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By Richard Bradford

This introductory ebook takes the reader via literary heritage from the Renaissance to Postmodernism, and considers person texts as paradigms that may either replicate and unsettle their broader linguistic and cultural contexts. Richard Bradford offers exact readings of person texts which emphasize their relation to literary historical past and broader socio-cultural contexts, and which consider advancements in structuralism and postmodernism. Texts comprise poems through Donne, Herbert, Marvell, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Hopkins, Browning, Pound, Eliot, Carlos Williams, Auden, Larkin and Geoffrey Hill.

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The question exactly of how we might ‘reconcile’ the abstract with the actual pattern (Jakobson in his 1960 article named these phenomena, verse design and verse instance) became the central concern of linguistic metrists through the 1960s and 1970s. 24 A LINGUISTIC HISTORY OF ENGLISH POETRY Morris Halle and Samuel Keyser (1971) developed a system of ‘correspondence rules’ to chart the relation between the abstract pattern and variations caused by syntactic and lexical stress groupings, their objective being to establish the limits and flexibility of metricality and unmetricality, but the most celebrated and widely debated analytical system was proposed by Paul Kiparsky.

I would argue that this thesis contains a number of flaws. If a poet chooses to write within the regular rules and conventions of the pentameter or the sonnet—and before the twentieth century, poets, with a few rare exceptions, had no choice—then it becomes difficult to distinguish between what Samuel Levin in ‘The Conventions of Poetry’ (1971) has called the ‘cognitive’ and the ‘conventional’ dimensions of the double pattern. Consider again the closing couplet of Shakespeare’s sonnet, All this the world well knows yet none knows well, To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Throughout the play the contact-code functions are thrown into a state of continuous change and interplay. In the exchanges between Angelo and Isabella both seem to be addressing the same fundamental issues of life and justice (II ii and II iv), from, necessarily, different perspectives. But at the same time their adherance to the same pattern of compositional and performative rules compromises their claims upon separateness and individuality and reduces them to components of a single text. In Act II scene ii Isabella finds herself in the difficult position of, on the one hand, arguing with Angelo about the ethical and judicial validity of her brother’s death sentence, and on the other listening to Lucio’s asides which prompt her to play the emotional, indeed the physical card, against the movement of what is apparently a purely intellectual exchange.

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