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Reading English poems

  1. Jan 9, 2015 #1

    ShayanJ

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    One of the things that I enjoy and so sometimes do, is reading poems. And as you probably know, Persian literature is rich in that and there are a huge number of really nice Persian poems. But when, from time to time, I try to read English poems, e.g. Shakespeare's, its just hopeless. Because, you know, Persian poems are written in a way that instructs you how to read them. But when I see English poems(in online sources) they are written as, you know, as simple texts, just sentence after sentence and they're in no way instructing me how should I read them. So I fail to find the rhythm. Are there online resources where English poems are written in a more instructive way?
    Thanks
     
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  3. Jan 9, 2015 #2

    Doug Huffman

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    Punctuation is the essential clue, followed by finding the meter, the rhyme and scansion.

    Particularly Shakespearian English is well able to convey levels of meaning but it little resembles the pallid prose of today.
     
  4. Jan 9, 2015 #3

    Bandersnatch

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    Do you think you could explain how this works?
     
  5. Jan 9, 2015 #4

    ShayanJ

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    Well, I think its better to show you a picture.
    As you can see, its not like a regular texts, things aren't written sentence after sentence. Each line is a separate part and is itself divided into two other parts. There are also different kinds of poems in Persian, that if you know what kind of poem you're reading(which is easy to understand) you somehow know where the rhymes are going to happen. And also if you can find the rhythm in the first Hemistich of the first line(I mean the half-lines, I just got it from google translate!!!), which isn't hard, then its going to be easy because the rhythm is going to continue like a very smooth music and also you know where to stop because often this is the case that the half-lines are full sentences. Sometimes two half-lines make a full sentence, but that's becomes obvious when you read it once, and if you're really experienced, I think you can read it right the first time. My problem I don't see such an structure in English poems written in online sources. Is the same in printed sources too?
    If the only thing I have are punctuations, then its really hard to get the rhythm of English poems, at least for a non-native like me.
    http://cdn.pootica.com/hafez/pic/037.png​
     
  6. Jan 9, 2015 #5

    Bandersnatch

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    Disclaimer: I'm barely above layman when it comes to poetry, and not a native either.

    So let's just say we're dealing here with poems that are not deliberately structureless, nor those that intentionally alter the expected structure.

    Take any of Shakespearean plays and look at the lines. Count their syllables and where the stress of each word lies. While hardly universal accross the board, the predominant structure is that of ten or so syllables, and stress falling on every second syllable (often reversed in the first syllable pair).
    e.g.:
    Now is the winter of our discontent
    / - - / - / - / - /

    the famous line:
    To be or not to be, that is the question
    - / - / - / || / - - / -
    has generally the same structure, but with a pause in the middle (indicated by the punctuation) and the second part altering the regular structure with an inversion in the first syllable-pair (it feels natural after a pause, just as it does in the opening syllable-pair), and what is called a feminine ending (an extra unstressed syllable).
    Those changes are minor, and do not change the general rythm of the reading, though. It's still five stressed syllables and a heartbeat-like rythm.

    It's the iambic pentameter, and it's ubiquituous in S.'s plays. This is what sets the rythm of reading - you automatically expect where to put the stress.
    Do note, that for non-native English speakers the position of stress in a word is not always obvious. They might be eloquent erudites in writing but still carry old habits from their native language that makes them stress wrong parts of words (which is a part of what is called having a foreign accent).
    So the lack of rythm you may feel in reading English poetry might come from that, and there's little you can do about it bar studying phonetics of the language.

    When you look at the sonnets (which often use the iambic pentameter as well), you'll see a higher-level structure in the way the lines "clump" - 4,4,4,2
    and rhyme:
    abab cdcd efef gg
    So, once you see a poem with three four-line stanzas and one half as long, and somewhat longish lines, you can immediatelly expect it to rhyme like a sonnet, and have a rythm of a line given by the iambic pentameter.

    Other forms of poems will have different kinds of rhyming and meter, but you can generally expect it to be consistent across the poem. The first line will set the meter, and the first rhyme will set the rhyming scheme.

    In other (usually old and middle English) poems you may find alliteration and caesuras that set the way you should read them: there's a pause in mid-line (caesura), and the key words on each side tend to start with the same letter, so you naturally put more stress on those. They tend not to rhyme.
    e.g.:
    Byrhtnoth spoke, lifted shield,
    shook slender ash-spear, with words spoke,
    angry and one-minded gave him answer

    (from Battle of Maldon)

    While the alliteration is mostly lost in translation, just insert a pause mid-line, and you have a nice, powerful rythm.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2015
  7. Jan 9, 2015 #6

    SteamKing

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    Reading and understanding poetry written in one's native language is difficult enough, often times. Poetry typically relies on many different things which typically don't often show up in regular prose writing, things like meter, rhyming schemes, extensive use of metaphor, hyperbole, and other literary devices, unusual grammatical or syntactical constructions, etc. Trying to read and understand poetry written in a foreign language is very difficult, and to translate poetry written in one language into another language without losing something is often impossible, even for people who are fluent in the two languages.

    English poetry has evolved in form from the kind of poetic structure which was usually found in Anglo-Saxon, or Old English. English has borrowed poetic structures from other languages and adapted these to English poetry. One of the most unusual appropriations is in adapting Japanese haiku to English, in a crude manner which takes some of the elements of its construction from the Japanese and tries to fit them into English. It's impossible to write true English haiku because this language is so different from Japanese, particularly in how the two are written.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiku

    It's been claimed that the limerick is the only true English poetic form which has evolved from the language and is still in current use, and which has few, if any, corresponding forms in other languages.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limerick_(poetry)

    Older English poetic writing, like Shakespeare's, has lost some of its artistry because English underwent a great shift in how it was pronounced and written after the Bard lived.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift

    Words which might have rhymed to Shakespeare now sound completely different to modern ears. Puns and jokes have lost their bite over time as well.
     
  8. Jan 9, 2015 #7

    ShayanJ

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    Before telling anything else, I should correct some part of my last post. I said that often each half-line is a full sentence. This is wrong, actually I wanted to say each half-line is somehow...mmm...a part of a sentence where you can put a comma after it and so you know there should be pause there. But sometimes it happens that the two half-lines form a sentence without a comma in between and so there is a shorter pause, or no pause at all.
    I remember when I was in my literature class in university and we took turns reading short poems(two lines each). Now this was the first time I was seeing the poem I had to read and also there was some words I wasn't sure about their pronounciation. But I tried to find the rhythm and I was successful and then I pronounced those words the way that was consistent with the rhythm.
    I now realized it actually stems from the fact that I know my language well, at least better than English. So the fact that I can't read English poems, is because I don't know English well, as was correctly mentioned.
    So I guess I should request something else. Is there some website that I can hear English poems in? I mean, somebody reads them clearly and slowly and its free to download or hear it online.
     
  9. Jan 9, 2015 #8

    SteamKing

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    You can try YouTube. There are various videos of poetry recitation competitions posted there, or if you wish to find the recitation of a specific poem, you could use the Google or YouTube search engines with the title of that piece as the subject of the search.
     
  10. Jan 9, 2015 #9

    Doug Huffman

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  11. Jan 9, 2015 #10

    ShayanJ

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    I found it!
    Thanks guys!
     
  12. Jan 9, 2015 #11

    Bandersnatch

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