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A poetic text is a complex reality with visual qualities


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A poetic text is a complex reality with visual qualities, musical qualities and linguistic aspects, all of which need to be considered. The visual form the poem takes on the page is called lay-out. It signals to the reader that the text is a poem because it follows a number of typographical conventions which are peculiar to poetry. Here are the most frequent.

1-   &n 252c29c bsp;   Words are arranged into lines which usually don't cover the whole page as in prose.

2-   &n 252c29c bsp;   Lines are grouped together. Each group is separated from the next by a space. Such groups are called stanzas.

3-   &n 252c29c bsp;   Lines usually begin with a capital letter

4-   &n 252c29c bsp;   Some lines may be indented.

As regards sound, lines in a poem can come close to the condition of music through several devices, such as rhyme and stress. Lines rhyme when their last syllables make the same sound. It is sound, not spelling that determines rhyme: in Dreams "die" rhymes with "fly" and "go" with "snow". Stress is another powerful device that in poetry can generate musical effects. Stressed and unstressed syllables can alternate in a line in several combinations which are called by different names. The pattern unstress-stress is called iambic and it is the most common pattern in English poetry. Also language in poetry needs close analysis because it is carefully chosen and arranged in order to establish meaningful connections, introduce images and generate a design of words and structures. Repetition can stress key words or concepts and add to the musical qualities of the text. All these features make the language of poetry different from ordinary language. To identify the characteristics of a poetic text at visual level, sound level, and language level is only the initial move in the analysis of a poem. Two more moves are necessary. The first is to recognise and explain what part each characteristic plays in conveying the poem's meaning - in other words, what functions they serve. The second is to see how level interacts with the other and how all contribute to the expression of the poem's main idea. Though in the course of the analysis you take the next to pieces, the poems remain intact. A poetic text is not a sum of fragments but an organic unit where the elements interact with one another and with the reader to generate meaning.

A traditional poem has a number of formal features which enable us to describe it as different from prose. Of the many recurrent features a poem may have, rhyme and rhythm are about the sound patterns of a poetic text.

Rhyme is a sound pattern which involves regular repetition of consonant and vowel sounds. Rhymes may form a wide range of musical designs within a poem. The sound pattern they create is called rhyme scheme and can be identified by using letters of the alphabet. Another sound pattern is alliteration which is the repetition of the initial consonant sound in two or more words in a line or consecutive lines of a poem. Perfect rhyme and alliteration are not the only forms of sound correspondence between parts of the words. Words can be arranged in a poem so as to produce effects of assonance and consonance. The first is the repetition of middle vowel sounds between different consonant sounds; the second is the close repetition of identical consonant sounds after differing vowel sounds. Rhythm is a word of Greek origin meaning 'flowing'. It is part of language: when you speak you follow a certain rhythm even unconsciously. Poetry is rhythmical in the sense that it flows according to a musical movement decided by the poet. In our analysis of rhythm, we started by looking at the length of a line, which depends on the number of its syllables. The next step was to do with syllable stress. From the activities you should have observed that not all syllables in a word are stressed , not are all words in a line. The words which are stressed are pronounced more firmly and more slowly. In poetry lines consist of units of stressed and unstressed syllables which can alternate in several combinations or patterns called by different names. A unit of unstressed and stressed syllables makes up one foot. The type of foot depends on the number of syllables and on how stresses are arranged. An unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one, as in the words "first green", forms an iambic foot. Lines of poetry made up predominantly of iambs are referred to as iambic verse, which is the most common metre in English. Its most important form is the iambic pentameter which consists of five iambic feet. When the iambic pentameter does not rhyme it is called blank verse. Blank verse is extremely flexible and can come very close to everyday speech.


CVC  perfect rhyme


CVC consonance


CVC assonance            


CVC alliteration

The visual form the poem takes on the page is called lay-out and is the third formal feature by which a poetic text marks itself off from prose. It usually follows a number of typographical conventions which are peculiar to poetry. Here are the most frequent.

1 Words are arranged into lines which usually don't cover the whole page as in prose

2 Lines usually begin with capital letter

3 Some lines may be indented

4 Lines are grouped together. Each group is separated from the next by a space. Such groups are called stanzas.

The shape of a poem may largely depend on its stanza form. Traditional stanzas have the same number of lines and usually share the same rhyme scheme and stress pattern. For example, couplets rhyme aa,bb,cc,.; a tercet usually rhymes aba,bcb; a quatrain, which in English verse in the commonest stanza form, has a variety of rhyme schemes: abcb,abab,aabb,etc.

The arrangement of words into lines can create pauses, too, which provide a guide to reading, regulating both speed and sense. And how lines end can have important effects upon a poem. A line can be end-stopped when the meaning and the syntax pause or run-on, when meaning and syntax continue without a pause into the next line.

Poets can adopt regular stress patterns, rhyme schemes and stanza forms to write poems which please the eye by their typographical symmetry, or they can feel free to shorten or lengthen the lines, to introduce indentations and make the most of the white space on the page to create unconventional designs. Since the Second World War various poets have made more experimental use of visual lay-out, creating images out of letters and words. These images are known as 'concrete poems'. To conclude, the lay-out can be exploited alongside other features of poetic text to fulfil several functions, such as:

-   &n 252c29c bsp;   &n 252c29c bsp;  giving prominence to words in isolation

-   &n 252c29c bsp;   &n 252c29c bsp;  introducing divisions into parts of the poem

-   &n 252c29c bsp;   &n 252c29c bsp;  reinforcing syntax and punctuation

-   &n 252c29c bsp;   &n 252c29c bsp;  slowing down the pace of reading

-   &n 252c29c bsp;   &n 252c29c bsp;  drawing a visual representation of the message itself

-   &n 252c29c bsp;   &n 252c29c bsp;  amusing the reader   


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