James Fenton Quotes
20 Sourced Quotes
When we study Shakespeare on the page, for academic purposes, we may require all kinds of help. Generally, we read him in modern spelling and with modern punctuation, and with notes. But any poetry that is performed - from song lyric to tragic speech - must make its point, as it were, without reference back.
Among those today who believe that modern poetry must do without rhyme or metre, there is an assumption that the alternative to free verse is a crash course in villanelles, sestinas and other such fixed forms. But most... are rare in English poetry. Few poets have written a villanelle worth reading, or indeed regret not having done so.
Writing for the page is only one form of writing for the eye. Wherever solemn inscriptions are put up in public places, there is a sense that the site and the occasion demand a form of writing which goes beyond plain informative prose. Each word is so valued that the letters forming it are seen as objects of solemn beauty.
Tennyson follows his feelings in creating each line. He follows the music in his head. If you had asked him, at the end of the day, to describe the prosody of the poem to you, he would no doubt have had to think for a moment before he could answer you, not because he was ignorant of the terms, but because he had been writing a poem, not a metrical exercise.