(urth) meter of emily

Dan'l Danehy-Oakes danldo at gmail.com
Sat Aug 13 15:20:49 PDT 2005

Sorry if this has already been said, but I'm catching up on 
a week-and-a-half worth of email (just back from Alaska).

Emily Dickinson's poems are generally written in the same
meter as a lot of old hymns, because both use what's known
as "ballad meter." Ballad is either ABCB or ABAB, with an
optional internal rhyme in the third line; odd-numbered 
lines are four and three beats -- not quite iambic, as
unstressed syllables can be added or dropped as 
needed without violating the ballad scheme.

This leads to the famous (but  not quite true) claim that
"every poem Emily Dickinson wrote can be sung to the
tune of 'The Yellow Rose of Texas,'" as revealed to Mr.
Garibaldi by a ghost in Neil Gaiman's episode of the
television program BABYLON 5. Other good examples
of ballad meter are "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
(which varies the meter significantly) and many hymns
and TV theme songs. 

Try singing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of the Gilligan's
Island theme ... it's scary. Also, singing the chorale from
Beethoven's Ninth to Clementine -- and vice versa (the
reversal doesn't work so well with AG/GI).


On 8/9/05, aramini1 at cox.net <aramini1 at cox.net> wrote:
> The interesting thing about a lot of these Dickinson poems to me is that they always seem to have that old hymn rhythm:
> a thousand ages in thy sight
> are like an evening gone
> short as the watch that ends the night
> before the rising sun
> Now pick an Emily Dickinson poem at random and scan around it - at least half of her poems fit that syllable scheme
> Perhaps the music of the church had a larger influence on her than we can say.
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