Rhyme & Meter Online: Sunday February 22 2009

  • Not much this week. A couple of posts by me. Mostly discussions on various forums (such as Poets.Org) which, though interesting, are too changeable to reference.
  • If any readers would like to recommend sites or blogs please do! Feel free to recommend your own blog or poem if you like but please don’t post your poem in the comment field (provide a link and the first lines).

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About.Com

Definition: Terza rima is poetry written in three-line stanzas (or “tercets”) linked by end-rhymes patterned aba, bcb, cdc, ded, efe, etc. There is no specified number of stanzas in the form, but poems written in terza rima usually end with a single line or a couplet rhyming with the middle line of the last tercet.

Dante Alighieri was the first poet to use terza rima, in his Divine Comedy, and he was followed by other Italian poets of the Renaissance, like Boccaccio & Petrarch…

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Robert Frost, Iambic Pentameter & Mending Wall

Having noticed several searches on Frost’s Mending Wall (probably one of the most famous poems he wrote) I thought I would take a look at the poem. I’ve looked at several of my books on Frost and none of them extensively analyze the poem. The archetypal meaning of the wall is straightfoward and expounded on by the speaker of the poem. Perhaps the most insightful comment was Richard Poirier’s in Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing

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Roethke and Waltzing Iambic Tetrameter

Theodore Roethke lived from 1908 to 1963. He died the same year as Robert Frost, though much younger when he died – only 55. Though he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, the Waking, his reputation these days remains overshadowed. Two good books that both offer brief biographies on  Roethke, Michael Schmidt’s the Lives of the Poets and David Perkins A History of Modern Poetry, cite Roethke’s inability to establish his own voice as contributing to his relative obscurity….

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Poetry

Below you will find a compliation of snippets I have found on the internet which will help you understand poetry better. I know it is a lot to take in. Let me know if anything confuses you. Please be sure to look this over a few times, and especially read the bit about poetry and modernism at the end…

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How to Write a Poem

First you’ll need to read or listen to poetry. This is not a requirement for writing poetry, especially if your writing just for your enjoyment, however most all publish worthy poems are written by those who read or listen to poetry regularly…

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A Traveler from an Antique Land

Of course that’s from Shelley’s “Ozymandias”, and I quote it in the post heading because the pop-sci book on human genetics I’ve just started, Bryan Sykes’ The Seven Daughters of Eve, quotes it without acknowledgement in the second paragraph of the prologue…

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  • According to Google, this was posted on the 18th, despite being an older interview. The interview is a good read.

Interview with Professor Haun Saussy, October 3rd, 2007

Often the bronze texts are not very “poetic” in our twentieth-century sense of the word. They are short on beautiful poetic metaphors. In breaking free of rhyme and meter, twentieth-century poets and critics said, “We’re not so interested in the sound of verse; poetry isn’t composed to the metronome; what counts is imagery, that is the point of using free verse.” In all this perfectly justifiable poetic revolution, we have lost track of what was important in an earlier revolution, namely the discovery of rhyme which was so important for early Chinese poetry…

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  • This website and its posts aren’t recent, but is new to me.

Limping Iambics

Coming Home

She sat facing backwards on the train to Crewe,
watching herself shrinking in the distance
while familiar landscapes flickered past the window,
though not in black and white.
They had been, once –
with hairline cracks that burst upon a screen,
where Mother, tightly-permed and nyloned,
clicked her heels through unconnected scenes…

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  • And I wrote a new poem this week, in Iambic Dimeter.

A February Bat

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  • If you’ve tried out rhyme or meter this week, let me know & let the world know! Comment!
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Roethke & Waltzing Iambic Trimeter

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  • September 14, 2009. I remember making posters when I was a kid. The more I concentrated on the spelling, the more likely I was to get it wrong. It’s not Tetrameter but Trimeter. (This post was originally titled Roethke & Waltzing Iambic Tetrameter.) My thanks to Joy at  Welcome to Way Down Under for catching this mistake. Sometimes we just need a little help from friends.

Theodore Roethke lived from 1908 to 1963. He died the same year as Robert Frost, though much younger when he died – only 55. lives-of-the-poetsThough he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, the Waking, his reputation these days remains overshadowed. Two good books that both offer brief biographies on  Roethke, Michael Schmidt’s the Lives of the Poets and David Perkins A History of Modern Poetry, cite Roethke’s inability to establish his own voice as contributing to his relative obscurity. His style ranges from an early rugged meter and rhyme, to a Yeatsian diction and subject matter mid-career, to a more elemental and Whitmanesque freedom of line and expression shortly before his death (though he never wholly abjures form in poetry). Schmidt writes: “His dependence on other poets for structure, mythology, and actual style shakes our trust in the poet; but no one can deny the original power of the poems that seek to make him whole.”  On the other hand, what Roethke generally did not adopt, unlike some of his contemporaries and successors, was the “abandoning of traditional forms and the contingent world in favor of the seductions of the unconscious and of dream.” Reothke’s best poems are strongly grounded in the real, present and natural world.

My Papa’s Waltz

Roethke - My Papa's Waltz

My Papa’s Waltz may be one of Roethke’s best known poems. It’s written in an Iambic Trimeter that Roethke skillfully varies according to the subject matter of the poem – a counterpoint unavailable to free verse poetry.

I’ve bracketed the first and third quatrains (or stanzas) because they offer something very deliberate. The feminine endings of dizzy and easy (slant rhymes), in the first stanza, and knuckle and buckle, in the third, masterfully reproduce the halting and drunken rhythm of his father’s waltzing. (Without being limping iambs, the lines create a similar feel.) The words themselves both reinforce and are reinforced by the meter – dizzy in the first stanza; the painful interruptions of knuckle and buckle in the second.

The other reason for bracketing both stanzas is that they are both strictly about Roethke’s dance with his father.

Another metrical touch is the trochaic foot in the second line of the second stanza:

slid-from

The trochaic foot skillfully emphasizes the disruption of the pans as they slid from the kitchen selves. This isn’t an easy waltz, things are backwards and upside down. The trochee in the second line is echoed by the near-spondee of the stanza’s fourth line:

could-not

As with his mother’s countenance, the meter too is disturbed.

Before the boy is whisked off to bed, the metrical pattern of the poem is disrupted one last time:

you-beat-time

The second foot of could be read as an out and out spondee:

you-beat-time-spondee

theodore-roethkeIn either case, the meter disturbingly echoes the slap of his father’s palm on the boy’s head, disrupting the meter of the poem, the waltz, and any joy the boy takes in the father’s drunken attention. The only real anapestic variant in the poem occurs in the second line of the poem’s final stanza – with a palm. Though I shy away from giving poets too much credit for qualities (such as vowel & consonant sounds) inherent in the English language, I think that Roethke’s anapest, in this stanza, was deliberate. He could have written – With palms|cracked hard| by dirt. I think the line would have worked that way. My reading is that the anapest nicely reproduces the hard, swinging whack of the father’s palm on the boy’s head.

And yet, through all these things, the boy still “clings” to his father’s shirt when he is waltzed off to bed. Even the rough attention of a drunken father is a “love” that the boy clings t. This is perhaps the most poignant, to me, conclusion of the poem. Despite the hard and painful dance of his father’s waltz, it’s not a dance that the boy wants to surrender.

Be sure and let me know if you enjoy these readings.