Resolutions

Over at Writers Ink Books, M. A. Lee is finishing off a series of blogs entitled New Advent and concerned with how to begin to think like a writer.  For the New Year, her blog is “Be Resolved”.

For poetry lovers, we’re going to start up a series of blogs, Poetry Lessons, guest-hosted by Emily R. Dunn of Writers Ink Books.  Visit our page on every multiple of 7 (7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th) to see which poem has inspired a lesson in thinking and writing.

Our first lesson is Don Marquis’ “Lesson of the Moth”.

The New Year:  a time of reflection, of re-charging, of resolving.

Whenever we analyze our lives, we consider our dreams and strive to turn those dreams into goals.

On my wall I have “Dream.  Believe.  Do.”

In “Lesson of the Moth,” the philosophizing bug archy also considers dreams.  As a bug, archy can’t use the shift key to create capital letters, and he ignores punctuation.  Read on to see what archy learned from another bug.

The Lesson of the Moth

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself

The structure of this poem helps to emphasize Marquis’ words.  And I’m not talking about his gimmick with archy.  Sometimes writers resort to gimmicks to get their ideas to the public, and Marquis certainly caught the public’s attention with his buggy archy and unusual capitalization and punctuation, much as e.e. cummings did.

What structure am I talking about?

The beauty of free verse is how lines can be manipulated to focus on certain words.

In stanza 2, the anaphora for “and crave beauty / and excitement” helps emphasize the moth’s desire.

Touches of alliteration throughout keep us focused on that desire: “close / kill”, “be / burned / beauty”, “live / long” and “be / bored” and “better / beauty”.

The reversed anastrophe “come easy go easy” reinforces the moth’s backward thinking:  he doesn’t think like humans do now but as humans “used to”.

Contrasting “half the happiness and twice / the longevity” through the math of the line returns us to the logical human way of looking at things.

Yet look at the last stanza, specifically the two lines that end with “i wish / i wanted”.  Here is archy’s own desire, cast at the end of the line.

“Lesson of the Moth” looks simple, but it is carefully crafted.

Play with anaphoras, alliteration, and anastrophes as you write both free verse and pure verse.  Your poems will tighten up structurally as well as begin to focus your ideas.

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