Melodics of Verse

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Melodics of Verse


the system of rising and falling intonations used in the composition and recitation of poetry. In rare cases, the melodies of verse has been canonized into a system of versification. Chinese versification is based on a fixed correspondence between even and rising or falling syllabic stress in consecutive lines of verse. More often, the melodies of verse is freer and plays an auxiliary role in versification. Rising and falling word stresses are used in Serbo-Croatian and ancient Greek poetry; in most of the world’s languages, including Russian, rising phrase intonations (in mid-sentence) and falling phrase intonations (at the end of a sentence) are used. The melodies of verse is fully achieved only in the recitation of poetry; the text gives an approximation of the poem’s intonation, but the reciter provides the full intonational coloring.

In Russian poetry, the melodies of verse usually refers to two phenomena, which may be called micromelodics and macromelodics. Micromelodics deals with the proper intonation of relatively short poetic units. In the phrasing of a poetical period (a line, couplet, or quatrain), the voice usually rises in the middle and is lowered at the end (as noted by the Czech scholar J. Mukařovský). Within the line, the voice rises on weakly stressed feet and is lowered on strongly stressed ones (as observed by the Soviet prosodist G. Shengeli). The coincidence and noncoincidence between this system of rhythmic intonation and the intonational movement of syntax within the line accounts for the complex melodic picture of poetic speech.

Macromelodics deals with the intonational structure of longer poetic divisions. In the construction of a poetic text (a short poem or a fragment of a narrative poem), interrogative, exclamatory (rising intonation), and declarative (falling intonation) sentences may be distributed in different ways, while their intonational structure may be either emphasized or dampened by means of periodic constructions, parallelisms, repetitions, and so forth. These techniques fall into three basic methods of intoning verse, as distinguished by B. M. Eikhenbaum—the declamatory (ode), the melodious (romance lyrics), and the speechlike (fables)—and several intermediate types—such as the elegy, intermediate between declamatory and melodious, and the epistle, between declamatory and speechlike. Other classifications, such as that of V. E. Kholshevnikov, distinguish only two types of intonation, namely, melodious (for songs and romances) and speechlike (for oratorial and conversational poetry). The melodies of verse has been insufficiently studied.


Zhirmunskii, V. M. “Kompozitsiia liricheskikh stikhotvorenii.”In Teoriia stikha. Leningrad, 1975.
Zhirmunskii, V. M. “Melodika stikha.”In Voprosy teorii literatury. Leningrad, 1928.
Eikhenbaum, B. M. Melodika russkogo liricheskogo stikha. Petrograd, 1922.
Bernshtein, S. I. “Stikh i deklamatsiia.” In Russkaia rech’: Novaia seriia, collection 1. Leningrad, 1927.
Shengeli, G. Tekhnika stikha. Moscow, 1960.
Kholshevnikov, V. Osnovy stikhovedeniia, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.