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date: 25 June 2022

Abstract and Keywords

Because nineteenth-century American prosody has not seemed very important to most accounts of American poetics, critics have not noticed how important it was to Poe. In fact, Poe was so thoroughly immersed in nineteenth-century theories of poetic meter that what he wrote on the subject may serve as a guide to transatlantic Anglophone prosodic discourse in the period as a whole. Poe may actually help scholars remember why they have wanted to leave that discourse behind. This essay considers “The Rationale of Verse” (1848), Poe’s longest and most difficult essay on prosody, in the context of the mid-nineteenth-century “prosody wars” over the relation between accentual and quantitative meter. Although that debate has been considered a British phenomenon, Poe’s immersion in it shows how central such prosodic debates were to the history of American poetics, in which British nationalist theories of meter were displaced by racist anxieties.

Keywords: prosody, historical poetics, equality, scansion, meter

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