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Book Query
Posted by: Veronika (
Date: July 12, 2005 04:31AM

Does anyone know this book:

How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics
by Calvert Watkins

Would you recommmend it? It was referenced in an essey on microstructure in poetry. And since they don't have it in my local library, I checked it out on Amazon and the table of contents looks interesting, but I'm not sure.

Any input would be appreciated,


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/13/2005 06:17AM by Veronika.

Re: Book Query
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: July 12, 2005 10:22AM

I have not read it, and 640 pages of dragon-slaying myth poetry wouldn't be my first choice for fascinating reading, no. I did manage to read several lines of Beowulf before giving up, if that is any help. What is microstructure in poetry, though?

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Re: Book Query
Posted by: Keeper of Light (
Date: July 13, 2005 01:42AM

Dude....How could you not love Beowulf? I got so addicted when we did it in school that I read the untranslated version...

Oh, and to the question. I would recommend this book. It's awesome if you like that kinda thing. Very informative.

"Loving people is like farting in the wind; You don't actually accomplish anything, but you feel better."

~The Great and Powerful Angelia~

Re: Book Query
Posted by: Veronika (
Date: July 13, 2005 06:17AM


I first came accross this term in an essay on Sappho (that I found thanks to one of the links you posted). In it prof. William Harris defines it as:

"a way of perceiving and elucidating Meaning as the communicative semantic segment of the writing, while at the same time grasping as Form the configuration of the sounds as sounds, the arrangement of words as constructive elements in the building of verse lines and larger esthetic blocks of form."

and continues to explain:

"The elemental chunks are the sounds out of which words are constructed, the arrangement of the sounds in words as they constitute patterns in phrases, and the shape of the verse-lines both independently and also in relation to what went before and what goes after. In other words the total tally of everything that occurs within the segment of poetry which we are examining is to be seen as Form, atop which Meaning can be understood as perched. Without the substructure of Form there can be no relaying of Meaning because there is nothing for it to rest on, there is no physical substance for something as transcendental as Meaning to adhere to."

In an other essay, titled Poet and the Spectrograph, he then tries to outline how such microstructural sound analysis could be done.

Here are the articles in full:

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On the web I have so far found only one other reference to it, in an article on Literary Form and Form in the Other Arts by Paul Böckmann.

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I have copied the paragraph dealing with microstructure:

"It is a current fashion in some sciences to distinguish macro-phenomena from micro-phenomena. I think a distinction of this kind might be useful in analysis of poetic structures, for it is certainly necessary in such analysis to recognize a difference among structural units in terms of size or magnitude. In rhythmic structure a foot is one thing, a strophe quite another thing; so, in semantic structure, a single trope belongs to an order or scale quite different from that of a large symbolic presentation or a sustained allegory. I mention this distinction here because it is relevant to the fact that the character of the basic unit in poetry is not predetermined. In some poems the significant or relevant unit in the total form appears to be a relatively small structure or system, continuously repeated through the whole; in others, the significant units are large, and in some such structures there seems to be no poetically significant use of microstructural units; in still others a complex microstructure is accompanied by an elaborate structure of larger units. To be in verse or in prose is a feature of the microstructure of a speech; to have or not have units of the size or character of strophes or cantos – or cantiche – is a feature of the macrostructure. Every construct has of course both microstructure and macrostructure, but the significance or relevance of the smaller and the larger units in terms of the total form or of the poetic character of the speech varies from work to work, and perhaps from period to period. Perhaps it is a tendency of some periods in literary history and in the history of the arts generally to cultivate the one type of structure at the expense of the other. Perhaps, again, it is because in the Divina Commedia there is equal elaboration of microstructure and of larger design that Dante is universally regarded as so great a poet; but, as it is often said that it is easier to find good single lines in our contemporary poetry than good whole poems, so it appears to be principally for aspects of the microstructure, rather than the macrostructure, of his great poem that he has been admired and enjoyed in our time. Again, the influence which Gerard Manley Hopkins has had upon more recent English poets has been almost exclusively in terms of aspects of the microstructure of his poems, the “sprungness” of his rhythm and some characteristics of his diction and the like, and hardly at all in terms of the qualities of their larger design. My mention of cantos and of the neglect of Dante’s large design may have made some of you think of Ezra Pound. In his Cantos Pound is certainly not working with a microstructural basic unit; he has indeed generally little interest in and little patience with petty detail. But neither is his main concern, in spite of some suggestions in his professions to Yeats, with the ultimate macrostructure, the figure of the whole as such. Pound in the Cantos seems to me interesting in the present connection as employing a unit roughly intermediate between the microstructural order and the order of his whole. I do not mean the canto, which is perhaps only a specious entity in this work, but a unit which is usually a good deal smaller than the canto though at times it may coincide with it. This unit for the present I should have no way of describing except as a single presentation or instance of what the whole sequence of the Cantos presents by a repetitive series of such single presentations. If this is so, the structure of the Cantos is like metrical structure as I have briefly described it above, and its basic units are constituted as much by the repetitive series in which they are repeated as by any internal organization within themselves. The total structure will then be cumulative and relatively diffuse, a series with limits rather than a strictly concentrated system."

If you find more on microstructure or related topics, please let me know. I find it an interesting approach, although I am not sure how practical it is.

Keeper of Light:

My curiosity got the better of me and I have ordered the dragon slaying manual yesterday. It's due to arrive in a week or two. So dragons beware!:-)

Thank you both for replying.

Re: Book Query
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: July 13, 2005 02:45PM

"a way of perceiving and elucidating Meaning as the communicative semantic segment of the writing, while at the same time grasping as Form the configuration of the sounds as sounds, the arrangement of words as constructive elements in the building of verse lines and larger esthetic blocks of form."

Oh. Never mind then. At times I get the feeling that some folks speak a different dialect of English than mine.

Note to self - read underlying links before clicking on (what could be) 148-page pdf files.

Re: Book Query
Posted by: Veronika (
Date: July 13, 2005 07:38PM

Sorry about that one. Next time (if there is a next time) I promise to give due warning. But (I hope) at least some of that was interesting.

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