Chapter 5. The metrical system of William Carlos Williams

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This paper attempts to explain the metrical practice and theorizing of the American poet William Carlos Williams. Observing that in many of his short poems, the total number of syllables is exactly, or nearly exactly, equal to the total number of positions in an abstract metrical representation containing a regular line and stanza structure, it is argued that Williams invented a remarkably successful new type of prosody, termed ‘syllabic-rhythmic’ verse, in which relative ‘speed’ or ‘tempo’ is computed by comparing the actual number of syllables in a line to the number of positions in the metrical schema. Williams’ later theory of the ‘variable foot’ and the ‘triadic line’ is further accounted for by incorporating the unit ‘foot’ in metrical schemata.


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