I have adopted Wellek and Warren's position, who argue in their
Theory of Literature(1956, Chapter 13) that in order to account for
poetic rhythm, one must assume the existence of not one, but three
metrical dimensions: prose rhythm, metric pattern, and performance
(generative metrists have reinvented the first two of them). My recent
work has been devoted to the hitherto neglected performance
dimension. In my 1998 book I stated my position with reference to two
issues in a recent "state-of-the-art" summary of performance, the
"Performance" entry of The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and
Poetics(1993). The first issue concerns delivery style: "C. S. Lewis
once identified two types of performers of metrical verse: 'Minstrels'
(who recite in a wooden singsong voice, letting scansion override
verse) and 'Actors' (who give a flamboyantly expressive recitation,
ignoring meter altogether)" (893). I have claimed that in-between these
two delivery styles there is a third one, which I call "rhythmical
performance", and that this "type" is at the very core of poetic rhythm.
The second issue concerns ambiguity. "Chatman isolates a central
difference between the reading and scansion of poems on the one hand
and their performance on the other: in the former two activities,
ambiguities of interpretation can be preserved and do not have to be
settled one way or the other ('disambiguated'). But in performance, all
ambiguities have to be resolved before or during delivery. Since the
nature of performance is linear and temporal, sentences can only be
read aloud once and must be given a specific intonational pattern.
Hence in performance, the performer is forced to choose between
alternative intonational patterns and their associated meanings" (ibid.;
cf. e.g. Chatman, 1965, 1966). I argued that this is not so. I also
argued that the two issues are intimately related. In Wellek and
Warren's terms, the Minstrel subdues prose rhythm, and foregrounds
the metric pattern; the Actor subdues the metric pattern in favour of the
prose rhythm. For Chatman this may be a slight exaggeration, but in
principle this is how things are and should be: when prose rhythm and
metre conflict, "the performer is forced to choose between alternative
intonational patterns". My position is that there is a third, "rhythmical
performance", in which both metric pattern and linguistic stress pattern
can be accommodated, such that both are established in the listener's
perception. The same holds true for the conflicting intonation patterns
articulating the linguistic unit (the phrase or sentence), and the metric
unit (the line). This is precisely what the perceived rhythm of poetry is
about, and by no means a side issue.
Some reciters of poetry adopt one or another type of solution quite
randomly; but some make a deliberate choice in adopting a consistent
delivery style. I personally believe that rhythmic complexities arising
from conflicting patterns are there in order to realize them in vocal
performance too. But in our cultural situation both the "actor's
approach" and the "rhythmical performance" are considered legitimate.
At any rate, my treatment of the issue will be descriptive and not
evaluative. In this paper I will argue that "flamboyantly expressive
recitation" and "rhythmical performance" are not mutually exclusive.
What is more, I will also argue that "rhythmical performance"
frequently utilizes vocal resources originally developed for expressive
In my 1977 book, A Perception-Oriented Theory of Metre,I
suggested that when the endings of the syntactic unit and the metric unit
do not coincide (that is, when syntax is run-on from one line to the
other), the reciter may indicate continuity and discontinuity at one and
the same time by having recourse to conflicting cues. I came to this
conclusion in a speculative manner. Twenty years later, in his master's