I’ve been struggling a lot with prepositions recently. Partly at work, correcting theses by students who don’t appear to believe in them. Instead they prefer to string along lists of words with little indication of the relationship between them. It’s a Me Driving Bonkers Practice.
But mainly I’ve been struggling with them in my poetry. Prepositional phrases are difficult in iambic or trochaic meter, where alternate syllables are supposed to take a stress. Take the phrase, “Brian Cox was diagnosed with herpes.” The word ‘with’ is clearly an insignificant linking word and receives no stress or attention. (All our attention is grabbed by the horrible disease, and by herpes.) It’s straightforward trochaic pentameter.
But now take the sentence: “He drove to London with the Queen of Hearts.” You could read ‘with the’ as a pyrrhic substitution (a beat without stress). Or, since ‘with’ is in a position that should be stressed, you could ‘promote’ it to receive one. There’s nothing wrong with promotions – I think they actually make verse read more like normal speech. Every other syllable might be stressed, but the amount of stress each receives is variable, so it keeps it from being too sing-song.
The trouble is that I don’t always want prepositions to be promoted. For the purpose again of trying to replicate more normal speech patterns, sometimes I like to do anapaestic or dactylic substitutions (throwing in an extra unstressed syllable): “ Martin rode a horse with a cowboy saddle.” This is trochaic pentameter again, but the middle foot is a dactyl instead of a trochee.
This last example is in fact the precise pattern of metrical hendecasyllables I tried to write a whole poem in recently. Although I thought that my meter was if anything too regular, many readers had a real problem with identifying it as being a formal meter at all. I think one of the main issues was that because I used a lot of promoted prepositions, they were trained to read all prepositions as promoted, so when they got to prepositions that were thrown-in extra syllables, it tripped them up.
Worse yet, I began a lot of lines with promoted prepositions, so people were inclined to read them as anapaestic, which threw everything off from the start. Gah! Maybe my students are right. Better off without the blighters.