There is no psychological limit on the duration of metrical lines in performance: Against Turner and Pöppel


  • Nigel Fabb University of Strathclyde



Linguistics, Literary Linguistics, Metrics, Cognitive Poetics


Frederick Turner and Ernst Pöppel (1983) proposed that lines of metrical poetry tend to measure three seconds or less when performed aloud, and that the metrical line is fitted to a three second ‘auditory present’ in the brain. In this paper I show that there are faults both in their original argument, and in the claims which underlie it. I present new data, based on the measurement of line durations in publicly available recorded performances of 54 metrical poems; in this corpus, lines of performed metrical verse are often longer than three seconds: 59% of the 1155 lines are longer than 3 seconds, 40% longer than 3.5 seconds and 26% longer than 4 seconds. On the basis of weaknesses in the original paper, and the new data presented here, I propose, against Turner and Pöppel, that there is no evidence that lines of verse are constrained by a time-limited psychological capacity.

Author Biography

Nigel Fabb, University of Strathclyde

Professor of Literary Linguistics