Sir Thomas Browne (1683) Certain Miscellany Tracts. Tract VII: Of Ropalic or Gradual Verses, &c., pp. 125-128.





Gradual Verses, &c.

Mens mea sublimes rationes præmeditatur.


Though I may justly allow a good intention in this Poem presented unto you, yet I must needs confess, I have no affection for it; as being utterly averse from all affectation in Poetry, which either restrains the phancy, or fetters the invention to any strict disposure of words. A Poem of this nature is to be found in Ausonius1 beginning thus,

Spes Deus æterna stationis conciliator.

These are Verses Ropalici or Clavales, arising gradually like the Knots in a ῾Ροπάλη or Clubb; named also Fistulares by Priscianus, as Elias Vinetus2 hath noted. They consist properly of five words, each thereof encreasing by one syllable. They admit not of a Spondee in the fifth place, nor can a Golden or Silver Verse be made this way. They run smoothly both in Latin and Greek, and some are scatteringly to be found in Homer; as,

Ὦ μάκαρ Ἀτρείδη μοιρηγενὲς ὀλβιόδαιμον,3

Liberè dicam sed in aurem, ego versibus hujusmodi Ropalicis, longo syrmate protractis, Ceraunium affigo.

He that affecteth such restrained Poetry, may peruse the Long Poem of Hugbaldus the Monk, wherein every word beginneth with a C penned in the praise of Calvities or Baldness, to the honour of Carolus Calvus King of France,

Carmina clarisonæ calvis cantate Camænæ.

The rest may be seen at large in the adversaria of Barthius: or if he delighteth in odd contrived phancies may he please himself with Antistrophes, Counterpetories, Retrogrades, Rebusses, Leonine Verses, &c. to be found in Sieur des Accords.4 But these and the like are to be look'd upon, not pursued, odd works might be made by such ways; and for your recreation I propose these few lines unto you,

Arcu paratur quod arcui sufficit.

Misellorum clamoribus accurrere non tam humanum quam sulphureum est.

Asino teratur quæ Asino teritur.

Ne Asphodelos comedas, phoenices manduca.

Cœlum aliquid potest, sed quæ mira præstat Papilio est.

Not to put you unto endless amusement, the Key hereof is the homonomy of the Greek made use of in the Latin words, which rendreth all plain. More enigmatical and dark expressions might be made if any one would speak or compose them out of the numerical Characters or characteristical Numbers set down by Robertus de Fluctibus.5

As for your question concerning the contrary expressions of the Italian and Spaniards in their affirmative answers, the Spaniard answering cy Sennor, the Italian Signior cy, you must be content with this Distich,

Why saith the Italian Signior cy, the Spaniard cy Sennor ?
Because the one puts that behind, the other puts before.

And because you are so happy in some Translations, I pray return me these two Verses in English,

Occidit heu tandem multos quæ occidit amantes,
Et cinis est hodie quæ fuit ignis heri.

[She is dead at last, who many made expire,
Is dust today which yesterday was fire.6]

My occasions make me to take off my Pen. I am, ∓c.


Original marginalia are in green.

1 The beginning of Oratio Consulis Ausonii Versibus Rhopalicis.

2 El. Vinet. in Auson.

3 Iliad 3.182. Is Ἀτρεΐδη really 3 syllables?

4 Rebus: verse in which words or parts of words form a pattern which can itself be read.
Leonine verses: a Medieval verse, probably invented in Carolingian times, written in hexameters or in alternating hexameters and pentameters in which the final word of each line rhymes the pre-cæsural word. The effect in the English version is doggerelish in the extreme, but popular especially in song.
These and many others are treated in Seigneur des Accordz’ Bigarrures, on which I’ve been at work, slowly, for years.

5 Tract 2. Part. lib. 1. Robert Flud, 1574-1637, I presume Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris metaphysica, physica atque technica historia, in duo volumina secundum cosmi differentiam divisa (1621, but unfinished), although I haven’t been to look at it and probably won’t, if the following is an accurate excerpt. MS Sloane continues: “One way more I shall mention, though scarce worth your notice: Two pestels and a book come short of a retort, as much as a spear and an ass exceed a dog’s tail. This is to be expounded by the numerical characters, or characteristical numbers set down by Robertus de Fluctibus and speaks only this text: two and four come short of six, as much as ten exceed six; the figures of an ass standing for a cipher.”

6 [Supplied from MS Sloane 1827, quoted in Wilkin.]

This page is by James Eason.