Tom Paulin has a hard ear, a heavy ear. Trying his hand at scansion in The Secret Life of Poems he almost always over-stresses. He hears Donne’s ‘yeares ’ and Coleridge’s ‘thin blue light’ as examples of the molossus, the rarely-used combination of three stressed syllables.
And then there’s this line from Edward Thomas: ‘Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved.’ Read it. Scan it. Did you read ‘Downhill’ and ‘not starved’ as spondees, giving the line a total of seven stresses? Because that’s how Paulin hears it.
Had Sylvia Plath got in on the over-stressing act she could have called her first collection, not The Colossus but The Molossus.
The great molossus disaster is not, of course, to be confused with the great molasses disaster of 1919, in which 21 peopled in a tidal wave of the sticky brown stuff.