The semiotics of verse rhythm and comparative rhythmics: Vladimir Nabokov’s and Jurgis Baltrušaitis’s binary tetrameters from a typological perspective

  • Mihhail Lotman Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia
Keywords: rhythmics, binary tetrameters, semiotics of verse, Andrei Bely, Nabokov, Baltrušaitis


The article discusses the problems of poetic rhythm in two aspects. The first concerns the possibility of awareness and conscious modelling of various aspects of poetic rhythm; the second is related to the manifestation of similar or even identical tendencies in the rhythmic structures of various authors who belong to different eras and literary trends and even writing in different languages. Works from bilingual authors such as Vladimir Nabokov and Jurgis Baltrušaitis are of the particular interest.

The first half of the article focuses on how the concept of rhythm proposed in the book by Andrei Bely (1910) influenced the poetic practice. Before Bely, it had been implicit that the choice of stanzaic and metric forms was usually conscious for authors, while Bely demonstrated that poets and their audience can be aware of verse rhythm as well. After the publication of his results, Bely and other poets of a predominantly Symbolist approach began to pay attention to the rhythmic structure of the verse and made attempts to model it. Considered are the following problems: a) how do poetic meters relate to rhythmic forms; b) to what extent can the rhythmic momentum be recognized by the author, and to what extent can the author influence it; and c) how can the author compose verses in accordance with a pre-selected rhythmic model.

In the second half of the article, the rhythm of iambic and trochaic tetrameters in Russian poetic heritage of Jurgis Baltrušaitis is analysed in comparison with the rhythm of his Lithuanian verses. As it turns out, despite the obvious differences in the prosody of the Lithuanian and Russian languages, the rhythmic structure of his poems obeys the same regularities.

In the final part of the article, possible explanations of rhythmic patterns are proposed and an outline of the typology of the rhythm of the binary tetrameters is given.


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