Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/694

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have seen, both primitive and universal. From this very taste has sprung the invention of meter, or the art of closely marrying the words to the melody, and consequently of counting the words and even the syllables of the words when they have more than one, of regarding their accentuation in chanted poetry, the only form that originally existed. In the primitive choirs the air was the most important element; the words were probably regulated by it. They were fitted at first with much difficulty and very imperfectly, by recourse to exclamations, to interjections void of sense, in order to fill blanks and create rhymes. Sometimes among very inferior races the rhyme and the pleasure of pronouncing it were obtained by simply repeating a word or a short phrase, as the Fuegian and the Australian do. Very commonly the essential element of the meter is the more or less imperfect rhyme, the rhyme by assonance. The verse without rhyme of some civilized peoples, like the Greeks and Latins, which depends chiefly on the tonic accent of the words, supposes a language developed and highly refined; but at bottom it also rests on combinations of assonances. The primitive songs never Being written, very imperfect rhymes sufficed for them. It is only among civilized peoples that meter becomes learned and complex, when poetry is almost entirely in the hands of professionals.

Usually when meter becomes more rigorous the length of the verse increases. Taken by themselves long verses indicate a refined civilization and a perfected literary æsthetics. The primitive verses are nearly always short, partly because they express short ideas, and partly because the desire for the repetition of agreeable sounds and the taste for rhymes or what represents them are more lively as man is less developed.

In China, where metrical evolution can be followed step by step, the verse in use has passed very slowly from four feet to seven feet. Arabian verse has been expanded in another way—by combining two short verses in one; and in a like way in the French Alexandrines the hemistich is a survival of a former epoch when the verse was very short. In India, Sanskrit verse, uneven but generally short in the Rig Veda, has been lengthened in the epics to fifteen syllables, with a hemistich.

Poetic diction, with its music and its meter, enjoys everywhere a peculiar prestige. It gives play to aesthetic impressionability, and has a dignity unknown to common language. On the other hand, verse easily engraves itself in the memory, and the ideas which it expresses form a sort of mental fund to which a great importance is attached, for the choral poetry of the primitive peoples sang only of subjects especially interesting to the community. Hence it comes to pass in many countries that even in the heart of old civilizations, far detached from their origin, the