presented by Acoustic Learning

A Rational Guide to Verse
or, Scansion Made Simple



The scansion presented in this book is adapted from Edgar Allan Poe's essay "The Rationale of Verse" (1850), available online from the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.  When "Rationale" was written, Poe had no evidence to support his prosodic theory; and, for nearly a century following its publication, no evidence would be found.  Poe's theory can now be supported by modern findings, an account of which is given in Christopher Aruffo's "Reconsidering Poe's Rationale of Verse," Poe Studies: History, Theory, Interpretation 44 (2011): 69.  For those readers who wish to evaluate the evidence directly, some essential sources are referenced below.

Poe's most contentious claim was that syllabic length produces stress.  Linguists now know that length is a primary correlate of English stress.  To learn more about the contribution of length to perceived stress, see Alice E. Turk and James R. Sawusch, "The Processing of Duration and Intensity Cues to Prominence," Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 99, no. 6 (1996): 3789.

Secondly, Poe was criticized for assigning the same value to every "long" syllable, despite the obvious fact that stressed syllables such as smoothed and pep have different durations.  We now know that stress is perceived at a syllable's "perceptual center," rendering its absolute duration irrelevant.  For more, see John Morton, Steve Marcus, and Clive Frankish, "Perceptual Centers (P-centers)," Psychological Review 83, no. 5 (1976): 405.

Finally, the mathematical rigidity of Poe's scansion was denounced for its implication that verse rhythm should be read as stiffly as a clicking metronome.  However, Poe used scansion to show relative syllabic values, not absolute timing.  English requires irregular timing to indicate phrasing and emotion.  For more on the relationship between timing regularity and English grammar, see Ilse Lehiste, "Isochrony Reconsidered," Journal of Phonetics 5, no. 3 (1977): 253.  To understand the effects of timing variation within a rigid metrical structure, see Anjali Bhatara et al., "Perception of Emotional Expression In Musical Performance," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 37, no. 3 (2011): 921.

In addition to adapting Poe's scansion, the current volume introduces the rhythmical concept of a short stress.  Short stresses represent the linguistic construct of "syllabified consonants," as found at the ends of words like given or puzzle.  There is ongoing debate as to whether such words should be considered two syllables or one; the scansion here resolves the debate by suggesting that a syllabified consonant may function as either a second short syllable, or as part of a single "short stress," as required.  For more about syllabified consonants, see Peter Ladefoged and Keith Johnson, A Course In Phonetics, 6th ed. (Beverly, MA: Wadsworth Publishing, 2010).

<< Appendix

Part One >>

Thank you for reading this sample
of A Rational Guide to Verse.
For the complete text, please
click the "Buy Now" link.
To "look inside the book,"
please visit this book's listing
  Order the printed book
of this online guide.
Perfect paperback, 65 pp.

All contents of this page are copyright ©2012 Acoustic Learning Inc.  All rights reserved.