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'I want you to tell me if grief, brought to numbers, cannot be so fierce': Stanzaic form, rhythm and play in Paul Muldoon's Long Poems

By Martin Ryle


Three long poems by Paul Muldoon are discussed, and the argument is advanced that their rhythmic organisation is located above all at the level of the stanza. From early in his career, Muldoon has not used regular metres; the iambic pentameter, whose traces are often heard in the lines of his contemporaries such as Seamus Heaney and Derek Mahon, is never audible in his later work. Comparison between Muldoon's 'At the Sign of the Black Horse...' and Yeats' 'A Prayer for my Daughter' (which it echoes) establishes that Muldoon, unilke Yeats, does not inscribe his presence in strong metres; rather, his verse seems to mimic the disordering action of the tempest he describes. Yet Muldoon speaks in a distinctively individual and (post-)Romantic voice. The articulation of that voice owes much to his use of the stanza, whose repetitions and returns (in 'At the Sign of the Black Horse...', in 'The More a Man Has...', and in 'Sillyhow Stride') make out of materials laden with 'grief', in Donne's term, a paradoxically ludic poetry

Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.4000/ebc.2815
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