The Passion of Meter: A Study of Wordsworth's Metrical Art

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9780873385107: The Passion of Meter: A Study of Wordsworth's Metrical Art
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The Passion of Meter is the first extended critical study of Wordsworth’s metrical theory and his practice in the art of versification. Until now, relatively little attention has been paid to the relationship between Wordsworth’s attempt to incorporate into his poetry the language of “common life” and the highly complex and decidedly conventional metrical forms in which he presents this language. O’Donnell provides a detailed treatment of what Wordsworth calls the “innumerable minutiae” that the art of the poet depends upon and of the broader vision to which those minutiae contribute. Beginning with a reassessment of Wordsworth’s frequently misrepresented prose comments about meter, O’Donnell argues that these comments-considered in light of Wordsworth’s practice and within their 18th-century context are more unorthodox and challenging than previously thought. In emphasizing the physical body of the poem as the site of a dynamic tension between conflicting passions – “the passion of sense” and “the passion of meter.” Wordsworth places issues of metrical form and versification in the foreground of his theory of poetry. The core of this book is dedicated to a close examination of the elements of Wordsworth’s craft. It sets forth in detail the rules and conventions that govern the poet’s habits of metrical composition, identifying the idiosyncrasies that distinguish his practice from those of his predecessors and contemporaries. It also offers a close reading of a substantial body of Wordsworth’s poetry, with careful attention paid to complex relationships between the minutiae of its sensuous forms (metrical form, rhythm, rhyme, assonance, alliteration) and larger thematic, aesthetic, and sophic concerns. As a departure from much contemporary criticism that tends to treat poetry solely as text, The Passion of Meter demonstrates the benefits of studying the details of versecraft. O’Donnell sizes the importance of hearing Wordsworth’s poems as sonic performances in time as well as seeing them on the page.

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About the Author:

Brennan O’Donnell, Ph.D., is the 19th president of Manhattan College. Before coming to New York, O’Donnell spent 17 years at Loyola College in Maryland (now Loyola University Maryland), where he served as a professor of English and, from 1999-2004, as director of the university-wide honors program. An active scholar, his teaching and research interests focus mainly upon poetry, especially of the British Romantic period, and on religion and literature, particularly contemporary American Catholic writers. He has authored two books on the poetry of William Wordsworth and co-edited The Work of Andre Dubus, a collection of essays published as a double issue ofReligion and the Arts. In addition, O’Donnell has published articles, essays and reviews in some of the leading journals in his field. At Manhattan, he continues to hold a faculty appointment, as he did at Fordham and Loyola, as professor of English. As the first president of the College not to be a member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, O’Donnell is treading new ground at Manhattan College. He has experience in such transitions, however, as he was also the first layperson to serve as dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill. His publications and lectures demonstrate a keen engagement in issues of faith and education, specifically Catholic higher education. From 1994–2000, he served as editor of the national magazine Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education, and he was a member of the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education from 1993–2000. In addition, he is currently on the board of trustees at La Salle University and the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (cIcu), and has served as a board member for the Lilly Fellows Program and for Collegium, a consortium of Catholic universities that strives to strengthen faculty understanding of and participation in the mission of Catholic higher education. A native of Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, Dr. O’Donnell earned his B.A. with highest distinction and honors in English at The Pennsylvania State University in 1981, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in English and American literature and language. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships, grants, awards and honors.

Review:

The Passion of Meter: A Study of Wordsworth's Metrical Art stands out as the first and for some time probably the only sustained treatment of [Wordsworth's] metrical theory and practice. It rectifies a crucial omission in our understanding of Wordsworth, but does more than just that. Its close, dexterous analysis of the verse provides a virtual education in techniques of metrical scansion for the reader with little knowledge of prosody. The exposition of metrical theory is so lucid, and the examples so well chosen, that one can learn quite enough here to read many another poet with a fair degree of metrical competence . . . . a gracefully-written book that no one who loves or teaches Wordsworth should fail to consult. -- Steven Willett in Romantic Circles Reviews, March 1998

Brennan O'Donnell has endeavoured to demonstrate that Wordsworth was . . . an extremely subtle and versatile user of complex and conventional metrical forms. It is his contention that much of the power and appeal of even the most apparently simple of Wordsworth's works lies in the delicately poised conflict between strict adherence to metrical form -- the "passion of metre", in Wordsworth's own phrase -- and the powerful and disruptive "passion of sense", whose emotional force threatens to break this structure asunder . . . . The book is a much-needed illumination of an almost entirely neglected aspect of Wordsworth's art, and can only serve to increase one's respect for his talents. -- John Haydn Baker, the Times Literary Supplement [London], 5 March 1998.

Brennan O'Donnell's The Passion of Meter is the first extended critical study of Wordsworth's metrical theory and his practice in the art of versification. O'Donnell provides a detailed treatment of what Wordsworth calls the "innumerable minutiae" that the art of the poet depends upon and of the broader vision to which those minutiae contribute. Beginning with the reassessment of Wordsworth's frequently misrepresented prose comments about meter, O'Donnell argues that these comments are more unorthodox an challenging than previously thought. The core of this book is dedicated to a close examination of the elements of Wordsworth's craft. It sets forth in detail the rules and conventions that govern the poet's habits of metrical composition, identifying the idiosyncrasies that distinguish his practice from those of his predecessors and contemporaries, offering a close reading of a substantial body of Wordsworth's poetry. The Passion of Meter demonstrates the benefits of studying the details of versecraft. O'Donnell emphasizes the importance of hearing Wordsworth's poems as sonic performances in time as well as seeing them on the page. The Passion of Meter is a significant contribution to the study of Wordsworth's poetic genius. -- Midwest Book Review

O'Donnell has a gift for metrical analysis and a talent for drawing out the literary-historical implications of Wordsworth's metrical practice, particularly in light of the implications of the received (and inaccurate) assumptions about the poet's lack of prosodic ingenuity. . . . The book exemplifies prosodic criticism at its best, and it will certainly enliven readers' understanding of and pleasure in Wordsworth's poetry. -- Kyle Grimes, in South Atlantic Review 61 [Summer 1996].

This important book deserves and rewards close attention. It illuminates Wordsworth's insight into the abiding power of poetic form, yet shows how the choice and arrangement of the formal means of poetry are themselves firmly grounded in history. It restores a perception of Wordsworth as a poetic "maker," a master of craft who was not always (as recent criticism frequently assumes) a passive victim of linguistic or historical necessity. Not the least of the book's virtues, finally, is its power to change the way we read Wordsworth, to open up new sources of pleasure and appreciation in the performance of poems we thought we knew well. -- Paul D. Sheats, in The Wordsworth Circle 27 [Autumn 1996].

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