Crafting Verse

You know, perhaps, the meaning of the word, “poetry”, derives, as does most everything of civil worth, from the Greek, “poesis”, a word descriptive of, “making”

Homer’s Odyssey scribed into a clay; III Century A.D.

A poem is a thing made, alike a rocking chair, French fries, a statue;

a poem is a thing made for a purpose: practical use, sensual joy, humane growth, id est, “that is”, by harmony, by melody, by symmetry of fine thought versed, to enlarge the mind, refine the soul; 

a poem might be made in commemoration, as in a stone-carved epitaph, a bellowing dedication;

a poem might be sensual, words to wet a woman’s … well, you know … or to wet the tongue as in, try this: repeat severally “wet water” and notice the mouth sensually watering;

a poem might be the soul speaking into the moment, alike an elegant statue elephantine, fossilized in words:

…….. ..Muse
……….Sing Me the deeds of Golden Aphrodite
……….the Kyprian who Stirs in Gods sweet Passion
……….who Subdues the Tribes of Men
……….the Birds who Wing
……….the Creatures reared of Lands dry
……….the slip‘ry Creatures of the Sea
……….All these Love the Deeds
……….of Rich-Crowned Kytherea     
……….……….Homeric Hymn 5: To Aphrodite

Clay fragment of Gilgamesh; circa 2100 B.C.

Notice: you think in words ethereal; words have no substance, words in the mind haven’t existence ontologically, qua word; words spoken are merely a ghostly breeze moving air some little distance; words are not sound distinct but a pattern of invisible waves that soon die into the vast ocean; and yet, words mean in the pattern of god, mind-to-mind in the existence of god, consciousness, a thing beyond substance. 

But here, we are speaking of poetry, a thing made.  Let us make poetry. 

If you will, read these next lines (below) in the quiet of your mind, first; second, read these words by speaking breath into air; third, write these words, draw them upon paper; and then, read the drawn words in the quiet of your mind.

……….Never shall I Drink the Milky Way,
……….Nor with the Nymphs and Lusty Satyrs Play,
……….Never Drive the Car that Lights the Day
……….For I am But a Man Made out of Clay.

Notice, if you will, that each poem you made exists in a different way: the first might live so long as memory lives in you;

the second, by your speaking might live into another, and they speaking into others, onward ad infinitum;

the third poem might live into any who chance to read, that is, until our English ceases to exist, as might happen in submission to China, et alia, or until translated, when in translation the poem becomes some thing of foreign soil, foreign tongue.

Papyrus fragment of Euripides’ “Orestes”; c. 338 – 44 A.D.

Here, to our point:

……….Dum de, Dum de, Dum de, Dum de Dum,
……….de Dum, de Dum, de Dum, de Dum, de Dum,
……….Dum de, Dum de, Dum de, Dum de Dum
……….de Dum, de Dum, de Dum, de Dum, de Dum.

A making of sound: recognized in mind, felt in spoken breath, and spoken by the mind’s eye.

And this, a most unusual stanzic construction:

……….Moving waves away in words
………………..trochee; an trochaic line of trochaic feet, “Dum de”
……….Dum de, Dum de, Dum de Dum

……….In waves the words return                  
………………..iamb; an iambic line of iambic feet, “de Dum”
……….de Dum, de Dum, de Dum

And that, the cause of hypnotic effect, alike the little lapping of little waves of the inland lake, or as the large crashing of the vast ocean.

These, the unit, the “feet” of a walking poem … all poems are peripatetic, foot-to-foot, line-to-line, stanza-to-stanza, canto-to-canto.  As here, in the measured foot: Speak the feet.

Iamb:               unstressed and stressed syllable                       de DUM
Trochee:          stressed and unstressed syllables                     DUM de
Spondee:         two stressed syllables                                       DUM DUM    (like a drum, “TUM TUM”)
Anapest:          two unstressed and one stressed syllable       de de DUM
Dactyl:             one stressed and two unstressed syllables      DUM de de

……….* and there are other feet

Gottfried von Strassburg’s “Tristan and Isolde”; second quarter XIII Century A.D.

Each line is a measurement of time.  The verse you are now memorizing is a quatrain, a poem of four lines.  Each line has a pattern, id est,

……….Never shall I Drink the Milky Way,                            trochaic           tetrameter
……….Nor with the Nymphs and Lusty Satyrs Play,        iambic             pentameter
……….Never Drive the Car that Lights the Day                 trochaic           tetrameter
……….For I am But a Man Made out of Clay.                     iambic             pentameter

Never / shall I / Drink the / Milky Way, 
Nor with /the Nymphs / and Lus / ty Sa / tyrs Play,
Never / Drive the / Car that / Lights the Day
For I / am But / a Man / Made out / of Clay.                      

In brief,

One foot:         Monometer
Two feet:         Dimeter
Three feet:      Trimeter
Four feet:        Tetrameter
Five feet:         Pentameter
Six feet:           Hexameter
Seven feet:      Heptameter
Eight feet:       Octameter

Typically, in English, our breath, your breath and mine, is the length of an iambic, pentameter line.  Longer, our breath thins or gulps, and begins again.  Shorter, our breath lets-out at lines end; very short, as in dimeter, we speak several lines in one breath, usually, quickly; very long, heptameter, we pause in the line, breath twice and slow.

Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”, 1387 – 1400; Ellsworth Manuscript, XIV Century

And then, rhyme.  Rhymes are the rings you hear in the minds ear; the chime of a sound in time.  Notice rhyme in our verse.

At line’s end, an “a” rhyme, “way, play, day, clay”.  Here, each rhyme in meaning moves narrative, from the infinitely large to experience, to time, to death in dirt.  Rhyme too at line’s beginning, “never, nor and for” (consonant and vowel rhymes) – a movement, syllogism like, to conclusion, “never this nor this, nor this, because”.

As in all things which are things, there is in rhyme the masculine and the feminine: a masculine rhyme ends in force, “accent”, that is, “de DUM”; a feminine rhyme ends in release, “modesty”, that is, “DUM de”.  You understand.

And now, as Aristotle demonstrates, as has become us, “We, of the West”, a poem, a building, a life has a beginning, a middle, an end.  Some brief, some long, some repeating.  A brief poem might be a simple couplet, “I am his highness’s dog at Kew; / Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?”  (Alexander Pope), or an octave, perhaps a Rhyme Royal, as in Lord Byron’s “Don Juan”. 

Pope’s “Iliad” translation, manuscript, 1713

Monostich:      one-line stanza
Couplet:          two line, rhyming stanza

……….I am his highness’s dog at Kew;
……….Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you? 

Tercet:             three lines rhyming in some variation
Quatrain:        four lines rhyming in some variation
Quintain:        rhyming variation within five lines
Sestet:             rhyming variation within six lines
Septet:             rhyming variation within seven lines
Octave:            rhyming variation within eight lines

Each stanza … here, this will help you understand: “stanza” means “room”.  When building a poem of stanza, you build rooms of ideas specific in shape and character, shaped to the purpose; a house of rooms of one “size and form” creates a poem in character different from rooms of a differing “size and form”.  Surely, you can see this in your imagination.

Here, I should mention, that some poems go farther in two lines than do most poems of 200 lines, et cetera. 

Yeats, “Easter, 1916”, 1916 A.D.; published 1921

And there it is: the craft of verse, the making of a poem in English is accomplished with these materials:

Metrical Foot
Line Length
Rhyme
Stanza

… and, of course, some thought worthy of speaking, a thought that informs and delights, beautifully.

To learn more, you might reference, Occasional Poetry: How to Write Poems for Any Occasion.  Or, begin with what I have given.  If inclined, you will grow. 

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Filming in the library of my home, “Occasional Poetry: How to Write Poems for any Occasion” soon to be available on the LearnAndKnow website. Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Bloom, Drake Wise Productions.

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Occasional Poetry: How to Write Poems for Any Occasion. A Guide to Versification, with Helpful Tips, Advice, Examples.

In quick and easy lessons discover the poet in yourself, your ability to compose poems of birth, of love, of memorial and eulogy, of all the occasions of life. With easy instruction, learn step-by-step, by diagrams and numerous examples, the techniques of poetry both classical and contemporary. Each of the 22 chapters offers a “how to” of poetry technique, a “show-and-tell” of birthday poems, wedding poems, anniversary poems, et cetera. Author Michael Curtis sympathetically guides the reader into the art and the craft of writing poems for any occasion.

For an excerpt from from “Occasional Verse: How to Write Poems for Any Occasion”, you might visit The Expansive Poetry online journal, and while there enjoy excellent poems and the erudite, useful essays of Joseph Salemi.

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