|˘ ˘||pyrrhus, dibrach|
|¯ ˘||trochee, choree|
|˘ ˘ ˘||tribrach|
|¯ ˘ ˘||dactyl|
|˘ ¯ ˘||amphibrach|
|˘ ˘ ¯||anapest, antidactylus|
|˘ ¯ ¯||bacchius|
|¯ ¯ ˘||antibacchius|
|¯ ˘ ¯||cretic, amphimacer|
|¯ ¯ ¯||molossus|
|Number of feet per line|
|See main article for tetrasyllables.|
An Alexandrine is a line of verse comprising 12 syllables. Alexandrines are common in the German poetry of the Baroque period and in French poetry of the early modern and modern periods. Drama in English often used alexandrines before Marlowe and Shakespeare, by whom it was supplanted by iambic pentameter (5-foot verse). In non-Anglo-Saxon or French contexts, the term dodecasyllable is often used.
Alexandrines in EnglishEdit
In accentual-syllabic verse like English, an Alexandrine is a line of iambic hexameter - a line of six iambs or iambic feet (each of which has two syllables, with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). It is also usual for there to be a caesura at midpoint between the third and forth foot (as the examples from Pope below illustrate). Robert Bridges noted that in the lyrical sections of Samson Agonistes, Milton significantly varied the placement of the caesura.
In the Spenserian stanza (the verse form used by Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene), 8 lines of iambic pentameter are followed by an Alexandrine, the 6-foot line slowing the regular rhythm of the 5-foot lines. After Spenser, Alexandrine couplets were used by Michael Drayton in his Poly-Olbion.
- A needless alexandrine ends the song
- that like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.
A few lines later Pope continues:</p>
- Not so, when swift Camilla scours the Plain,
- Flies o'er th'unbending corn and skims along the Main.
Alexandrines are sometimes introduced into predominantly pentameter verse for the sake of variety, as in the Spenserian stanza. Alexandrines appear rarely in Shakespeare's blank verse. In the 17th and 18th century, poetry written in couplets is sometimes varied by the introduction of a triplet in which the third line is an Alexandrine, as in this example from Dryden, which introduces a triplet after two couplets:</p>
- But satire needs not those, and wit will shine
- Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line:
- A noble error, and but seldom made,
- When poets are by too much force betrayed.
- Thy generous fruits, though gathered ere their prime,
- Still showed a quickness; and maturing time
- But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rhyme.
Alexandrines also formed the first line of the couplet form Poulter's measure (the second line being a fourteener) as exemplified in Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey's poem, Complaint of the Absence of her lover, being upon the sea (1547).</p>
Alexandrine in FrenchEdit
In syllabic verse, such as that used in French poetry, an alexandrine is a line of twelve syllables. Most commonly, the line is divided into two equal parts by a caesura between the sixth and seventh syllables. Alternatively, the line can be divided into three four-syllable sections by two caesuras.
- Nous partîmes cinq cents ; || mais par un prompt renfort
- Nous nous vîmes trois mille || en arrivant au port
- (Corneille, Le Cid Act IV , scene 3)
Baudelaire's Les Bijoux (The Jewels) is a typical example of the use of the alexandrine in 19th-century French poetry :
- La très-chère était nue, || et, connaissant mon cœur,
- Elle n'avait gardé || que ses bijoux sonores,
- Dont le riche attirail || lui donnait l'air vainqueur
- Qu'ont dans leurs jours heureux || les esclaves des Mores.
Even a 20th-century Surrealist, such as Paul Éluard, used alexandrines on occasion, such as in these lines from L'Égalité des sexes (in Capitale de la douleur) (note the variation between caesuras after the 6th syllable, and after 4th and 8th):
- Ni connu la beauté || des yeux, beauté des pierres,
- Celle des gouttes d'eau, || des perles en placard,
- Des pierres nues || et sans squelette, || ô ma statue
In the comic book Asterix and Cleopatra, the author Goscinny inserted a pun about alexandrines: when the Druid Panoramix ("Getafix" in the English translation) meets his Alexandrian (Egyptian) friend the latter exclaims Je suis, mon cher ami, || très heureux de te voir at which Panoramix observes C'est un Alexandrin ("That's an alexandrine!"/"He's an Alexandrian!"). The pun can also be heard in the theatrical adaptations. The English translation renders this as "My dear old Getafix || How good to see you here", with the reply "Aha, an Alexandrine".
There is some doubt as to the origin of the name; but most probably it is derived from a collection of Alexandrine romances, collected in the 12th century, of which Alexander the Great was the hero, and in which he was represented, somewhat like the British King Arthur, as the pride and crown of chivalry. Before the publication of this work most of the trouvère romances appeared in octosyllabic verse. There is also a theory that the form was invented by the 12th-century poet Alexander of Paris. The new work, which was henceforth to set the fashion to French literature, was written in lines of twelve syllables, but with a freedom of pause which was afterwards greatly curtailed. The new fashion, however, was not adopted all at once. The metre fell into disuse until the reign of Francis I, when it was revived by Jean-Antoine de Baïf, one of the seven poets known as La Pléiade.
- Robert Bridges, Milton's Prosody.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
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