Rise and fall of the iamb

Jean Baptiste du Bos celebrated French verse
Noting its syllabic stability as happy certainty
Each line clearly defined by divisive caesura,
Apocopated vowel gaping lacunae made scarce.
The closed hiatus made the verse more dainty,
Stern strictures better suiting it to a stanza.
Last, the abbé insisted upon a poetic rhyme;
Without it, there is no poem, but a crime.

But metered rhyme was not fixed for all time,
Since first the ancients versed in hexameters,
The poesy composed in dactyls and spondees,
The dactylic stress and slack, in lyric shame,
Gave way to iambic slack and stress as better,
The iamb now lambent in a majority of lays.
Its feet marched triumphant, even in Silver Age,
As it trod on every truly worthy poetic page.

Still, in a line the iamb and spondee shared,
Till Horace pronounced, “Out, twice stressed.”
The half slack foot now stood sole in field.
In one metre prosodic poets now measured,
No more dactyls, pyrrhics, spondees caressed.
Yet the rule of the iamb was hardly sealed,
Its throne was menaced by the dissyllabic,
By poets who were too liberally prosodic.

Ere Johnson’s heavy, manumitting dictate,
Edward cranky Bysshe, decreed for syllables
In decametre, discounting quantity and stress.
Only syllables held sway in poesy’s state.
Both accent and quantity were not valuable.
Bysshe denied that regular stress could bless.
William the Coward, too, favoured prosody;
Like Bysshe, he disallowed trisyllabic melody.

Redaction had come to be applied most severe.
Tate couldn’t broach Shakespeare’s amphibrach.
Spenser’s Faery Queen needed Augustan regularity.
Bysshe tied these ligatures even tighter, crueller,
Till Johnson loosed them with back slack trochaic,
Believing euphony in the phrase itself smoother.
Though old Sam indulged novel, easier fluency,
He opened the floodgates of blank malignancy.

The seeming harmless made the couplet heroic;
Another beheaded and so rendered acephalous,
Or extended hypercatelectically by the trochee.
Dieresis had been borne within the iambic,
But linkage turned trochee dactyl monstrous,
Or iamb anapaestic, a line now in disarray.
Incremental self-styled improvers’ destruction.
They corrupted prosody long in construction.

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