by John Talbot `` HE grandest of all measures,'' Tennyson called the classical alcaic meter; but could it be brought over grandly into English? 1 Other Greek and Latin lyric meters had been Englished with some success. The sapphic, for instance: dozens of English sapphics from the sixteenth century onward attest to its virtual naturalization into the English tradition.2 But the alcaic--which packs three different and complex metrical patterns into its four lines--had proven more difficult, and only a handful of poets had dared to hazard an English version. Tennyson not only attempted it but also applied himself as no previous poet to making the alcaic a vehicle of serious poetic expression in English. On and off, over the course of forty years, he explored the possibilities of the English alcaic in a series of remarkable poems running the gamut from strict accentual-syllabic copies to freer, more innovative adaptations. The freest of these deserves to be seen as a new English stanza form in its own right. Together the five alcaic poems not only cast light on the subtlety of Tennyson's response to the classics but also constitute an important and neglected chapter in the history of classical
Studies in Philology – University of North Carolina Press
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