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How should Tennyson's Maud be read? I.e. what is its meter? Here are the first four lines:

I HATE the dreadful hollow behind the little wood,
Its lips in the field above are dabbled with blood-red heath,
The red-ribb’d ledges drip with a silent horror of blood,
And Echo there, whatever is ask’d her, answers “Death.”

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If only we could ask Tennyson. – Daniel Mar 20 '12 at 16:03
@Robusto But none of the lines have 12 syllables. Does that matter? Should some syllables be "merged"? – Quinn Culver Mar 20 '12 at 16:09
@Quinn: It doesn't have to have 12 syllables. It's all about the stresses of the metrical feet. There are six in each line. Why do you think it's called hexameter and not duodecameter? Shakespeare's sonnets are all in iambic pentameter, yet you find lines like "Thou art more beautiful and more temperate." Metric poetry isn't about strict adherence to numerical exactness. That would be boring. – Robusto Mar 20 '12 at 16:16
@Robusto: Whether it would be "boring" is subjective and debatable. Strict adherence is hard in English, so variation is tolerated and welcomed. :P It's not universal to all languages. – ShreevatsaR Mar 20 '12 at 17:11
@ShreevatsaR: Variation is not merely tolerated, it is a hallmark of good writing. Bad, lock-step metrical poetry gets sing-songy over time, and masters of the art know this. Look at the works of any of the great poets and you will find variations on meter — not because the poets found the task of creating perfect meter too difficult, but because it was not what they wanted to express. Look at Robert Pinsky's The Sounds of Poetry for elaboration on these ideas. – Robusto Mar 20 '12 at 18:17
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Maud is well known for having been written in an unstable and varying meter; there have been many studies made of this.

...Maud is a metrical sampler in which the poet displayed his virtuosity in an array of complex meters and stanza forms.

-from The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature

EDIT: The University of Cambridge has some audio readings that should be instructive.

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Thanks a lot, Mark. – Quinn Culver Mar 20 '12 at 16:51

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