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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

IX. The Prosody of the Seventeenth Century

§ 7. Miscellaneous Metric: Jonson and Others

In miscellaneous metric, the performance of the first third of the century is, also, very noteworthy, though in no single respect of equal importance to that of the progress of blank verse and the rivalry of the two couplets. Among endless experiments in lyric, a peculiar form or phase of the old ballad or common measure (8 6 8 6 a b a b) was developed by Jonson, Donne and others, the most famous example of which is Jonson’s cento from the Greek of Philostratus, “Drink to me only with thine eyes.” In this, by judicious fingering of the vowel sounds, and of the run of the metre, a cadence arises which is almost peculiar to the period and which is of extraordinary beauty. By Jonson, again, and by his disciples Herbert and Sandys (the latter important, also, in the decasyllabic couplet), the peculiar inclusive arrangement of rime in “long” measure (8 8 8 8 a b b a) which is now associated (probably for all time) with Tennyson’s adoption of it in In Memoriam, was hit upon, though not largely used or thoroughly perfected. And the same lyrical genius which, in Jonson, was happily united to other gifts and characteristics not often found in its company, enabled him to practise what are sometimes called “epode” arrangements—alternations of shorter and longer lines in couplet—with singular felicity. Nor would it be possible to summarise in any general terms of value the remarkable combinations of lines, from the monosyllabic to the fourteener, with which his contemporaries and successors experimented, from Campion to Herrick in point of time, and from Milton to John Hall in point of importance.