Hartman's examination of the manifestations of meter in free verse focuses on Eliot's poetry in this chapter, in which he defines his verse as vers liberé and attempts to discover precisely what qualities characterize vers liberé. Eliot's prosody seeks to draw out the rhythmic elements of common speech, and Hartman identifies syntactic parallelism and counterpoint as important features of this attempt. Particularly important is Eliot's practice of approximating stricter metrical forms before departing from them: it is a truly “loosened up” verse in the sense that he allows himself to move in and out of this formal metrical structure. The only major aspect of Hartman's argument at which I cavil is his categorical denunciation of Helen Gardner's evaluation of certain of Eliot's passages as accentual. Hartman asserts that Gardner has fallen prey to the “fallacy of calling 'accentual' all verse which has accents” (115), but never backs this statement up, presenting an “alternative” understanding of Eliot's prosody which is actually quite compatible with the idea that Eliot occasionally takes advantage of the incantatory effect of heavily accentual verse, such as in the “Lady of Silences” passage in “Ash Wednesday.” On the whole, however, he is laudably faithful to direct textual evidence in his discussion of the basic rhythmicality and musicality of Eliot's syntactic form.
Commenting on the chapter from Free Verse: An Essay in Prosody; overall a quite recommendable book.