forms, meters, and genres

"To find a form that accommodates the mess,
that is the task of the artist now."
-- Samuel Beckett, in an interview with Tom Driver published in the Columbia University Forum in 1961, as reprinted in Samuel Beckett: the critical heritage, edited by Lawrence Graver and Raymond Federman (1997)

This page is an active workspace; those citing information appearing here do so at their own risk. The more reliable practice is to follow the links and references I provide to less fluid sources.

The following list will be greatly expanded as I transfer my notes on these subjects into an electronic form. If you'd like to suggest an addition, source, example, or correction, please email me. A very few of the following forms are my invention; I have noted where this is the case.

Headwords are in bold. Where I speculate on historical origins or on the literary effects (e.g., cognitive) of a form, my comments appear in red.

- Zachary Bos, at the project start in August 2010

century. A cycle of 100 sonnets. [posted 23 xiii 10; no earlier versions]

ébauches (drafts); as in the work of Flaubert, Verne, Zola [posted 23 xiii 10; no earlier versions]

epyllion (plural, epyllia). Literarlly, a little epic. From The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (edited by Ian Ousby, for Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, 1998, page 67), via Lumniarium: Anthology of English Literature: "The word (from the Greek, 'little epic') was first used in the 19th century to describe classical poems that told a story whose subject was love, with mythological allusions and at least one major digression. The tradition dated from the time of Theocritus (d.250 BC); Peleus and Thetis by Catullus (d.c.54 BC) is a late Roman example. The term became applied to post-classical literature, especially the erotic treatment of mythological narratives in Renaissance poetry. Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and Marlowe's Hero and Leander are major English examples. Thomas Lodge's Scillaes Metamorphosis (1589) and Francis Beaumont's Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (1602) minor ones." Related forms: epic, nostos. [posted 23 xiii 10; no earlier versions]

esquisses (sketches); as in the work of Flaubert, Verne, Zola [posted 23 xiii 10; no earlier versions]

sadaf. A form of my own invention; being the constitutive unit of a series of short, verbally compressed lyrical verses strung together as pearls on a string. The word means "pearl" in Persian/Farsi. In his notes to The Poems of Shemseddin Mohammed Hafiz of Shiraz: Odes (printed for the Villon Society by private subscription and for private circulation, 1901) translator John Payne writes: "'To string pearls' is with the Persians a common figure for composing verses, jewels being in the East commonly bored and strung upon wire or silk, instead of being set, as with us. The poets compare the Pleïades to a necklace of pearls."

In the Arabic literary tradition, a famous convention refers to the Mu'allaqāt, seven Arabic poems considered the finest of pre-Islamic culture, as assumut, "strings of pearls." These poems are held to be formal exemplars so much in esteem that to use rhythm even in ordinary prose is called nazm, "to string pearls." For more information see the excellent article in the1894 edition of The Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Vol. 16, now in the public domain.

Does the origin of the Biblical use of "pearls" to mean "words of divine wisdom" lie in the regional idiom of "pearls" as "poems of particular preciousness"? From A Dictionary of the Bible, Volume III: Kir-Pleiades (1900), edited by James Hastings for Scribner's: "The Arab poets ring innumerable changes on the names for pearls in characterizing their literary productions. Thus a poem is called 'the Lone Pearl,' or 'The Precious Pearl,' or 'The String of Pearls,' etc. The instinct of Christian consciousness has usually interpreted pearls here as referring to the precious words of Divine revelation." Perhaps then we can understand the Biblical injunction against casting pearls before swine as a warning to the poet to forego submitting work to periodicals edited by the agnostic and uncultured. [posted 23 xiii 10; no earlier versions]

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