Poetry: Major Methods Every Poet Should Know, part 3A of 3
Pure Verse: Seduced by Rhythm and Rhyme
True poets and wannabies and hacks and newbies all work with Pure Verse.
No matter which of the four writers above, rhyme entices us more and more. The quick little rhymes affect (and infect) us all the time.
This the last. We’re going to go fast. Keep up.
Pure Verse Affects Us ~~ our ear listens for similar keys in pretty much everything. When the ear hears one similarity, it listens for more. Advertising uses the Rule of 7, within a single commercial and within a series.
Pure Verse Infects Us ~~ thinking that similarity in sound will make others pay attention, we resort to it over and over. Rhyme, then, can become not a seducer by a raper of our ear.
Pure Verse, remember, is the matching of both rhyme and rhythm within a short work.
Blank Verse is the matching of the rhythm but no matching of rhyme.
Free Verse, which is supposed to be without rhythm and rhyme, uses other methods to tie the poetic lines together.
Problems with Pure Verse
The first thing that a true poet must avoid is the “Rocking Horse Rhythm”: back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you.
Rocking Horse Rhythm puts every poem on the level of a nursery rhyme.
Once you know that Emily Dickinson’s poems with 8/6 line structure can be sung to the theme song for “Gilligan’s Isle”, you can’t help but try it with everyone one.
“I died for Beauty but was scarce / Adjusted in the Tomb / when one who died for Tru~th / was laid in an adjoining room.”
Geez. Dickinson’s point gets lost in the gimmick. Decades of high school students have been ruined by teachers who would rather destroy the point in order to generate a laugh.
How many students will consider a poem about the power of imagination when they are busy mentally singing the poem to “Gilligan”?
“I never saw a Moor / I never saw the Sea / Yet know I how the heather looks / and what a billow be.” Huh?
How do poets avoid this problem caused by rhythm?
Well, poets can work in the music industry, for music needs strongly rhythmic lines.
Better yet, they can craft such strong words that the rhythm is disguised, as Frost occasionally did: Contrast “Once by the Pacific” with “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”.
We could say that “Stopping by Woods” uses its strong rhythm, especially with the last two lines of “miles to go before I sleep”, for strong rhythms are associated with sleeping.
How could similar-sounding words at the end of lines create problems? Sometimes they don’t.
Working with couplets is problematic. Read the worst poems by hacks and wannabies and newbies, and the problem is quickly evident.
Divided couplets are what poets usually default to: ABAB or ABBA or some such pattern.
Even poems I love display this problem:
“I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree.” ~ Joyce Kilmer
“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.” ~ Robert Frost.
See how Frost broke the couplet pattern to create AABA . . . but look at the second stanza: “My little horse must think it queer / To stop without a farmhouse near / Between the woods and frozen lake / The darkest evening of the year.” BBCB. And so the poem continues.
“I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. / So it, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: / Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned / With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.” ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay ‘Dirge Without Music”
Millay avoids the close rhyme of her ABAB stanza “ground / mind / crowned / resigned” in two ways.
1] The length of her lines prevent the close reading of the rhyme.
2] She uses unusual rhymes: mind / resigned.
Work Carefully with Pure Verse
Sara Teasdale’s “Christmas Carol” gives us a multitude of examples to avoid problems.
- Unusual word choices trick our conscious minds into thinking of those rather than the rhyme (even though our subconscious still registers it).
- Another method to trick the conscious mind is to invert the order of words. Using inversion helps the mind focus on the words rather than the rhythm.
- Use the divided couplet and keep it changing. ABCB DEFE GHIH JKLK MNON PQRQ
- An alternating rhythm that reinforces the divided couplet helps: Teasdale’s is iambic tetrameter with iambic trimester.
- Notice how the second stanza repeats similar structures but uses contrast: ermine is contrasted with brown/old coats; gold / had not any gold. Juxtaposition is a powerful pattern for our minds. Teasdale sets up the juxtaposition in stanzas 1 and 2. Then she plays with her contrasting for 3 and 4, showing stronger similarity than difference.
- She plays with repeating the primary characters in stanzas 5 and 6. By then, however, she adds in one more element.
- That seventh element is Charm. Gets the mommas and children every time. Awwww.
Wrapping Up: Time to Unwrap the Presents
Join us for our last blog of the year, on Christmas Day, for Old Masters and New of Pure Verse.