The other day I was struck by a film title that sounded extraordinarily poetic. It was Despite the Falling Snow.
Granted, as a movie title this is not very good. It leaves us confused about the genre. We know it’s not a thriller or an action film, but — what is it? Romantic comedy? Period drama? Art? Social criticism? Biopic? I wouldn’t know.
But as a piece of poetry, it’s perfect.
To start with, the image conveyed is unsurpassably poetic. What could be more lyrical than the pure, evanescent snowflakes descending soundlessly from the sky?
But there’s more than that. Let’s notice the music of the phrase, created by the position of the stressed syllables and the length of the words. (The dash marks an unstressed syllable, the apostrophe marks a stressed one.)
We see the pattern “unstressed-stressed” (whose technical name is “iambic foot”) repeated three times, which gives the phrase a steady rhythm.
But rhythm is not all. No poet wants his verses to march to an unchanging compass, like soldiers on parade. Let’s imagine a similar title, also with three iambic feet:
If you say this phrase aloud, you will realize its rhythm is more marked, more even — too even. It sounds repetitive. It does not have the same cadence as the first one. Why?
Because of the length of the words in each phrase. In the imagined title, the end of each foot coincides with the end of a word:
Whereas in the actual title, the second foot ends in the middle of a word:
The film title balances the regularity of the iambic foot with the variety of different word lengths. Instead of a military parade, we have a dance.
And this is what makes it a perfect verse.
(By the way, I have neither watched the film nor read the novel it’s based on. If you have, do leave a comment and tell me if the story is as good as its beautiful title.)
Image: John F. Carlson, “Snow Flurries”. Source: Wikimedia Commons.