John Skelton


On this date John Skelton died (1460-1529).

Frye in Recontre: The General Editor’s Introduction”:

As a result of the change of rhythm, the native four-beat line came into the foreground again.  At the court of Henry VIII, John Skelton developed the “skeltonic” rhythm which has been named after him, a rhythm closer to nursery rhyme, ballad, and popular poetry of all kinds than perhaps any other equally important poet has produced.  One result of this, of a type not uncommon among experimental poets, was that it was not until well on in the twentieth century that he was regarded as an important poet at all.  The English four-beat line was, we said, split in two by a mid-line caesura; hence Old English poetry could be printed as a series to two-beat lines by a slight change in typography.  The skeltonic is rhythmically the Old English half-line revived, although a clanging rhythm has been added:

For though my rhyme be ragged,

Tattered and jagged,

Rudely rain-beaten,

Rusty and moth-eaten,

If ye take well therewith,

It hath in it some pith.  [Colin Clout II. 53-8]

Such a rhythm is logical, if extreme, of accentual tendencies, and is an excellent vehicle for the violent satire and grotesque realism that usually accompanied it in Skelton.  (CW 10, 14)

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