- Ou suis-je? qu'ai-je fait? || que dois-je faire encore?
Quel transport me saisit? || quel chagrin me devore?
Two inexorable laws came to be established with regard to the pauses. The first is, that each line should be divided into two equal parts, the sixth syllable always ending with a word. In the earlier use of this metre, on the contrary, it frequently happened that the sixth and seventh syllables belonged to the same word. The other is that, except under the most stringent conditions, there should be none of what the French critics call enjambement, that is, the overlapping of the sense from one line on to the next. Ronsard completely ignored this rule, which was after his time settled by the authority of Malherbe. The latest school of French prosody has given great attention to the breaking up of the Alexandrine, which no longer possesses the rigidity of authoritative form which it held until about 1880, but is often used with a licence no less than when Ronsard wrote.
Michael Drayton, who was twenty-two years of age when Ronsard died, seemed to think that the Alexandrine might be as pleasing to English as it was to French ears, and in this metre he wrote a long poem in twenty-four books called the Polyolbion. The metre, however, failed to catch the English ear. The principal English measure is a line of ten syllables, and the Alexandrine is used only occasionally to give it variety and weight. In ordinary English heroic verse it is but rarely introduced; but in the favourite narrative metre, known as the Spenserian, it comes in regularly as the concluding line of each stanza. In English usage, moreover, it is to be observed that there is no fixed rule as to the position of the pause, though it is true that most commonly the pause occurs at the end of the sixth syllable. Spenser is very free in shifting the pause about; and though the later poets who have used this stanza are not so free, yet, with the exception of Shenstone and of Byron, they do not scruple to obliterate all pause between the sixth and seventh syllables. Thus Thomson (Castle of Indolenee, i. 42):--
- And music lent new gladness to the morning air.
The danger in the use of the Alexandrine is that, in attempting to give dignity to his line, the poet may only produce heaviness, incurring the sneer of Pope--
- A needless Alexandrine ends the song.
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.
The Alexandrine was the dominant metre in Dutch poetry from the
16th to the middle of the 19th century, and about the time of its
introduction to Holland it was accepted in Germany by the school of
Opitz. In the course of the 17th century, after being used
without rhyme by Seckendorf and others, it formed a transitional
station on the route to German blank verse, and has since then
been rarely employed, except occasionally in rhymed comedy.
This article is from the 1911 edition of an encyclopedia, which is out of copyright here in the U.S. It is in the public domain and you may copy, download, print and distribute this work as you see fit.
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