Revised scansion (No worst, there is none…)

I mentioned in my first attempt at a proper scanning of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “No worst, there is none…” that I did not really understand the purpose of outrides, and that I used them in line six out of felt necessity. This morning, in Edward Stephenson’s essay “Hopkins’ ‘Sprung Rhythm’ and the Rhythm of Beowulf,” I found an example of an outride used to include an extrametrical syllable, and this confirms that I used them incorrectly in my previous attempt. Here is a revised scansion correcting the error, with changes from the previous attempt marked in red. Commentary to follow:


I have changed the way I scan seven of the feet: one foot in line 2, two feet in line 6, two feet in line 10, and two feet in lines 12-13. I will explain each change.

Line 2. The change here does not reflect a change in the rhythm or the distribution of stresses, but rather my new understanding of outrides. Previously, I had scanned “More pangs will” as a dipodic foot with a primary stress on “More,” a secondary stress on “will,” and no stress on “pangs.” I assumed “pangs” did not take a stress because it has to be muted relative to the stressed syllables that flank it. In fact, however, it is a quite heavy word, and something is lost in marking it simply as unstressed. What Stephenson’s essay taught me is that this is precisely the context in which a syllable should be treated as an extrametrical outride (his example is “shake’s heel sweeps” from The Windhover, with “heel” as the outride).

Line 6. The recognition that “pangs” is an outride in line 2 has as its corollary the recognition that “on an” in line 6 is not a pair of outrides. But this creates a problem. They cannot be attached to the prior foot (“world-sorrow”) for two reasons. One, it would violate isochronicity. “World-sorrow” is already long enough, and even though “on an” passes quickly, the semicolon enforces a pause that adds to the length. Two, it would make the foot contain five-syllables, which while technically allowable, is a special case in sprung rhythm, and nothing in the content of the poem here seems to warrant such an exception. At the same time, “on an” cannot be attached to the next foot (“age-old” in my original attempt), because that would require giving a primary stress to “on” and a secondary stress to “age,” a manifest violation of the way in which the line can actually be read. For this same reason, “on an” cannot be treated as a foot of its own, because, again, this would require giving “on” a primary stress it plainly does not demand (not to mention that it would violate isochronicity pretty badly, since “on an” skates by rather rapidly in this line).

The only option left is to introduce a rest, such that “on an” becomes the tail end of a foot whose primary stress is taken up by a rest beat. This respects that “on” here takes a light stress. It eases the pressure on “world-sorrow” by removing the pause after the semicolon from that already lengthy foot. So it is an attractive option for several reasons; it is not merely a last resort. But it does introduce a problem, for it seems to make the line contain six beats (world; rest; age; an[vil]; wince; sing). In fact, however, this allows me to treat “age-old anvil” as a single dipodic foot, which I think improves the isochronicity of the line: both “age-old” and “anvil” on their own are shorter than “world-sorrow” even without the pause. Introducing a rest in line 6 thus seems to be the correct way of scanning the line.

Line 10. Here my change has no connection to outrides. Rather, I simply realized that “no-man-fathomed” reads nicely as a dipodic foot, while “sheer” can stand on its own as a monosyllable (especially since it is followed by a comma that gives a pause). Indeed, treating “sheer, no-man” as a single foot is quite awkward. This change requires promoting the stress on “no” and demoting the stress on “fath[omed],” but this is a natural change, for “no” begins a new adjective and so can quite properly take a stress. This change thus allows me to treat each of the three descriptions of the “cliffs of fall” equally, which respects the meaning of the line. Honestly, with hindsight I am not sure why I ever scanned it the other way.

Lines 12-13. Previously I scanned “deep. Here! creep, / Wretch” as four consecutive stresses. I was worried about this from the start, since it seemed a bit too much even for such a heightened moment in the poem. Another reason to be worried is that it gives the first foot of line 13 (“Wretch, under a”) a somewhat awkward scanning pattern (/ \ u u). While technically an allowable foot, it is to my ear the least elegant of the ten basic feet sprung rhythm can include. This particular instance of it is made more awkward by the comma between “Wretch” and “under.” Demoting “Wretch” to a secondary stress (and thus making it the completion of the foot begun at the end of the previous line: “creep, / Wretch”) and elevating the first syllable of “under” to a primary stress (yielding the foot: “under a”) resolves both problems. It also, to my ear at least, reads naturally.

I am now fairly confident that I have the proper scansion of this poem, though if history is any guide you can expect another revision tomorrow.

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