Analysis of a Corpus of Poetry

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Analysis of a Corpus of Poetry

A corpus of 1000 lines of poetry (ten 100 line samples from ten different authors) is analyzed by a computerized connectionist model of poetic meter. The analysis finds that poets utilize measurably distinct patterns of stress and suggests that these patterns might "fingerprint" individual writers. In addition, the analysis shows that the variations of metrical patterns are in accord with the prevailing verse aesthetics of the period in which poets are writing.


In English poetry, the single most compelling discriminator of that genre--that which defines a poem as a poem--has traditionally been its meter. Meter defines the length of the line, and thus the distinctive look of a poem on the page, and it sets, for the hearer of a poem, the telling regularity of a rhythm. Whether this rhythm also carries the burden of some of a poem's meaning or whether it is used only for a conventional aesthetic effect that invites the reader to take pleasure in its regularity or variations, meter is one of the central attributes of the genre of poetry.

While the meter of a poem may or may not be strongly attended to by the poem's audience, or its critics, metrics has always been a matter of substantial concern for poets (see Addison [1994]). At each point in a line of poetry one factor in the decision favoring one word or syntactic pattern over another has been the metrical impact of that choice. Moreover, the limits of choice are not merely defined by a correctness rule such as the following: All stressed positions must have stressed syllables and no unstressed positions may have a stressed syllable. Metrical variations, resulting in what Halle and Keyser (1971), and others, have termed "metrical complexity" or "tension," are allowable and, in fact, produce much of the interest in a poem's rhythm. Traugott (1989), for example, speaking of Auden's poetry, notes that "a complex metrical design can . . . be identified that complements and enriches the multifarious verbal icons functioning at other levels of the language" (294). In fact, poetic rhythm may only work when it destroys that very sense of design that it invokes; the extreme position is taken by Shklovsky (1917), who says, "the problem is not one of complicating the rhythm, but of disordering of the rhythm" (p.

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