What types of metre (meter) are in Dacia Maraini's poem entitled "Poems by Women"?"Poems by women are frequently flat, naive, realistic and obsessive," a kindly round-eyed critic tells me. "They...

What types of metre (meter) are in Dacia Maraini's poem entitled "Poems by Women"?

"Poems by women are frequently
flat, naive, realistic and obsessive,"
a kindly round-eyed critic tells me.
"They lack lightness, vapor, frivolity,
they are all of a piece like tubes,
they have no grace, fluency, or inspiration;
they are devoid of the mischievous wit
of artifice, in short they don't achieve
that air of a shining afternoon after rain."

It may be true, I reply. But you don't know
what being a woman means. You ought to
try it sometime, please, even if
it's forbidden by your bread-and-iron sex.
He laughs. He rolls his eyes. "I don't care
whether or not I'm a woman. I want to see the poetic
results. There are those who can make donuts
with holes: Does it matter whether they're men or women?"

It matters, my green-eyed friend, it matters;
because a woman is unable to pretend
that she's not a woman. And to be a woman
means to know her own state of subjection,
it means to live and breathe the humiliation
and self-contempt that can be overcome
only by painful toil with black tears.

Asked on by miasma

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Scanning the meter on this poem is tricky as Maraini uses varying techniques to (1) accommodate dialogue and (2) make dialogue emphatic. Characteristics that mark the meter are catalexis, elision, alternating metrical feet, alternating metrical stanzas, and varying line lengths.

Stanza one opens with a catalectic line in trochaic tetrameter with an elision in the second foot. This all means (1) the final meter of the line is shortened [made catalectic]: a beat is omitted by the poet ( / -ly' ); (2) the rhythm is one stressed beat followed by one unstressed beat [trochaic]; (3) there are four measures of the trochaic rhythm in the line, though the last is unfinished with a catalectic missing beat [stressed ('): / '- / '- / '- / '- /: trochaic tetrameter]; (4) two syllables of dialogue are slurred together to accommodate the meter [elision: / wom' -en_are /].

"Poems by women are frequently    
"Poems' by / wom' -en_are / fre' -quent / -ly'

The second line switches to trochaic pentameter: five feet of trochees [/ '- / '- / '- / '- / '- /]. There is no catalexis in this line, though there is once again in line three, which switches to iambic [(-'): unstressed stressed] pentameter with a catalectic [shortened by the omission of the last beat] fifth foot.

a kindly round-eyed critic tells me  
a kind' / -ly round-' / -eyed cri' / -tic tells' / me.

The first line of the second stanza is challenging to scan. I prefer to scan it as varying the meter by switching to iambic hexameter [six feet] with the adaptation of the caesura [pause] filling an unstressed beat with a comma pause in the third foot ( / , I' / ):

It may be true, I reply. But you don't know
It may' / be true' / , I' / re -ply'. / But you' / don't know'

A metrical variation of this sort adds greatly to the emphatic quality of the poet's rebuttal line refuting the argument of the round-eyed, green-eyed critic. Variations of this sort continue throughout while the balance seems to lean toward iambic pentameter.

The last line of the third stanza caps off the emphatic nature of the poet's rebuttal to the critic. The line returns to trochaic tetrameter [ / '- / '- / '- / '- /] with elision in the first foot (on' -ly_by /) and no catalectic last foot. The meter of the last line returns the poem to its structural beginning and, by so doing, gives the poet the same intellectual and emphatic clout as the critic whose words opened the poem.

only by painful toil with black tears.
on' -ly_by / pain' -ful / toil' with / black' tears.

Sources:

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