Saturday, December 8, 2012

The anticlimactic linebreak

It has been exceedingly long since the last post -- instead I have been tumbling, partly because this doesn't require one to write! -- but then it's been a busy semester. I am not sure this really merits a post but I have lately been struck by the prevalence (&, to my ear, strangeness) of the following device:

We drank Meursault, ate lobster Bombay with mango
Chutney.
(Stevens)

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed.
(Hopkins)

The season's ill--
we've lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue.
(Lowell)

Princess Volupine extends
A meagre, blue-nailed, phthisic hand
To climb the waterstair. Lights, lights,
She entertains Sir Ferdinand

Klein.
(Eliot)

I think it's crucial for there to be a metrical substitution right after the linebreak. Obviously the trick of emphasizing a word by sandwiching it between an enjambment and a period can be used (and presumably is in Milton) for serious purposes, but that isn't what's going on in these examples. Yet it isn't a full-fledged comic effect either: to my ear both Eliot and Stevens are going for a degree of silliness, Lowell is trying to sound prosaic, and Hopkins as usual (and in this he is very much like Wordsworth) is unselfconscious about sounding absurd. Of course I think it always sounds silly in practice. 

There are various other things that I meant to blog about at some point, but for now I'll just link to this delightful bit from a Keats letter:
On our return from Bellfast we met a Sadan - the Duchess of Dunghill - It is no laughing matter tho - Imagine the worst dog kennel you ever saw placed upon two poles from a mouldy fencing. In such a wretched thing sat a squalid old Woman squat like an ape half starved from a scarcity of Buiscuit in its passage from Madagascar to the cape, - with a pipe in her mouth and looking out with a sort of horizontal idiotic movement of her head - squab and lean she sat and puff’d out the smoke while two ragged tattered Girls carried her along. What a thing would be a history of her Life and sensations.
Cf. "the woman, and her garments vexed and tossed / by the strong wind." 

3 comments:

Elisa said...

Yeah ... I think can be used for comical effect like you said, but here not so much. I half-think (assuming it's not done for the rhyme) it's just a way to avoid ending on a period, which would be too final.

Sarang said...

Well but mango / chutney?! (For the others I sort of like your theory. I've become a little obsessed -- mainly as a result of arguing w/ C. -- with the way Lowell tries to wrench his poems out of being prose, it is really quite a Herculean task...)

Elisa said...

Obviously if he'd put "chutney" on the preceding line it would have been too long. ;)