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Wordsworth's views on the functions of rhyme and metre in poetry

William Wordsworth rejects the eighteenth century poetic diction for its artificiality and pomposity in his epoch-making critical piece, "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads". He expresses his views on the use of metre in poetry in this literary criticism. He expresses his views on the functions of rhyme and metre here. He says that the use of metre in poetry should not be confused with poetic diction. There is nothing arbitrary and capricious about metre. It is regular and uniform. Both the reader and writer can submit to it according the established rules. The rules governing met are fixed. But there are no such fixed rules about poetic diction. However, Wordsworth's views on the functions of rhyme and metre in poetry seem to be confusing.

In " Preface to the Lyrical Ballads ", Wordsworth offers a justification why he has written in verse. He has dealt with t universal passions of men and nature. Critics might remark that these subjects could very well have been written about in prose. But Wordsworth has chosen verse because it would give him the chance of using metre. Thus he is able to enhance the pleasure of his poetry. It is pointed out that people of all times hai admitted that metrical language has exceptional chance. Some critics argue that very little pleasure of poetry depends upon the use of metre. They also say that metre should be accompanied by suitable poetic diction if full pleasure is produced. Wordsworth does not agree with this view. He feels that such critics underrate the ability of metre to give pleasure. He argues that metre itself can give pleasure to a great extent. Actually, there are some poems in which humble subjects and naked style have continued to give pleasure through generations. The poet is thus quite justified in using metre even while rejecting poetic diction.

According to Wordsworth, metre is associated with poetry. Poetry is associated with the certain qualities of language, thought and emotion. Therefore, subject-matter is associated with these qualities of language, thought and emotion. By the act of writing in metre, a poet makes a formal engagement that he will gratify certain known habits of association. These habits refer to the qualities of language, thought and emotion. Wordsworth argues that metre paves the way for the artificial distinction which may involve pompous and empty phraseology. Thus he might appear to be rejecting metre in poetry. But in his "Preface", he actually establishes the nature and value of metre in a precise manner. Regarding the regularity and uniformity of metre, he says-----
" The distinction of metre is regular and uniform, and not like that which is produced by what is usually called poetic diction arbitrary and subject to infinite caprices. "

He again speaks of the charm which is acknowledged to exist in metrical language. It proves that the relation of metre to poetry is not one of associations. There is a necessary inherent relation between them.

Poetry needs a selection of the language really used by men for true taste and feeling. This distinguishes poetry from prose. But metre is associated with this selection of language. If it is superadded to this selection, a dissimilitude will be produced altogether sufficient for the gratification of rational mind. Metre thus contributes to the pleasure of poetry. It obeys certain laws accepted by the poet and the reader as well. These laws do not interfere with the passion. Wordsworth says that metre needs in poetry to heighten and improve the pleasure which co-exists with it. When we closely examine his views of it, we find that he confuses metre with rhythm.

Wordsworth offers other justifications for the use of metre. He says that the end of poetry is to produce excitement in co-existence with an over-balance of pleasure. Excitement is an irregular and unusual state of mind. In a state of excitement, ideas and feelings do not follow one another in an ordinary manner. The presence of something regular would serve moderate and temper the excessive excitement. Metre is regular and would serve to be the tempering influence. It is something usual and regular. It would restrain and soften the tumult of emotions. It may sound paradoxical to speak in favour of something which is not found in the language spoken in real life. It is confusing that more pathetic situations and sentiment may be tolerated in metrical composition rather than in prose. In such cases, where there is a great pain in situation or sentiment, metre throws an unsubstantial and dream-like quality over the description.

Metre acts as a distancing agent. The painful thing seems remote and so tolerable for it. The use of metre mingles pleasure with the painfulness of the subject or sentiment and lessens the pain. Again metre gives passion to the words. Thus it enables a poet to give rise to the appropriate emotional excitement in the reader. Moreover, it becomes a general principal that the human mind is pleased from a perception of similarity in dissimilarity or vice versa. It is this principal that is beyond our pleasure in metaphor and simile. The use of metre provides a similar contrast which is conducive to pleasure. Wordsworth does not deal in detain with this rather relevant point.

Thus Wordsworth has expressed his views on metre in poetry in his immortal critical piece, "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads". He tries to defend metre in poetry here. But his defence is weak. He has to accept the inevitability of metre. At one point, he calls it adventitious. But his own argument makes it an integral aspect of poetry. He takes up a stanza of Dr. Johnson to prove that subject-matter is more essential than metre in poetry. The subject-matter in this respect is hateful. But the metre used in the stanza enables us to endure the pathetic situation. Thus Wordsworth's views on the functions of rhyme and metre in poetry are confusing.


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