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A (very) few words on

French versification


he other major French meter is:

Alexandrin. Alexandrin verse consists of twelve syllable lines. It takes its name from the Roman d'Alexandre, or Story of Alexander (the Great), the first major work written in this meter. If the octosyllabe goes quickly, the Alexandrin is more ponderous. It captures brooding emotion, careful reasoning and - of course - the unfolding of histories of epic proportions. An astute poet might use the octosyllabe to describe the sack of Troy, but use the Alexandrin to meditate on the caprice of the gods who brought it forth or the suffering of the vainquished Trojan people. Here are a few lines from Hugo's Dolorosae, poem twelve of the fifth book of Les Contemplations :

Mère, voilà douze ans que notre fille est morte;
Et depuis, moi le père et vous la femme forte,
Nous n'avons pas été, Dieu le sait, un seul jour
Sans parfumer son nom de prière et d'amour.

For a more muscular use of the Alexandrin, see Nox.

Neither the octosyllabe nor the Alexandrin is spoken in one breath. Instead, the lines divide into two roughly equal phrases. Each part is referred to as the

Hemistiche. A hemistitch is quite simply half a line. Here is a line of octosyllabe divided into hemistiches:

Puisque le juste / est dans l'abîme

Here is an Alexandrin divided into hemistiches:

C'est la date choisie / au fond de ta pensée

Strictly speaking, an octosyllabe ought divide into two four-syllable hemistiches, an Alexandrin into two six-syllable hemistiches. In practice, the occasional line will pop up that cannot be read comfortably applying this standard. The octosyllabe example on the preceeding page has a few lines that might more easily divide 5/3 than 4/4. The important thing is to find a division that allows for a smooth reading of the line.

There remain two concepts in this tutorial, one for the understanding of poetry, the other for enunciating it.

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  Page 1
French versus Greek, Latin and English metrics; octosyllabe

Page 3
Enjambement, reading French poetry