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Chaucer Scholar Analyzes Current Political Tweets

timv's picture

Zero skating content here except that y'all are all of the people I know who would care about this at all.

Breaking: Chaucer Scholar Analyzes Trump Attack Haiku

By Josh Marshall, published March 7, 2016, 10:17 PM EST

These tweets resonate with us because of their tripartite flow; I would argue that the three-line haiku appeals to us for the same reason. From the ancient Greeks, we are deeply steeped in the power of THREE, the number of the spirit (e.g., the Holy Trinity), and so we say good things happen in threes, three's a charm, third time lucky, and so on. We even teach our students to have a three-prong support for their thesis statements. Rhetorically, then, dividing a message in threes like this will satisfy our unconscious desire for this pattern.

But this is NOT metered speech. [...] Here I have the advantage of having worked with poems such as Gawain, in that they do not use the regular foot patterns that NH fell back on--the iambs, in particular--that find their source in the Norman's conquering of England in 1066. While the alliterative tradition apparently never died, what we have with few exceptions from c. 1100-1350 is English poetry written in the French style, and Chaucer's first poems use this meter, the octosyllable, before he shifted to what we now call iambic pentameter. The point is that alliterative meter is NOT regular, since it's organized not around syllable counts as iambic pentameter is, so-called syllable-timing, but around stress counts as Germanic languages such as English are, so-called stress-timing.

A few things grab me here. One is that there's a poetic meter from history English literature that isn't based on iambs, trochees, spondees, dactyls, anapests, etc. as we were taught. IIRC it was Mr. Roadskater who demonstrated to me that "Amazing Grace" and "The Theme from Gilligan's Island" use the same meter, and that it's easy and also funny to sing one lyric to the other tune. I've noticed plenty of other songs with the same meter since. Old church hymnals even sometimes index songs by meter as well as title, and this one, called "Common Meter" or sometimes just "C.M.," is usually the largest group. But I've noticed that it's easy to slip in an extra unaccented syllable here or there as needed, and popular songs particularly seem to do that, maybe as much as anything to sound less regular, less like nursery rhymes and closer to conversation. It makes me wonder if some residue of alliterative meter might be at work there.

Also, Josh's contributor uses a rhythmic notation that distinguishes heavy from light beats and also heavy from light offbeats. That's new to me and seems like another thing that might be applied with good results to song analysis.

I'll add that the article is on a political site with a definite point of view, and not one that favors Trump or his supporters. But this particular string of posts is, if anything, admiring of the construction of the tweets and of their effectiveness.

Breaking: Chaucer Scholar Analyzes Trump Attack Haiku

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