And more. For the rhythm of verse not only expresses the emotion out of which it springs; this it also communicates. It imparts to the hearer its own energy and kindles him to a like emotion. Poetry has much in common with other kinds of literature. Prose may render a heightened image of the world, as in the novel; it may rouse to action, as in oratory. In essence, imaginative literature may have a constant element within its various manifestations. What primarily distinguishes poetry from prose is this element of definite rhythm. By virtue of it, poetry is more immediate and more intense in its appeal. The “imitative movements,” psychologists would say, set going in our own organism, rouse in us a corresponding emotion. Rhythm, too, makes for ease of perception, and is in itself a source of pleasure. When rightly managed, it serves also to emphasize the intellectual content of the verse. The rhythm of poetic form is not a mechanical contrivance, but is the inevitable thrust of the passion within. At its best, it is never monotonous. It should not be a regularly recurring series of alternate beats, or “sing-song”; by subtle variations of stress, corresponding both to the emotional impetus and to the meaning of the words, it may unfold itself in undulations; the surge of the inner tide may break in dancing wave crests, an infinite variety of light and shade, playing over the surface of the great central unity. The meter may change step at need, obedient to an inner law. Come lovely and soothing death, Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving In the day, in the night, to all, to each, Sooner or later delicate death.〖Walt Whitman, H.C., xlii, 1417.〗 And so on through a surpassingly beautiful poem. The meter, or measured foot, is not evident here, but inevitably we feel a deep-drawn throb that lays hold on us, and carries us to its own mood. To such lines as these we gratefully accord the honorable name of poetry.

Rhythm alone, however, is not enough to constitute a poem. A mere drone of words in meaningless repetition, though it may illustrate one of the origins of poetry, is not poetry itself. There must be progress in the recurrence, and the repeat must build itself up into a pattern. Any bit of experience, to be truly understood or vitally assimilated, must be apprehended as a whole. In the tumult of the world external to him the mind of man insistently demands order and significance. Nature has compelled the poet to her own rhythm; that is his inspiration. The poet must now compel nature to his purposes of expression; that is his art. His temperament has vibrated to the sweep of cosmic influences; now his mind enters as a controlling and organizing force to shape his perception and his meaning into a single total unity. Out of rhythm in repetition and combination he frames a harmony. And so his poem presents a wholeness of impression. His pattern is built of the repeat of single elements: metrical bars or feet compose the line or verse; lines combine into stanzas; and stanzas fashioned after a common design succeed one another in progress to the end. Here again, the structure is not mechanical or arbitrary: each verse is measured to the turn of the thought; and the formal unity of the whole poem corresponds to the unity of mood or idea that the poem is framed to express.

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