Meter in Slovak poems
Q: What syllables counted as long?
Classical Roman and later poets writing in Latin made sure to use predefined sequences of "long" and "short" syllables. In principle, Slovak Classicist poetry counted both a stressed syllable and a syllable with a long vowel or a diphthong as "long," but there was a lot of latitude in that in practice. The fashion to compose poems on Latin models, Classicism in Slovak poetry, petered out in the early decades of the 19th century. Ján Kollár (1793-1851) and Ján Hollý (1785-1849) were the last major Slovak Classicist poets.
The predefined sequences of "long" and "short" syllables were called feet. Some of them, e.g., the bisyllabic "short–long" sequence called the iamb typical of the iambic pentameter popular in Latin (and English) poetry, were difficult to achieve at the beginning of a verse, because the Slovak (and Czech) words stress the first syllable (Bratislava), and the stress commonly shifts to the preposition if one is present (do Bratislavy, "to Bratislava").
Stir not, | for where | you tread | is ho-|-ly ground,
O Ta-|-tra's son, | lift up | your eyes | to heaven
But the original employed different feet (dactylic pentameter/hexameter), those that start with a stressed syllable – published in Budapest in an archaic written norm used before the spelling and style reform of 1846:
The verses show the degree to which "long" and "short" were a matter of interpretation for the Slovak Classicists rather than a rigorous application of their theoretical definition.
The next generation of poets turned away from Classicism and became enamored with Slovak folk songs. Many Romantic authors imitated their patterns based on the number of syllables (regardless of stress or length) per verse and on distinct, adjacent rhymes: aabb... or abab... An English translation of one of the best known Romantic poems in Slovakia, The Death of Jánošík (1862) by Ján Botto (1829-1881), matches that pattern closely:
|A fire burns brightly on the Mountain of Kings.|
|And who fed its flames? – Twelve falcons without wings.|
The 1862 original below differed in one word from how the two verses are known today:
That trend remained fashionable for about two decades around the middle of the 19th century, but the Romantics also wrote poetry, including sonnets, that was not based on traditional folk models.