The Ghost of Meter: About
The Ghost of Meter examines poems written over a 150-year period in the United States (by Dickinson, Whitman, Crane, Eliot, Audre Lorde, Charles Wright, and others) in order to explore an original theory about how poetry works, the "metrical code." The metrical code posits that lines in metrical patterns--such as iambic pentameter, for example--can carry meaning when they occur in certain free verse poems. Not all free verse poems can be fruitfully read in terms of the metrical code, but in the work of some poets, the metrical code illuminates nonlinguistic levels of meaning. For example, when Walt Whitman uses a passage of iambic pentameter, such as "I celebrate myself and sing myself," in a free verse context, the iambic pentameter pattern itself, like the words, conveys information and carries meaningful connotations.
The book traces distinct patterns of metrical connotations (such as the association of iambic pentameter with power and rationality) that persist through the work of different poets. It also uncovers significant changes in the attitudes that poets hold towards these connotations from one century to the next. The Ghost of Meter is unique within prosodic criticism because of its combination of prosody with structuralism, feminist theory, and semiotics. In the chapter on Emily Dickinson, for instance, the interplay between prosody and feminist theory results in a quantifiable investigation of the distinctively "female" qualities of a poetic voice. The book also provides detailed historical discussions of nineteenth and early twentieth century prosodic history, and the first chapter is the most thorough history of the relation between meter and meaning to date.