Sunday, April 18, 2010

Full Fathom Five by William Shakespeare

Yesterday's post, a selection from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by George Gordon, Lord Byron, included references to wrecks at sea, immediately calling to mind "Full Fathom Five", one of Ariel's songs from The Tempest by William Shakespeare. I dwell in particular on the line "those are pearls that were his eyes", which often sticks in my brain - not just from this song in The Tempest, but also because it is referenced in "Burial of the Dead" from T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland.

Full Fathom Five
by William Shakespeare

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

Form: This is essentially a cross-rhymed eight-line poem, although the interjection of "Ding-dong" as its own line makes that slightly less than apparent at first glance. It's rhymed ABABCDC(ding-dong)D. Lines two through seven have an identical meter: two trochees followed by an amphimacer (or cretic foot). A trochee (pronounced TRO-key) is a poetic foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one, and a cretic or amphimacer is a three-syllable foot consisting of two stressed syllables with an unstressed one in the middle. (E.g., "TROchee TROchee CREtic FOOT" or "THOSE are PEARLS that WERE his EYES.")

Discussion: "Full Fathom Five" is the second song performed by Ariel in Act I, sc. 2 of The Tempest. I say the "second song", even though some people believe it's a second verse to "Come Unto These Yellow Sands" because the rhyme scheme and verse structure are a bit different. Also, a musical setting of "Full Fathom Five" as a separate song has survived from Shakespeare's time to the present, set to music by King James I's lutenist, Robert Johnson, so I rather suspect they had different tunes as originally performed.

Fans of Shakespeare may want to come back in June for Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month, which is shaping up to have lots of discussion, a few guest appearances, and several fabulous prizes. One of the plays on this year's roster is The Tempest; another is Measure by Measure, but I'm getting ahead of myself. As a further digression, fans of The Tempest and young adult literature will want to grab Lisa Mantchev's Eyes Like Stars, now available in paperback, and to keep a lookout for the sequel, Perchance to Dream, since Ariel is a character in both books (and a yummy character he is, too).

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