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Meter in The Chambered Nautilus

Meter Examples in The Chambered Nautilus:

The Chambered Nautilus


"Year after year beheld the silent toil..."   (The Chambered Nautilus)

Holmes employs an unusual structure by writing “The Chambered Nautilus” in five septets, or seven-line stanzas. The rhyme scheme represent a slight variation on rhyme royal, a septet-based rhyme scheme introduced by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century. Whereas Chaucer’s septets follow an ABABBCC scheme, Holmes’s go AABBBCC. Metrically, Holmes’s septets are erratic. Line by line, each stanza contains a line of pentameter, two of trimeter, another of pentameter, another of trimeter, and finally a line of hexameter. The alternating five- and three-beat lines imitate the nautilus’s toilsome, cyclical progression through its sequential chambers. The expansive hexameter of the last line expresses the nautilus’s final release, as figured in the poem’s final stanza.

"purpled wings..."   (The Chambered Nautilus)

The description of “purpled wings” flung “on the sweet summer wind” is likely an elaboration on the nautilus-as-ship metaphor, presenting the tentacles of the nautilus as the sails driving the ship forward. Complicating the metaphor is the implicit, nested connection between sails and wings. This metaphorical vision of nautilus-as-ship runs deep into the scientific record of the animal—so deep, in fact, that the selected name, “nautilus,” was drawn from the Greek word for “sailor”: nautílos. Evidently, Holmes was not the first to consider the nautilus in nautical terms. The shell is the ship, the mollusc itself the sailor.

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