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Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo

The Complete Set

I seem to understand that trochees are to be avoided in an iambic-anapaest poem; but maybe I am wrong, for in a book on metre I find that trochee is a common modulation of iambs, specially in the first line.

By the change you have made in the line “Crystals at her feet” into “Is a crystal at her feet”, does it mean that in an iamb-anapaest poem every line must have at least one iamb-anapaest foot?

Trochees are perfectly admissible in an iambic line as a modulation – especially in the first foot (not first line), but also occasionally in the middle. In the last foot a trochee is not admissible. Also these trochees must not be so arranged as to turn an iambic into a trochaic line.

My dear sir, this is an instance of importing one's own inferences instead of confining oneself to the plain meaning of the statement. First of all the rules concerning a mixed iambic-anapaestic cannot be the same as those that govern a pure iambic. Secondly what I objected to was the trochaic run of the line. Two trochees followed by a long syllable, not a single iamb or anapaest in the whole! How can there be an iambic line or an iambic anapaestic without a single iamb or anapaest in it? The line as written could only scan either as a trochaic, therefore not iambic line, or thus - ◡◡ | - | that is a trochee followed by an anapaest. Here of course there is an anapaest, but the combination is impossible rhythmically because it involves three short syllables one after another in an unreadable collocation – one is obliged to put a minor stress on the “at” and that at once makes the trochaic line. In the iambic anapaestic line a trochee followed by an iamb can be allowed in the first foot; elsewhere it has to be admitted with caution so as not to disturb the rhythm.

I find the English metre very difficult because the same word is stressed or non-stressed according to the combination. How can one then be guided?

You mean the same syllable? It is syllables, not words that are stressed.

About the modulations, any numbers can be crowded in, it appears; only foot-numbers should be equal for the sake of harmony.

What numbers do you mean? The rules are perfectly clear and intelligible; only of course you must know what are the accents and what modulations are or are not possible. That means that you must know something about the language; that is all.

I have given you however some rules for the modulations in iambic verse – they are not exhaustive. In modern verse one can pepper an iambic line with anapaests – I have done so myself in the A sonnets. But one must be very careful how one does it. This license is not for beginners.

If poets were to be guided by such metrical rules, they'd stop writing altogether!

How did the English poets write then?

What about the poem you promised yesterday? Golden chance, tomorrow being Sunday!

What poem? Sunday is not a golden chance because I have any amount of work to do on that day – wiping off arrears. People also often choose to forget that it is Sunday.

Don't you always tell the Mother what we write? She didn't know that the oculist is on leave.

I told Mother what you said, but you gave no date for the oculist's leave, only put it in the future.


1935 12 22 Exact Writting Letter Nirodbaran