Literary Criticism

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Poetic Rhythm

Structure and Performance
An Empirical Study in Cognitive Poetics

Revised and expanded edition

Reuven Tsur who was awarded the Israel Prize for his work in Literary Theory, is Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Literature and Cognitive Poetics at Tel Aviv University, and Middle East vice president of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics. His books include “Kubla Khan” – Poetic Structure, Hypnotic Quality and Cognitive Style: A Study in Mental, Vocal, and Critical Performance; On the Shore of Nothingness: Space, Rhythm, and Semantic Structure in Religious Poetry and its Mystic-Secular Counterpart – A Study in Cognitive Poetics; and Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics.

This research is an instrumental investigation of a theory of rhythmical performance of poetry, originally propounded speculatively in the author’s Perception-Oriented Theory of Metre (1977). “Iambic pentameter” means that there is a verse unit consisting of an unstressed and a stressed syllable (in this order), and that the verse line consists of five such units. In the first 165 verse lines of Paradise Lost there are two such lines. The theory takes up one of the central issues in metrical studies: all criteria for metricality hitherto proposed have been violated by the greatest masters of musicality in English poetry. This theory assumes that when the versification patterns and linguistic patterns conflict, they can be accommodated in a pattern of “Rhythmical Performance” – namely one in which the conflicting patterns are simultaneously perceptible. There are scales of mounting difficulties of mismatches, on which each poet (and each theorist) draws at different points the boundary of what is acceptable. This research submits to computer analysis recordings of some of the greatest English poetry, by Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Keats and others, comparing readings by leading British actors and colleagues from the academy. Professor Tsur’s revised and expanded edition also exploits recent software developments, which make it possible to electronically manipulate existing recordings and compare versions with subtle differences.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-524-3
Hardback Price: £65.00 / $85.00
Release Date: May 2012
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-525-0
Paperback Price: £40.00 / $55.00
Release Date: May 2012
Page Extent / Format: 460 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: No


Preface to the Second Edition, 2012
Personal Preface
The Argument

1. Perception-Oriented Theory of Metre
2. Cognitive Assumptions:
Simplicity and Multilevel Information Processing
3. The Empirical Rationale
4. Caesura
5. Consecutive Stresses
6. Stress Maximum in Weak Position
7. Enjambment
8. Disyllabic Occupancy of Metrical Position as a Perceptual Problem
9. Timing, Structure, Musical Key
10. Excursus on Hungarian Poetry and Poetry Recital
11. Phonetic Cues and Dramatic Function
12 Stress Maximum in the Fifth Position
13 The Structure and Delivery Style of Milton’s Verse
An Electronic Exercise in Vocal Performance
14 Metricalness and Rhythmicalness

What Our Ear Tells Our Mind
Appendix I. The Interdisciplinary Perspective: Impressionism, Reductionism, Cognitive Poetics
Appendix II. Verse Lines Containing Stress Maxima in Weak Positions


This work represents in scope, depth, and precision of aesthetic analysis the single most important body of research into the rhythmical performance of poetry.
S. J. Willett, Journal of Pragmatics

By virtue of applying his cognitive assumptions to the study of poetic prosody (meter, rhythm, musicality, rhyme) Prof. Tsur is recognized as one of the leading researchers in the world in this field.
Israel Prize Committee

[Tsur] has done powerful experiments, challenging the leading model in the field: the Keyser–Halle transformational model for English stress. Despite my admiration for that model, I have to admit that Tsur’s challenge is quite formidable.
Prof. Norman Holland, Florida University

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