December 02, 2006

Poem with Rhyme Scheme

I was talking to my father about formal poetry, that is poetry with meter and rhyme, like sonnets and villanelles etc. He likes what I call the singsonginess of it, the end-stopped lines especially, whereas I love the enjambements where the line continues off the end of the line onto the next line so that there is not the clunky de dum de dum de dum de DUM de dum de dum de dum de DUM of folksinging to it. Don't get me wrong, I am a folksong fan from WAY back and love all sorts of folk music and folk dancing as well. I just don't care for those steady beats and regular rhythms in poetry, as it ruins my concentration and I think cheapens most of what the poet is trying to say, though with enjambements this tends to happen less. I think it is hard to be serious with singsongy beats. Yet one of Robert Frost's less known poems "Provide, Provide" does it well, even with end-stopped lines, so I have to basically say that it depends on the ability of the poet probably. And I suspect ET would probably tell us that certain meters lend themselves more to seriousness than others, right, Paula? Can one write a serious poem to the meter, whatever it is called of dee dee Dum dee dee Dum? ("You are old, Father Williams the young man replied And you hair has become very white. And yet you incessantly stand on your head, do you think at your age it is right?" Dunno if I quoted it correctly but you see what I mean...On the other hand, it is a parody of a so called serious poem of the day, that Lewis Carroll apparently detested.

Anyhow, as to the poem below, if you look at the rhymes at the end of the lines, you will see that the first third and fourth lines rhyme and the second and fifth lines rhyme. Don't ask me why. I don't know and don't care. It may not even be "legal"! It just turned out that way halfway through the poem so I decided to turn it that way all the way through. It concerns -- well I think the story is obvious -- but the person involved was a friend of mine for 25 years but whose drinking habit eventually came between us, that and constant verbal and mental abuse I was expected to take, then accept the apology for and forget. The friend never felt the need to curb the abuse, only to apologize for it afterwards...But the last straw was something physically dangerous, a situation this friend deliberately and out of sheer anger put me in, because I wouldn't give out my medication! After that, I said Good-bye and we haven't spoken or seen one another since. That was about 2 years ago and I'm not a bit sorry for doing what I had to do. I realize only now how abuse like that gets to you and controls you and your self-esteem and how possessive it is and how it keeps you from living life...

Well, after all that, I'd better just let you read the poem. After all, this person did bring about something miraculous in fact, before the abuse started. Popov is a kind of cheap vodka and James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake is notoriously difficult to read...


You were a poet once. You saved my soul
with the gift of poems, to read them and to write
inevitably to write them, for writing makes me whole
and I could not not write. I don’t have that control
but follow my urge and my need and appetite,

trusting always that my conscience will overrule
what appetite or urge might cause of harm or ill.
I was speaking of you. You gave me the tools
to teach myself; you should have returned to school.
You found vodka: after one drink you had no will

to stop. And though it seemed deliberate, a choice,
I suppose you couldn’t help it. On conversion day
you recited Hopkins’ Spring and Fall, your voice
not blurred by Popov (so you could even read Joyce!)
sure, mesmerizing, caught up in what you had to say.

It changed me utterly. Few experiences work such magic.
Why you quit poetry for drink I’ll never understand.
Life made you querulously unhappy, so there’s logic
in your refusal to live. But I’ll never not think it tragic
how your gift to me turned sour in your own hands.

Posted by pamwagg at December 2, 2006 06:50 PM


Dear Pammy,
To rhyme or not to rhyme, that is the question...Whether to..but I digress. Essentially, if you were to look carefully at some of your favorite poets, you would find that sometimes they employ rhyme, and sometimes they don't. It really relies upon whether or not the poet feels that a rhyme scheme would enhance his or her poem, or whether it is irrelevant.. Let's take our darling buddy, Bobby Frost. Actually, he used rhyme more often than not. Who could forget the first stanza of his beloved :Stopping by Woods.."

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Yet in our favorite "The Road Not Taken", he abandons rhyme and uses the technique that you prefer, i.e. one line pouring into the next to complete its meaning. No rhyme, no dum de dum.

As for dear Emily Dickinson, the Queen of rhyme, I will just quote a sweet short one that I've always liked, and then tell you something quite amusing.

The pedigree of honey
Does not disturb the bee;
A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.
The librarian at my school had been an English Major at Smith before she went on to get her Master's Degree in Library Science. We were very close and respected and liked each other immensely. I had received funding from our local Cultural Oraganization For the Arts to have an actress come to the school and perform "The Belle of Amhearst" for my students only.(No one else in the English department wanted to depart from the sacred curriculum at any time, so I had lots of interesting programs that benefited my students more than the "same old, same old".It was WONDERFUL!) Anyway, I was scurrying around the library collecting every poem I could get, particularly those I knew were used in the performance. Ultimately, I had typed and presented all of my students with their own booklet of E.D.'s best.Then we read and reread every poem, discussing, arguing clarifying and totally emersing ourselves in Ms.D.'s work. I was so proud of them during this one woman show. They were truly interested because they were familiar with all the works. Afterwards, the actress held a Q&A session, and she was delighted by their enthusiasm and their erudition(prompted a bit by yours truly). Anyway, after all was said and done, the librarian took me aside and said, "I didn't want to tell you this until after the show because you were so excited about it, but a college friend ruined my love of Emily's work forever when she casually said,"Have you ever noticed that every E.D. poem can be sung to the tune of "Comin' through the Rye"? Try it with the poem I quoted above. It's really true! The two of us laughed and laughed and sang quite a few to reinforce the theory. It didn't ruin my interest in her work, and, in truth, you must stretch a bit to make it work for every poem, but I had to take my hat off to the clever young woman who made the connection. In conclusion, it is not the technique that a poet uses that will ultimately put him or her in the hal of fame; it's the depth and the feel of the subject matter and his appropriate choice of the best method to present each poem that really matters(in my opinion, anyway).
Happy tromping through the rye, Love, Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at December 4, 2006 12:14 PM

Dear Pam,

Another excellent poem Pam. How can you say you're not on a roll? The poem reads really well. And the repetitions are very pleasing though the story is sad. I can identify with that tragic feeling because I lived with an abusive alcoholic for over five years. He loved to play guitar, write songs and sing though his creativity only lasted for a time and then the drink got the better of him as it got the better of your friend. But what a gift your friend gave to you even so, to be inspired by words to the point where you could not even think of not writing...and still can't. I'm relieved that you left an abusive situation but the pathos is right on target. And the rhymes work and are not sing songy but graceful. Way to go!

Posted by: Kate K. at December 3, 2006 09:09 PM

There are some poets/lyricists/songwriters who can rhyme with a gorgeous delicacy when writing verse meant to be sung. The masterful Leonard Cohen, for instance: "Ring the bells that still can ring. / Forget your perfect offering. / There is a crack in everything. / That's how the light gets in." And the lyrics to his "Sisters of Mercy"--ah, how very nice! Though best sung, of course.

See! I DO know how to be brief!


Posted by: Cynthia at December 2, 2006 08:44 PM

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