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Rhythm in Poetry

by Allan Abbott - 1927

THE rhythmic element in poetry is sometimes approached, in schools, as if it were on the one hand a form of algebra, not to be dealt with except through symbols and formulae; or on the other, a mystical something perceptible only by the seventh son of a seventh son, and far from the ordinary experience of boys and girls. Neither of these ideas is true; for although the simpler forms of rhythm are capable of description by formula, and the more subtle forms pass unnoted by the insensitive or the uninstructed, yet rhythm itself is one of the commonest delights of childhood and youth. It begins in the nursery, with "Pease porridge hot" and "Three little pigs went to market"; it appears on the sidewalk, in the familiar rhymes for counting-out and jumping rope; it breaks out in the study hall in "All policemen have big feet" (no need to tell any teacher what stamping rhythm follows!). On the football field, it dictates the school yell and the snake dance of victory. It is the sheer pleasure of rhythm that makes one dance to the hurdy-gurdy, march beside the brass band, or even in later life want to tap the foot or nod the head at the symphony concert. It is, in short, essentially physical, emotional, and naive; only secondarily rationalized, explained, or planned for. And although in our more sophisticated years we may become a bit ashamed to march with the drums or beat time with the orchestra, we can still note a quickening of the pulse, a change in the breathing, a tenseness of the muscles, that is the sign of our instinctive physical response to the emotional appeal of rhythm. If we completely lose this feeling of physical response, no amount of understanding of the formal technique of rhythm will make us recapture its spirit.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 28 Number 7, 1927, p. 679-689
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 5809, Date Accessed: 5/26/2020 3:51:08 AM

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  • Allan Abbott

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