• Margaret H. Freeman Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts, United States




blending, Dickinson, English verse, pentameter, syllabotonic, stress-timed system, Wyatt


The theory of English verse structure has never been completely formulated. Inheriting the lineage of both
Germanic and Romance traditions, it nevertheless is a system in its own right. This paper explores, with examples
from the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, the problems arising from the traditional attitude of English
metrists up to the twentieth century to scan English verse from the viewpoint of Romance syllabotonic. To the
contrary, I argue that English verse is driven, metrically and rhythmically, also by the Germanic accentual
stress-timed system.

This paper is a preliminary sketch toward developing a theory of English verse. By the twentieth
century, English verse had become so flexible and varied in its forms that the question was even
raised as to the death of the English pentameter. Contemporary poets' responses to that question
reveal that although the English pentameter is very much alive, a complete theory of English verse still has
not been written. Historically, English metrical studies have based their theory on the assumption
that the French Romance tradition of syllable alternation displaced the Germanic stress-timed system
of Old English poetry. As a result, many lines of poetry written in iambic pentameter are considered
unmetrical. The paper explores two examples of English poetry from the sixteenth and nineteenth
centuries to show that, far from being metrically irregular, as claimed by most English metrists, they
reflect a lineage from Old English metrical forms. Using Conceptual Integration Theory (or "blending"
as it is commonly known in cognitive linguistics), the paper shows that English verse is the child
of two parents, Germanic and Romance, whose emergent structure in the blend exists in neither parent.
In analysis of examples from Thomas Wyatt's and Emily Dickinson's poetry, it is evident that the Germanic
stress-timed system, modified by Romance syllabotonic, guides the rhythmic beat of the English
metrical line. Building on the work of recent scholars in versification studies, the paper notes that
a complete theory of the measures of English poetry still needs to be developed.


Agenda: Special issue on rhythm. (1972/3). 10 (4) -11 (1), p. 7-67.

Attridge, D. (1982). The rhythms of English poetry. London – New York: Longmans.

Attridge, D. (1995). Poetic rhythm : An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bridges, R. (1918). Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. London: Humphrey Milford.

Buckingham, W. D. (Ed.). (1989). Emily Dickinson's reception in the 1890s : A documentary history. Pittsburgh:University of Pittsburgh Press.

Creed, R. P. (1990). Reconstructing the rhythm of Beowulf. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Cureton, R. D. (1992). Rhythmic phrasing in English verse. London & New York: Longman.

Dickinson, E. (1890). Poems (T. W. Higginson & M. L. Todd, Eds.). Boston: Roberts Brothers.

Dickinson, E. Manuscript images. Amherst College. Retrieved from https://www.amherst.edu/library/archives.

Dickinson, E. Manuscript images. Harvard University. Retrieved from https://library.harvard.edu/collections/


Fauconnier, G. & Turner, M. (2002). The way we think. New York: Basic Books.

Foxwell, A. K. (1911). A study of Sir Thomas Wyatt's poems. London: University of London Press.

Gasparov, M. L. (1996). A history of European versification (G. S. Smith & L. Holford-Strevens, Eds., G. S. Smith & M. Tarlinskaja, Trans.). Oxford: The Clarendon; New York: Harper & Row.

Grévisse, M. (1957). Précis de grammaire francaise. Gembloux: Duculot.

Halle, M. & Keyser, J. (1966). Chaucer and the study of prosody. College English, 28(3), 187-219.

Halle, M. & Keyser, J. (1971). English stress: Its form, its growth, and its role in verse. New York: Harper & Row.

Harding, D. W. (1946). The rhythmical intention in Wyatt's poetry. Scrutiny, 14(2), 90-102.

Hascall, D.L. (1974). Triple meter in English verse. Poetics, 3(4), 49-71.

Omond, T.S. (1968). English metrists. New York: Phaeton Press.

Patterson, R. E. (Ed.). (1923). Ben Jonson's conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden. London:

Blackie & Sons.

Pensom, R. (1998). Accent and metre in French: A theory of the relation between linguistic accent and metrical

practice in French, 1100-1900. Berne: Peter Lang.

Pensom, R. (2018). Accent, rhythm and meaning in French verse. Cambridge: Legenda. (Research monographs in French studies, 44).

Thompson, J. (1961). The founding of English metre. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Tillyard, E. M. W. (1949). The poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt (2nd ed). London: Chatto & Windus.

Tottel, R. (1929). Miscellany (1). (H. E. Rollins, ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tsur, R. (1998). Poetic rhythm: Structure and performance. Berne: Peter Lang.

Wylder, E. (1971). The last face: Emily Dickinson's manuscripts. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Zabuzhanska, I. (2017, December). American postmodern poetic texts: In search of rhythmicity. Lege artis. Language yesterday, today, tomorrow, II(2), 445-481. https://doi.org/10.1515/lart2017-0021.

Ћirmunskij, V. (1966). Introduction to metrics: The theory of verse (E. Stankiewicz & W. N. Vickery, Eds., C. F. Brown, Trans.). The Hague: Mouton.