Accentual Versification

Accentual Versification


a system of versification whose rhythm is based on the regular appearance of stressed syllables among unstressed syllables. Accentual versification is used mainly with languages that have a strong dynamic stress and reduced unstressed vowels, such as Russian, German, and English. Within accentual versification a distinction is made between accentual (tonic) versification as such, which takes into account only the number of stresses in the line, and syllabotonic versification, which also takes into account the distribution of stresses in the line. In the Russian terminology of the 18th and 19th centuries, formulated by V. K. Trediakovskii and M. V. Lomonosov, accentual versification meant syllabotonic versification; today it means tonic versification. Many intermediate forms exist between syllabotonic and accentual versification.

Syllabotonic versification as such is based on the alternation of strong and weak syllables and permits phonological stress on the strong but not on the weak syllables. In binary meters (iamb and trochee), every second syllable is strong, and in trinary meters (dactyl, amphibrach, and anapest), every third syllable is strong. In some less common meters, such as those of logaoedic verse, the distribution of strong among weak syllables is more complex, but it remains uniform from line to line.

A less strict type of syllabotonic versification permits a variable anacrusis at the beginning of the line:

Rusálka plyla po reke goluboi,
Ozariáema polnoi lunoi.

(M. Lermontov)

The dol’nik (seeDOL’NIK) permits one or two unstressed syllables in the middle of the line:

Vkhozhú ia v témnye khrámy,
Svershaiu bednyi obriad.

(A. Blok)

The taktovik (seeTAKTOVIK) permits one, two, or three unstressed syllables in the middle of the line:

Takái’a byla nóch’, chto ushél Sivásh
I mertvym postelil poster.

(V. Lugovskoi)

Accented verse does not take into account the number of syllables in the intervals between stresses and is thus a type of accentual versification:

Stráshnoe u meniá góre,
Veroiátno—lishús’ sná.

(V. Mayakovsky)

However, regularity in accented verse varies; accented verse may have an even or uneven number of stresses and may be rhymed or unrhymed.

Russian poetry has used accentual versification since ancient times; examples are the accented verse of the skomorokhi (itinerant performers) and a sung verse form close to the taktovik. Accentual versification entered written poetry in the 17th century but soon yielded to syllabic versification. In the 18th century, syllabic versification was replaced by syllabotonic versification owing to the reforms of Trediakovskii and Lomonosov. Freer forms of accentual versification are found mainly in imitations of folk poetry, for example, in Pushkin’s The Tale of the Priest and Songs of the Western Slavs. The 20th century has witnessed an increasing use of the dol’nik (A. Blok), the taktovik (I. Sel’vinskii), and accented verse (V. Mayakovsky). Syllabotonic and accentual versification have equal status in modern Russian versification, but the former is more widely used.