aged and plump.
Back on dry land I shouldn’t think these things:
big paws which idly turn to bat the air,
my face by his ribs and the purr which ripples
through the boards of the afterdeck,
the roar ~ even at a distance ~ ringing in my bones,
the rough tongue, the claws, the little bites,
the crude taste of his mane. If you touched my lips
with salt water I would tell you such words,
words to crack the sky and launch the ark again.

After some paragraphs of introduction of the poem’s subject and the poet’s treatment of it, and on the music of vowel-sounds in the poem, and so forth, Ms Padel breaks off to say:

There are technical points here about form and rhythm that will come up in other poems, so it is worth unpacking them now.

She first gives us some paragraphs about the SONNET form in general, before coming to, Then there’s rhythm. What follows is a short treatise on poetics in English poetry which we may deal with paragraph by paragraph. Here is the first:

English poetry, like other modern European languages, feels rhythm through stress and beat. The decisive thing is which syllable you stress in a word when you say it normally. In this poem, for instance, we would stress the first syllable of memory and ripples, the last syllable of again. But when these words with their given stresses are worked into metre and rhythm, the terms we use to describe the patterns they make come from ancient analyses of GREEK VERSE, which worked in a very different way: not syllable-stress but syllable-length. Ancient Greeks would analyse this poem’s rhythm in terms of long and short syllables. Three ‘shorts’ for memory, the short I of ripples made long for metrical purposes by a double consonant after it; and the ‘short long’ of again.

The first sentence is an extraordinary one. English poetry is not a language. Neither poetry nor a language can feel rhythm or anything else. We may abstract from this muddle a proposition of this sort: ‘Stress and beat are rhythmic elements in English poetry’; and we may note that stress and beat are distinct technical terms. The second sentence is somehow incomplete: The decisive thing… in what? We would also like to know something about abnormal ways of saying words, because this might tell us whether or not in other situations the words memory, ripples and again might be stressed differently. The next sentence is crucial to Ms Padel’s and to our endeavours, not just because it introduces the new technical term metre but because of the simple and founding false assumption that she asks us to accept. Consider the phrase, but… the terms we use. We would suggest adding as a proviso the word ‘may’ before use. We may indeed use terms that come from ancient analyses of GREEK VERSE: but we do not have to; because there are other terms and methods of analysis available to us. Indeed, the next sentence makes a somewhat silly statement: Ancient Greeks would not have been able to analyse the modern English poem at all. However, we must nevertheless ask Ms Padel to demonstrate the appropriateness of the method if she can. Let us follow her (noting on the way the verblessness of the last sentence in the paragraph). Here is the 2nd paragraph:

So we have taken over words for metrical units that differentiated syllables in terms of length, and applied them to our system of analysing word-shapes by stress. This means there is a paradox, and potential ambiguity, about the ways we feel and talk about these metrical units in English.

Now, this is very strange. Ms Padel begins with So; but she has not yet shown us what words for what metrical units we have taken over. Why is she in such a rush? Further, she gives no explanation as to why we do or why we should have taken over foreign words (examples of which have not yet been given) for foreign metrical units which may be paradoxical or ambiguous. Further, doesn’t she mean ‘employed in our system’ rather than applied them to our system? There is an habitual imprecision in what is intended as a technical discourse. In Ms Padel’s discourses on poetry we are enjoined very often to feel rather than think. However, she has at least prepared us for some sort of paradox and potential ambiguity; and perhaps she will provide us with some metrical units to feel and talk about in English. Ms Padel’s third paragraph reads:

For of course syllable-length does matter in English as well as stress. If you look at the two-syllable words in this poem (ocean, inside, feathers, idly, ripples, distance, ringing, little, water, again), the differences between them are created not only by where the stress falls (again and inside are the only words stressed on the last syllable), but also by each syllable’s length. A composer setting them to music would take into account the length of time it takes to pronounce the NS of inside, which slightly lengthens that first syllable; whereas the first A of again is unimpededly short. Though the other two-syllable words are all accented on the first syllable, the last syllable of ringing and distance are lengthened by the consonants that follow, and feel longer than the end-syllables of idly and ocean.

Ms Padel is now telling us about syllable-length in English poetry today. She introduces the idea of musical mensuration, which entails, or should entail, examination of bars, musical tempos and the precise values of notes. We might expect information about the proportions of notes ~ say 2:1 with a crotchet and a quaver, or 3:1 with a dotted crotchet and quaver. But Ms Padel fails to make any such overt, practical, technical use of this system in analysing syllable-length. She sinks vaguely into such formulations as slightly lengthens and feel longer. She gives us no indication as to whether or not all the two-syllable words in this poem are to occupy the same amount of time in performance. The information she gives us is useless. And her next paragraph achieves nothing more in this respect. Here it is:

So though stress is the main factor in analysing rhythmic patterns via metrical units in English, syllable length is important too. We feel this in terms of time, how long it takes to pronounce a syllable, to honour the weight that particular word needs.

This is hopeless stuff ~ that is, Ms Padel seems to be hoping for the best and ‘blathering’ through. She talks of metrical units with which we have not been acquainted; we are once again enjoined to feel things that have not been usefully quantified for us; time somehow becomes weight, to which honour is to be given, and words have needs. (We are minded of Ms Padel’s section-heading in the introductory essay, ‘How Do Men Read? Think Technical, Think Male’. Are we being too analytic and not ‘feelingful’ enough? However, it is Ms Padel who has promised to unpack these technical points and she must be judged as to the clarity and precision with which she does so.) This is the fifth paragraph:

How ancient Greeks felt about their long syllables, we cannot know. But GREEK VERSE was sung, or accompanied by a musical instrument; and a lot of it by dancing too. The dancers’ movements mirrored the syllable-patterns very precisely. So musical time must, in some sense, have played a part in the way they felt, too, about syllable-length.

Ms Padel’s evasion goes on. There is a deflecting felt in the first sentence as she fails again to suggest how proportionately long (or ‘short’) a syllable might have been in ancient Greek metrics. Then there is evasion again in the last sentence, with the use of the vague must in some sense, and another felt. An image comes to mind, a dream or hallucination. It is of Ms Padel, on a motorbike, riding ‘the wall of death’. She is followed by a beautiful bird. It is the Bird of Musical Measures. It means her no harm, but wishes only that she might stop so that it may display its lovely tail to her on which is figured all she needs to know. However, Ms Padel is intent on making her own display.

Ruth Padel

Here is paragraph six:

The main metrical units in English verse are five. First the DACTYL (long short short, or stressed syllable followed by two unstressed). Memory and fluttery here are each three short syllables, but English hears them as DACTYLS.

Let us first examine more closely the term metrical units. This term entails notions of mensuration and equivalence and proportion. We have noted Ms Padel’s failure to pursue these implications. Then we might examine the whole, bold first sentence. By English verse does she mean all English poetry since the eighth century? Or is she talking about English poetry now? We may now ask, in what sense may metrical units be said to be in English verse? Then let us note how she imposes the Greek term while employing it as part of her own systematisation of stressed and unstressed syllables. Then we are asked to entertain the notion that English may somehow hear three short syllables as a DACTYL. Now that she has freed herself from any need or responsibility of dealing with these matters in any precise temporal and mensural way, Ms Padel can proceed to present the other main metrical units that are in English verse. Here is her seventh paragraph:

The DACTYL’S mirror image is the ANAPAEST (short short long; or two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one). Because they are opposites, DACTYL and ANAPAEST belong together and often melt into each other in an English line. They bond together to make a rhythmic, and therefore an emotional, world of their own. This is often humorous (like the limerick), but poets also use ANAPAESTS for excited emotion and swift narrative, as in Byron’s ‘The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold.’

We start with the distracting non-technical talk of one metrical unit being the mirror image of another. Perhaps this is an ‘infection’ from the metaphor of dancers’ movements ‘mirroring’ syllable patterns (and very precisely) in paragraph five. (And, even so, there is no use of the usual technical term ‘foot’ for a metrical unit). Then we are distracted by the further extended ‘romantic fiction’ of metrical units somehow belonging together and melting into each other and bonding to make an emotional world of their own. Now Ms Padel instances a discreet metrical form, the limerick, but fails to give any demonstration of what sort of bonding and melting occurs. On we rush to paragraph eight (suppressing our wish to point out that in the line of poetry Ms Padel quotes there are in fact three unstressed syllables between the first two stressed ones):

The SPONDEE in GREEK VERSE is two syllables. In English, it is basically two syllables that are equally stressed, but the effect is a dragging feel which suggests length, as well as an emphatic weight which suggests the pressure of the stresses. So here, in a line of SPONDEES, words with short vowels (lost dove) count the same as other SPONDEES (sea beats.) The syllables are, as it were, lengthened by the stress they bear.

We should, as it were, handle this paragraph like an unexploded bomb, noting the use of the words basically, feel, suggests and suggests again. Then we must ask, what does the phrase count the same mean? It suggests that, for Ms Padel, counting stresses may be the main factor in analysing rhythmic patterns; but she still does not talk directly, clearly and precisely about time. We are, however, left with a clear conclusion: that Ms Padel’s SPONDEES will contain two stresses which are equally ‘long’ in some way, but not in any specific way. Here is paragraph nine:

A SPONDEE obviously has no mirror image, but the last two units, and their mutually mirroring relationship, are at the heart of English verse.

This sentence returns us to the unnecessary and somewhat distracting visual metaphor, when what we are actually dealing with are sounds spoken in time; and the idea of a mutually mirroring relationship might be said to be taking our discussion, metaphorically, of course, into a hall of mirrors. This is the tenth paragraph:

A TROCHEE, long short, or stressed followed by an unstressed syllable (as, in this poem, ocean, water, ripples), is the backwards version of our most important metrical unit, the IAMB, short long, or unstressed syllable followed by stressed. The IAMB is the basic metrical ingredient of English poetry. The IAMBIC PENTAMETER, a five-beat line, is made of five IAMBS or their temporal equivalent.

This paragraph makes a somewhat silly start, with its useless description of a TROCHEE as a backwards version of an IAMB. Are they not then mirror-images of each other? However, the remaining two sentences contain statements that might lead to a clearing away of all the confusions that Ms Padel has created for herself and for us. We will first bring in here her glossary entry on IAMBIC PENTAMETER.

IAMBIC PENTAMETER: the five-beat line that has dominated English poetry since the sixteenth century. It is often hard not to think in it even in prose. But it does not have only IAMBS in it: there may be no actual IAMBS in any given line of IAMBIC PENTAMETER at all. Just as you can vary the pattern within each four-crotchet bar (say, semi-quavers, dotted crotchet and quaver, minims, or a rest), so an IAMBIC FOOT can be made of other units (a DACTYL, ANAPAEST, TROCHEE or SPONDEE) instead. IAMBIC PENTAMETER is an astonishingly flexible thing: so flexible that some people have argued it does not exist. Why call a line with no IAMBS, an IAMBIC PENTAMETER? What it comes down to in the end is feel: how we feel the turns and hesitations, checks and flows, of the PENTAMETER. IAMBIC PENTAMETER is in our bones, and affects how we feel our language.

First of all we must dispose of a prime ‘wad’ of Ms Padel’s somewhat distracting ‘blather’; for that is what the last two sentences are. Then we may note that a clear parallel and comparison is made between an IAMBIC FOOT (or any other FOOT that may be substituted for it in a line) and a strictly mensurated musical bar in which the note values may be varied without altering the measure. This accords with what we were given at the end of the 10th paragraph where it was suggested that the various FEET in the ancient Greek system and in its adaption to English poetics are temporally equivalent. This part of the theory is furthered in paragraph eleven:

Each of these metrical units makes a FOOT, which corresponds to a musical bar. When you count the number of FEET in a line, you are also counting its number of beats. Clustering round the stress in the beat word are other syllables, of course, but there is only one beat in each FOOT. And just as a four-crotchet bar may have no actual crotchets in it, so an IAMBIC FOOT can be made up of other units than IAMBS. Here, Back on dry land I shouldn’t think these things is an IAMBIC PENTAMETER with no IAMBS, just an ANAPAEST (Back on dry) and three SPONDEES: land I; shouldn’t think (a SPONDEE with a hiccough in the middle); these things.

In Ms Padel’s system a metrical unit or FOOT corresponds temporally with all the other types, and corresponds to a musical bar. This is a system or theory of isochronicity. We have a clear position established at last. We are also emphatically told that there is only one beat in each FOOT. Since Ms Padel says that the stress is in the beat word, we have a most interesting and questionable conflation of the two terms stress and beat.

The technical scheme is further complicated by the fact that she sees a FOOT (presumably any FOOT) as corresponding to a musical bar. Ms Padel has then gone on to say that, When you count the number of FEET in a line you are also counting the number of beats. However, in music the technical scheme is that there are, for example, 3 beats in every bar in three-time. This would suggest that, ‘correspondingly’, every syllable in a FOOT is a beat. It would further follow that, from the ‘conflation’ of the terms stress and beat noted above, every syllable in any FOOT has a stress. That would be nonsense. We will now do our best to set out a prosodical analysis of the poem according to Ms Padel’s system or scheme.

She gives us a lead. She tells us that in the sixth line of the poem we are dealing with an IAMBIC PENTAMETER composed of an ANAPAEST and three SPONDEES (albeit one with a hiccough in it). Let us set it out in the traditional fashion:

Back on dry | land I | shouldn’t think | these things

However hard we may stare at this, there are only four FEET. It is not a PENTAMETER. Further, in paragraph eight we were told that a SPONDEE consists of two equally stressed syllables. This can only mean that a SPONDEE has two beats in it, which is contrary to Ms Padel’s declaration in paragraph eleven that there is only one beat in each FOOT. This line then has seven beats in it. Furthermore, if we read out the line so that its FEET are isochronous, we get a very strange and most un-English rhythm indeed (and that is including the third syllable in the third FOOT which Ms Padel has curiously called a SPONDEE with a hiccough). How can a system work that contains such an absurd contradiction?

Ms Padel will not herself, of course, closely analyse any line for us; but the thirteenth paragraph may help us to help ourselves:

This SONNET established a four-beat line, unsettles this rhythm with excited rocking DACTYLS (memory, fluttery), and in the third line heavy SPONDEES stop this fluttery stuff short. So the first three lines insist on a rhythmic instability.. You can analyse this in metrical terms, but the point of it is emotional. Instability becomes the poem’s keynote, and suggests two things: the movement of ocean, plus the turbulent feeling of being unable to sit still, for which the rocking sea is an image.

For Ms Padel this SONNET, if it can really be said to be one, has an ‘emotional life’ of its own; but let us stick to the gritty technical stuff.

We are told that the first line has four beats in it and thus, according to the declaration in paragraph 11, four FEET, so let us propose this structure:

I can’t | sit still | these days |. The ocean |…

We rather ‘feel’ that ocean is trisyllabic, but it does not greatly matter. Whichever way we present it, after three IAMBS we have some sort of ‘bastard foot’ that we have not been told about. We will try again:

I can’t sit | still these | days.. The | ocean

Yes: that is some sort of tetrameter ~ but hardly an iambic one.

Let us take the second line, and accept Ms Padel’s DACTYLS:

is | only | memory, | and my | memory | as | fluttery |…

And my could be an IAMB, though it is most awkward to perform it as such; but what do we do with is only? Only might be a TROCHEE. This would leave us with two superfluous syllables, is and as. This would seem to be a seven foot line, with two ‘lame’ FEET, having five beats. This is absurd.

Ms Padel has mentioned in paragraph thirteen the two-stress, two-beat SPONDEES in the third line that stop this fluttery stuff. Let us scan the line:

as a | lost dove. | Now the real | sea beats | …

As a may not qualify as a FOOT unless one of its syllables is stressed. We are unable to choose one. Now the real might be a DACTYL, but we rather enjoy putting stress on both Now and real: however, that would give us four FEET and six beats. One can only agree with Ms Padel that these lines display rhythmic instability; but they also seem to defy her own rules, principles or conventions.

Let us try to analyse the fourth line into FEET:

inside me, here, where I’d press fur and feathers…

It is difficult to know where to start. Where I’d press could be an ANAPAEST. But here, where I’d could equally well be a DACTYL. We may mark the stresses that we are inclined to use in speaking the line:

in | side me, | here, where I’d | press | fur and | feathers…

We would tend to space the beats or stresses isochronously, and, as in music, put a bar-line before each beat. This gives us what could be called, in Ms Padel’s approximating system, three TROCHEES and a DACTYL, one isolated unstressed syllable and one isolated stressed one. Clearly, however, we and Ms Padel don’t have the same idea of music. Here is her fourteenth paragraph:

As in music, the beat (the essential feature of any line of poetry) translates into feeling. Poetry ‘moves’ you by beat, by feel. All the technical stuff, the metrical units and their combinations, is there very precisely for the emotion these patterns engender; for how the sound illustrates and furthers what the words, when they get together, mean.

This piece of writing is perhaps the crux of this extraordinary chapter. Essentials of objective technical stuff are mentioned but then set aside for a subjective and ‘emotional’ approach, a ‘feeling’ approach which she is suggesting is somehow complementary to, but is in fact designed to obviate and supplant the gritty technical stuff. Metrical units are said to engender emotion. And sound is said to illustrate and further what words ‘mean’. Ms Padel continues in this ‘synthesis’ of the technical and the ‘feeling’:

In the fourth line of ‘Mrs Noah’, after the rhythm has established a feeling of unestablishedness and upset, we settle down to IAMBIC PENTAMETER as we reach the centre of the speaker’s attention: what’s inside me, here. But we expect upset now, and the four-beat choppy rhythms return for my face by his ribs, rough tongue and little bites. The rhythmic changes reflect the powerfully rocky changing memories and emotions that the poem is about.

This is helpful because it allows us to scan the fourth line correctly according to Ms Padel’s system:

inside | me, here | where I’d press | fur and | feathers

However, can this truly be called an IAMBIC PENTAMETER? The line has a preponderance of other metrical units. Of course, in paragraph 11 she has already told us that an IAMBIC FOOT doesn’t have to be an IAMB; and that an IAMBIC PENTAMETER doesn’t have to have any IAMBS in it; and we have already learned that a PENTAMETER can even be a tetrameter: but we would beg to differ. We think this is all wilful nonsense. Here we do have five FEET (bars? measures?) and are told that we settle down to IAMBIC PENTAMETER. This implies that the next three lines are also ‘IAMBIC PENTAMETERS’ before the four-beat choppy rhythms return from line eight to line eleven. So now we can scan line five in a search for five FEET (of any sort) and five beats:

If I could. I’m middle-aged and plump…

Reading naturally, we tend to find only four beats:

If I could. I’m middle-aged and plump…,

The second beat may just as well go on ‘middle’. However, there are difficulties in scanning the line either way. Done this way,

If I could. | I’m middle-| aged and | plump..,

we have four FEET, but the last FOOT is incomplete or false. Done the other way,

If I could. | I’m mid-| dleaged | and plump..,

we still only get an ‘IAMBIC tetrameter’ with an initial substitution of a DACTYL. So let us try again to get Ms Padel’s five FEET and five beats:

If I | could. I’m | middle-| aged and | plump

This again gives an incomplete FOOT. Let us try:

If I could. | I’m mid | dleaged | and plump

This is five beats in four FEET. It gives the line a nice lumpy middle, if we may put it that way; but it is not an IAMBIC PENTAMETER; and, of course, it breaks Ms Padel’s rule of only having one beat in each FOOT. There is no way of getting five FEET in this line in accordance with Ms Padel’s code.

We have already dealt with line six, and found rather more or rather less than an IAMBIC PENTAMETER.

Line seven is rather lovely, and we read it with six beats or stresses:

big paws | which id | ly turn | to beat | the air

If we make big small, as it were, we do get a true IAMBIC PENTAMETER:

big paws | which id | ly turn | to beat | the air…;

but the belittling of big is a great pity.

Ms Padel assures us that line eight has four beats and four FEET, but the scansion is peculiar whichever way we try it. There is this way,

my face | by his ribs | and the purr | which rip– | ples,

or this way:

my | face by his | ribs and the | purr which | ripples..

Either way we have a ‘free’ or ‘lost’ syllable, a ‘false’ FOOT.

There is no doubt that Jo Shapcott is ‘on song’ here, though Ms Padel may be botching the scansion of it. The ripples at the end of line eight suggests that the best speaking of line nine is—at least to our ear—as a two-beat one:

through the boards of the afterdeck

This could be read as two ANAPAESTS and two spare short syllables, or as two spare short syllables preceding a pair of DACTYLS. If Ms Padel would like us to ‘stamp’ rather than ‘ripple’ we can put in two more beats:

through the | boards of the | after | deck

This is three FEET and a ‘false’ one. We suddenly have pictures: of linked-armed line-dancers all falling off at the end of a stage; a team of Morris-men ending up in a tangle of sticks and handkerchiefs, bells and pewter tankards; and a ballerina being lifted high and then dumped on her back-side—hitting the ‘deck’. Ms Padel has said that instability becomes the poem’s keynote. The ‘keynote’ becomes something of a ‘shriek’.

There may be at least five beats in line ten. Here is a scansion:

the roar ~ | even at a | distance– ~ | ringing in | my bones

This can’t be right: we have a FOOT, ' ˘ ˘ ˘ , not included in Ms Padel’s system. If we break it up into two FEET and stress at, we have a hexameter, but not the promised tetrameter. We certainly don’t find the line choppy: we find it to be ‘majestic’ in its rhythm, very ‘king-of-the-beasts-ly’.

We were assured that line eleven is a four-beat, choppy one:

the rough tongue, the claws, the little bites…

This line has beautiful possibilities in the reading if we are allowed five beats, so that rough and tongue give two rasping licks, as it were, and little and bites both give balanced ‘nips’:

the rough | tongue, the | claws, the | little | bites

To get Ms Padel’s four beats we would suppose that we reduce little to two short syllables:

the rough | tongue, the | claws, the | little bites

This is a tetrameter of an extraordinarily mixed sort.

We have to find our own way through the last three lines because Ms Padel gives us no idea about the FEET or the beats that we may expect. But in reading line twelve we are inclined to give five stresses, and the core of the line may be presented as two DACTYLS:

the crude | taste of his | mane. If you | touched my | lips

But this gives us a false final FOOT. However, a quick revision solves the problem,

the crude | taste of | his mane. | If you touched | my lips

This line may be called an IAMBIC PENTAMETER with two substitutions.

Line thirteen gives four beats to our ear:

with | salt | water I would | tell you such | words…,

and it is possible to reset it so that it complies with Ms Padel’s system and gives some sort of tetrameter:

with salt | water I | would tell | you such words

However, it can also be set into a PENTAMETER ~ though more trochaic than iambic:

with salt | water | I would | tell you | such words

In the final line we were first minded to apply energy and passion and thus a beat to the first word:

words to | crack the | sky and | launch the |ark a|gain.

But this hexameter with an extra, ‘false’ FOOT would cause all our ‘dancers’ who have somehow reassembled themselves and dusted themselves down and who have been weaving falteringly about in their different footings to their different tunes to fall once more into a heaving heap. We will admit this possible scansion:

words to crack | the sky | and launch | the ark | again.

This is an ‘IAMBIC PENTAMETER’ ~ but our ‘feeling’ is that Ms Shapcott would like us to put weight or beat on words: perhaps, if she should ever read this paper, she will let us know.


Where does this leave us? We may now draw up a table to show the number of beats that have been conjectured for each line of the poem, to assess the integrity of the scansion according to Ms Padel’s system and pointers (though no pointers were given in respect of the last three lines):-

 Line  Beats  Scansion
 1.  4  ✓
 2.  5  
 3.  5  
 4.  5 (✓)
 5.  4  
 6.  7  
 7.  5  ?
 8.  4  
 9.  ‘3’  
 10.  5  
 11.  4  ✓
 12.  5  ✓
 13.  4  ✓
 14.  5  ✓

This is ridiculous. Half the lines do not accord with her theory.

Ms Padel’s prosodical system is chaotic and pretty well useless; but she ‘dabbles’ with it in the analysis of the 52 pieces in this book of which the publishers should be ashamed.

There is no evidence that Ms Padel has obtained from any of the writers any indication of what rhythmical or metrical principles they themselves deliberately used in the making of their pieces. Did any of them ‘think’ in ancient Greek FEET or ‘Englished Greek FEET’ or whatever? Ms Padel has only deepened the paradox, and potential ambiguity that she spoke of.

Let us say that we don’t think that this first piece is truly a poem at all. There is no patterning to the measuring of the lines and no rhyme structure either. However, that consideration is irrelevant to the fact that Ms Padel has chosen to employ this chaotic system of analysis in the first place. The whole venture is a mess, a pretence.

We would say that in the field of metrics and prosody Ms Padel is playing a devious game. We can read in and between the lines of her introductory essay her dislike of rules and of (usually male) technical talk. One way of weakening rules and their use is to render them incomprehensible, or to misrepresent them. Ms Padel’s falsehoods will deceive unwary readers. She should be stopped.

We suspect that Ms Padel’s game is to undermine all previous theories of poetics and introduce one of her own. We are the more strongly persuaded to this view by her article in Volume 96:2 of Poetry Review, the quarterly magazine of The Poetry Society ~ from which, incidentally, the magazine “enjoys complete editorial independence”. This piece will be considered in a further paper.

Permission to quote from ‘52 Way of Looking at a Poem’ by Ruth Padel, published by Chatto and Windus, has kindly been given by the Random House Group Ltd.

Permission to reprint ‘Mrs Noah: Taken After the Flood’ by Jo Shapcott has kindly been given by Messrs Faber and Faber.