A Beastly Comedy Canto 1.2

On Prosody

Some of the technical aspects may be obvious, but I thought I’d clarify them a bit for the casual reader.

The rhyme scheme is the same as what Dante used, terza rima, in which the first and third lines of a tercet rhyme with the second line of the previous. Each canto has 48 tercets + an extra line to complete the last rhyme. In other words, they’re all 145 lines long. In The Divine Comedy the cantos are of varying lengths, but my impression is that their lengths on average are something similar. I found that having a precise number as an aim made it easier to write, because I had a goal by which I’d have to express what I had to say on the topic.

Also, having a precise number was necessary because I didn’t write the cantos in order in the first draft. I mentioned earlier that I wrote the book in a cycle of 3 days, which made it easier to handle the distressing scenes which are all close to each other. While it may seem like this would make it difficult to make the work coherent, I felt it was the opposite.

At first I wrote around 30 lines of all 100 cantos, and then continued from that. Thus, by the time I got to the end of the canto, I had long since already written how the work would continue in the next one, so I constantly had an aim where to go. Before starting the book I had a general outline of themes, emotions and plot developments, which made this possible.

The book is written in iambic heptameter with regular variation. Iamb is a basic building block of English poetry, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one, and heptameter means that there are seven of those in a line. Usually there’s a caesura after the 8th syllable, which means that you might hear a slight pause there in your head.

Regular variation is absolutely necessary in a long work such as this. Sticking to the rhythm strictly will probably make the work monotonous, and besides always using iambs restricts the vocabulary. Introducing more unstressed syllables enables me to use words longer than 3 syllables quite commonly. However, the problem with variation is that it often sounds unintentional, a lapse in the meter. I have solved this problem by placing my variations always in the same spots.

In short, in iambic heptameter each odd syllable is unstressed, each even syllable stressed. My modification is that syllables number 4, 8 or 12 can also be unstressed, just one in a line or all three. This makes the beat feel regular while I can keep changing rhythm just slightly to avoid monotony. Perhaps it also helps the feel of regularity that it’s always the syllables divisible by 4 that get this treatment.

I cannot recall how I came up with this form, it’s not anything I remember seeing anywhere in the English literature. I’m pretty sure it arose as an answer to the problems mentioned above, especially the need to use longer words. I did try early on some other solutions, even using feminine rhymes, but quite early I settled on this form as the best choice for my book. In the end I had to kill some of my darlings for the sake of sticking to the form, for example remove the word “buckminsterfullerene,” which would have been great.