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Reuven Tsur


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 purposes.
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