Seven Times Fourteener

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14 March 2018
· A hodge-pudding of heptameter ·

A quick review: a fourteener is a poetic line made up of seven iambs, hence its formal name, iambic heptameter. An iamb is a unit, called a foot, with two syllables, the second of which is stressed: da-DUM. So a fourteener, with seven iambic feet, has fourteen syllables in the line.

This began as a short tangent to another post, but the hound wanted to run so I let it off the leash. I tried to mix things up, old and new, obvious and obscure, lowbrow and literary. And musical, though I bypassed pop songs in order to get the dog home before dark.

1. I’ll start with the example I know best. “Arthur Golding’s” translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, published in 1567 when I was a randy lad of seventeen. Uncle Arthur, my mother’s half-brother, oversaw my receipts while I was Leicester’s ward and living at Cecil House. My Latin was fluent thanks to my years with Sir Thomas, and Metamorphoses was my schoolwork, though my name isn’t on it: a portent of things to come. Arthur was a zealous evangelical Protestant whose idea of a good time was translating Calvin’s sermons out of French. Metamorphoses throbs throughout. Draw your own conclusions. (The dedicatory Epistle and Preface are all Arthur’s. You can tell.)

This selection comes from Book Four. I used this story a couple of times later on.

  • Within the towne (of whose huge walles so monstrous high and thicke
  • The fame is given Semyramis for making them of bricke)
  • Dwelt hard together two yong folke in houses joynde so nere
  • That under all one roofe well nie both twaine conveyed were.
  • The name of him was Pyramus, and Thisbe calde was she.
  • So faire a man in all the East was none alive as he,
  • Nor nere a woman maide nor wife in beautie like to hir.
  • This neighbrod bred acquaintance first, this neyghbrod first did stirre
  • The secret sparkes, this neighbrod first an entrance in did showe,
  • For love to come to that to which it afterward did growe.
  • And if that right had taken place, they had bene man and wife,
  • But still their Parents went about to let which (for their life)
  • They could not let. For both their hearts with equall flame did burne.
  • No man was privie to their thoughts. And for to serve their turne
  • In steade of talke they used signes: the closelier they supprest
  • The fire of love, the fiercer still it raged in their brest.

Let in this context means prevent.

If you want a bit more eyestrain of a challenge, try the 1567 edition, as I first saw it published.Ovid 1567 translation Pyramus and Thisbe - Fourteener heptameter poems anthologyFor love to come to that to which it afterward did growe. I still like that line.

2. Speaking of dogs off leashes: this is the Seventh Song from Astrophil and Stella, by that puppy Philip Sidney. Probably early 1580s, as he died in 1586. It’s tripe, but it’s tripe in fourteeners.

  • Whose senses in so evill consort, their stepdame Nature laies,
  • That ravishing delight in them most sweete tunes do not raise;
  • Or if they do delight therein, yet are so closde with wit,
  • As with sententious lips to set a title vaine on it:
  • O let them heare these sacred tunes, and learne in wonder’s schooles,
  • To be, in things past bounds of wit, fooles – if they be not fooles.
  • Who have so leaden eyes, as not to see sweet beautie’s show,
  • Or, seeing, have so wodden wits, as not that worth to know,
  • Or, knowing, have so muddy minds, as not to be in love,
  • Or, loving, have so frothy thoughts, as eas’ly thence to move:
  • O let them see these heavenly beames, and in faire letters reede
  • A lesson fit, both sight and skill, love and firme love to breede.
  • Heare then, but then with wonder heare; see, but adoring, see;
  • No mortall gifts, no earthly fruites, now here descended be:
  • See, do you see this face? a face nay, image of the skies,
  • Of which, the two life-giving lights are figured in her eyes:
  • Heare you this soule-invading voice, and count it but a voice?
  • The very essence of their tunes, when angels do rejoyce.

3. With all the plot and character similarities between the Lion King films and my plays, I should be getting royalties.

4. A moralising lullaby from The Posies of George Gascoigne, published in 1575. I’m dodging a more detailed explanation, it would run into the next county. George might merit his own post one day. [28 May 2019: significant parts of this one, at least.]

The two-line couplets rhyme at the fourth iamb as well as at the end.

Gascoigne's good night poem - Fourteener heptameter poems anthologyThe Latin posy at the end means Stricken, I learn nothing. Apt for George.

5. A variation on the fourteener theme, written by another of my uncles, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. This is poulter’s measure, a term coined by George for alternating lines of twelve and fourteen syllables. Poulters sold chickens and eggs, and would typically add a couple extra eggs to the second dozen in the same way that a baker would give you thirteen buns instead of twelve.

Surrey writes this in the voice of his wife, my father’s sister. He imagines her fretful and anxious for his safe return from France. The poem was probably written during the time he commanded the defences of captured Boulogne in late 1545.

The way I read poulter’s measure without stumbling is to pause after the third iamb in the six-iamb lines, in effect turning them into fourteeners with a quick silent iamb in the middle. The fourteener lines do not have added pauses. I’ve included symbols to help. Don’t overdo it though, they’re not line breaks.

  • Good ladies! ye that have your pleasure in exile,
  • Step in your foot, come take a place, and mourn with me a while:
  • And such as by their lords do set but little price,
  • Let them sit still, it skills them not what chance come on the dice.
  • But ye whom Love hath bound, by order of desire,
  • To love your lords, whose good deserts none other would require;
  • Come ye yet once again, and set your foot by mine,
  • Whose woeful plight and sorrows great no tongue may well define.
  • My love and lord, alas! in whom consists my wealth,
  • Hath fortune sent to pass the seas, in hazard of his health.
  • Whom I was wont t’embrace with well contented mind,
  • Is now amid the foaming floods at pleasure of the wind.
  • Where God him well preserve, and soon him home me send,
  • Without which hope, my life, alas! were shortly at an end.

The rest can be found here. Surrey had a very high opinion of himself, as the poem demonstrates. His ego got him into a lot of trouble.

Henry Howard Surrey headless - Fourteener heptameter poems anthologyslightly modified from a 1546 portrait
attributed to William Scrots
Image: public domain

FYI: Iambic hexameter, lines of six iambs, are called alexandrines. The pause is called a caesura.

6. This tune will loop inside your head for the next two days. Sorry.

You may have noticed in the musical selections that there is an empty eighth foot (syllables 15 and 16) at the end of the fourteener lines. Music prefers even numbers, though not always.

Many song lyrics are composed in ballad metre, still fourteen syllables but divided into two lines, four feet and then three (plus the extra empty foot). A typical ballad verse is 4-3-4-3, while a fourteener couplet is 7-7. Rhythmically there’s no difference, it’s mainly how you choose to delineate phrases, or how you want the verses to look on the page.

7. And I’ll end with an ending. I don’t know how many of my countrymen will recognise this poem from 1888 by Ernest Thayer, but apple-pie Americans should.

  • Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
  • The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
  • And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
  • But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

I’ve linked sources in each poem’s text, so everything should be easy to locate. The Internet Archive links will take you to the specific pages. If you have any questions, message me on Twitter.