A study of Metrical Writing, Part 16: English Stress

Published by OJB in the blog OJB's blog. Views: 65

Today we will be looking at some of the finer and more confusing ideas behind English Stress, especially, in regards to compound words.

The first thing I want to address is words that can be used as either a noun or a verb and how they work in regards to Stress. Now in some languages, when a word is being used as a noun or a verb it is indicated by the end spelling for that word. In English, we don't change the spelling of a word, but we do change which syllable is STRESSED. To give you a few examples.

subject when used as a noun: SUB-ject.
subject when used as a verb: sub-JECT.

object when used a noun: OB-ject.
object when used a verb: ob-JECT.

desert when used as a noun: DES-ert
desert when used a verb: de-SERT.

We can see a pattern here, correct? Nouns have their stress on the first syllable, while verbs have their stress on the second syllable. This is a very important concept to understand when writing Metrically, and sometimes you will have to look at a dictionary to know where the stress falls depending on how you plan to use a word.

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The next thing I want to look at is compound nouns. Be they one word, two words, or hyphenated, compound nouns follow that same rule: The primary stress falls on the first word.

Example: Grandmother

GRAND (4) moth (1) er (2)

Using the above word in metrical writing, you could see either of the following.

My(1) grand(4)/moth(1)-er(2) (Iamb/Iamb)

or

Grand
(4) moth(1)/er (2) went (4) (Trochee/Iamb)

Both options

are valid ways in using compound words.

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The next thing I want to touch on is Idiomatic verbs/Verb phrases.

In my introduction, I informed you that prepositions are usually ranked low on the stress meter, and in terms adjectives, or by themselves, this is true. But in Idiomatic verbs (example: Pull out) the stress can fall on the preposition of the phrase, not the verb.

This is a handy tool to understand as it gives you some leeway when writing in Iambic Pentameter. Both of the following examples would be acceptable in metrical writing.

I pulled/ out Dan/ny's gun. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

or

Pull out, my friend! (Iamb/Iamb)

Understanding that you can shift the preposition of a verb phrase either into a stressed foot or an unstressed foot gives you a little breathing room when writing.

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The next thing to look at is compound Adjectives.

In compound adjectives, such as red-hot, the stress falls on the second adjective (red-HOT). The expectation to this rule is when you are using a noun as part of the compound adjective then the stress falls on the noun no matter what position it is in.

Example: airsick = AIRsick.

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The last thing I want to address is the word 'into.' 'Into' is such a great word for metrical writing, as it is one of the few words in English where you can switch the stress to either syllable, IN-to, or in-TO. Learn to love this tool.

Today I want to scan the poem St. Judas by James Wright. It uses some of the principles we talked about today.

When I went out to kill myself, I caught
A pack of hoodlums beating up a man.
Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
My name, my number, how my day began,
How soldiers milled around the garden stone
And sang amusing songs; how all that day
Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone
Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away.

Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope
Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:
Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope,
I held the man for nothing in my arms.

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When I/ went out/ to kill /myself, /I caught (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)*
A pack /of hood/lums beat/ing up a man. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Running/ to spare/ his suff/ering, I/ forgot (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/IAmb)
My name,/ my num/ber, how /my day /began, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
How sold/iers milled /around/ the gard/en stone (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And sang /a-mus/ing songs;/ how all /that day (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Their jave/lins meas/ured crowds;/ how I /alone (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Barg
ained /the prop/er coins, /and slipped /away. (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

Banished/ from heav(en), I found/ this vict/im beat(en,) (Trochee/Iamb (Midline-hyper)/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb (Hyper))

Stripped, kneed,/ and left /to cry. /Drop-ping/my rope (Spondee/Iamb/Iamb/Trochee/Iamb)
Aside,/ I ran, /ignored /the un/i-forms: (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/iamb)
Then I/ remem/bered bread /my flesh /had eat(en), (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb (hyper))
The kiss/ that ate/ my flesh./ Flayed with/out hope, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Trochee/Iamb)
I held /the man/ for noth/ing in /my arms. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

*As we can in the first line, an Idiomatic verb -went out- appears and the stress falls on the 'out.'

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This concludes me look at the more trickier uses of compound and stress in the English language. If you have any questions, or thoughts, please leave a comment or a like!

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