The Sunderland Children (by Alice Meynell)
(On the 183 Sunderland children who lost their lives in a panic at the Victoria Hall, 16th June 1883)
This was the surplus childhood, held as cheap! (10)
Not worth the care which shields (6)
The lambs that are to stay, the corn to reap – (10)
The promise of the fields. (6)
The nations guards her future. Fruit and grass (10)
And vegetable life (6)
Are fostered league by league. But oh, the mass (10)
Of childhood over-rife! (6)
O mass, o units! Oh, the separate story (11)
Planned for each breather of breath! (7)
This futile young mankind and transitory, (11)
Is left to stray to Death! (6)
O promise, presage, menace! Upon these (10)
A certain seal is laid! (6)
Unkept, unbroken are the auguries (10)
These little children made. (6)
For threat is bound with promise; and the nation (11)
Holds festival of regret (7)
Over these dead – dead in their isolation – (11)
Wisely. She feared their threat. (6)
The first step in the analysis of the poem should be to identify the meter and the metrical deviations that we may find in it.
In terms of the meter the poem is written in iambus (as in every foot we have two syllables, with the stress falling on the second syllable of the foot). The number of syllables in each line varies (the numbers are shown in brackets) but the most typical metrical pattern is the alternation of iambic pentameter with iambic trimeter (a 5-foot line alternating with a 3-foot line). The poem is divided into 5 stanzas, each with cross rhymes. Therefore, the rhyming pattern can be described as:
ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH IJIJ.
Most rhymes are full and consist only of a single syllable – that is, they contain the same vowel in the stressed syllable, followed by the same consonant. The exception “separate story – transitory”, “upon these – auguries”, where the rhymes are established with the help of word combinations. The lines are practically of the same length throughout the poem (that is, the odd lines contain 10 syllables while the even lines contain 6 syllables). The only exceptions are stanzas 3 and 5, where lines 1 and 3 contain 11 syllables, and line 2 – 7 syllables, thus making them hypermetric lines. The unusual length may make it necessary for us to check these lines to see if the author intended to attract our attention to them and place some particularly important information in them. Now let us have a look at any possible deviations in specific feet in this poem. As you know, there are the following possible deviations: pyrrhic foot (no stressed syllable in the foot at all; makes the reader pronounce the respective syllables faster), spondee (more than one stressed syllable within one foot; to pronounce such a foot it is necessary to slow down, thus making the stretch of text sound more solemn); rhythmical inversion (for example, instead of a trochee one finds an iambus in a foot, or vice versa). These deviations occur when the metrical pattern of a poem (a strict alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables) comes into conflict with the distribution of the stressed and unstressed syllables in regular sentences, in accordance with the phonetic laws of the language. Quite a lot of pyrrhic feet contain a preposition followed by an article (both parts of speech, as it is known, are not stressed in sentences, unless there is a semantic reason for it). In the analyzed poem there are quite a number of pyrrhic feet: In stanza 1, line 3, foot 2; line 4, foot 2
In stanza 2, line 2, foot 2
In stanza 3, line 1, foot 3; line 2, foot 3; line 3, foot 5 + the hypermetric syllable In stanza 4, line 1 foot 4; line 3, foot 5
In stanza 5, line 1, foot 4; line 2, foot 2 and foot 3.
It will be easier to see if the metrical pattern could be shown graphically, but unfortunately at the moment there is a technical difficulty with it. The only conclusion we can draw at the moment is that – again – it is...