Resolutions

For poetry lovers, we have a blog series called Poetry Lessons, guest-hosted by M.A. Lee.  Visit our page on the 5ths (day 5, 15, and 25) to see which poem has inspired a lesson in thinking and writing. We’ll intersperse news about titles from Writers Ink as necessary.

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 these Resolutions: “Dream.  Believe.  Do.”

What are Your Resolutions?

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

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

                                              archy

Don Marquis’ Resolutions with Free Verse

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.

Having trouble with your poetry? If you swore a resolution to improve your writing style, do check out Discovering Sentence Craft. This handy guidebook covers ideas both figurative and interpretive as well as structures like inversion, opposition, repetition, and sequencing. Find it here:

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