Simple Counting

For poetry lovers, we have a series of blogs, Poetry Lessons.  Visit our page on the 5ths (5, 15, 25) to see which poem has inspired a lesson in thinking and writing.  We’ll intersperse with news about the newest books from Writers Ink.

We have a simple poetry lesson this time, Lynne Alvarez’ “She loved him all her life”.

She loved him all her life

and when she thought he might die

she tied her wrist to his at night

so that his pulse would not flutter

away from her suddenly

and leave her standed

No punctuation;  it’s not needed.

No special repetition or figurative language;  it’s the simple story of long love.

What makes this worthy of a poetry lesson, even a short one?  Count the syllables per line.

6 / 7 / 8 / 8 / 7 / 5

A syllable goes missing.  It departed.  As he departed and left her half complete (the symbolic meaning of 5).

This poem always brings tears to my eyes.

And the value to poets:  the use of simple numbers to create a revelatory structure. That’s all that’s needed.

Questions about writing your own poetry? Try Discovering Sentence Craft, which focuses the metaphorical and interpretive skills as well as inversion, opposition,  repetition, and sequencing. Find it here:

Tigers to Be Tamed ~ Power of Inference

We’re at our third blog for the Poetry Lessons series, which focuses on “Clocks,” written by Chris Martin et al. / performed by ColdPlay. This song presents the power of inference, everything we can understand by bringing our personal knowledge to the bits and pieces that the poets reveal.  If you are not familiar with the song, please visit this link: Go on. I’ll wait.

Verse I ~ Inferring with Images of Trouble

The poem opens with images of trouble, letting us know immediately that the relationship is on the verge of break-up.  No lights can guide him back.  The tide is taking him out, away. and no amount of begging on his knees will stop the break-up.

What started the break-up?  “Things unsaid. . . . A trouble that can’t be named.”  What did he neglect to say?  What trouble can’t be named?  Oh, that kind of trouble, the one that someone never wants to name:  a sin he is responsible for but enjoyed too much to avoid it at the time.  And now it’s there, between them, not mentioned but still festering.

How do I know he’s the one responsible for the sin?  It’s in the allusion of “Shoot an apple off my head”:  He’s the boy in the William Tell story:  the apple of desire / of lies is on his head, placed there by himself, waiting for it to be shot off.  But she hasn’t shot it off.  Instead, she refuses to talk about it.  It’s still there for both of them to see, because neither of them will mention it and get it out of the way.

That’s the tiger, the thing that needs to be tamed, but it won’t be.  They refuse to acknowledge it, even though it has thousands of stripes.  The stripes are all based on the same sin, in variations every time his sin comes between them.  Black.  Obvious.  With claws and fangs that rip them apart.

Chorus ~ Inferring an Argument / an Accusation / What?

Such a simple chorus, repeating the words “You are”.  Is it an accusation?  Is it her accusation of him–unfinished because it can’t be named?  Is it a wish?  We don’t know at this point.

Verse II ~ Inferring the Cause of Cracks in the Relationship

Part one of this stanza shows his reversed thinking:  he’s taking actions too late.  He’s knowing what to do too late.  He’s suffering the consequences not that she’s gone, too late to stop her leaving.

So we begin with the last line of the first part of Stanza II: “I could not stop that you now know” although he obviously wanted to.

But she’s gone now, and he wants to bring her back to the home they were supposed to be creating:  “Gonna come back and take you home”.

When he walks through the place they lived, the place that he wanted to call “home”, he feels oppressed, claustrophic (closing walls) and time passes so slowly (“ticking clocks”).  He has no escape now from what he’s done.  He has to live with it.  Nothing to distract him.  His thoughts, in constant revolution like a clock.  His actions, putting him in the cage of his own making.

Could he have stopped it?  That must be his constant question without an answer:  “Confusion never stops.”

His “seas”, the ones that have the “tides that [he] tried to swim against”, are drowning him.  He can’t escape that what he did broke them up.  Now he curses “missed opportunities”.  Now he realizes what he should have done, every step along the way.  The words he should have said.  The little details of life that he could have helped with.  The tasks he could have taken on.  The devotion he should have given.

The verse concludes with an antithesis:  “Am I a part of the cure?  / Or am I part of the disease?”  Can he get her back?  Can he “cure” their relationship?  Or is there something inherently wrong with him?  Has he a cancerous sin that infects him and prevents him from succeeding at a relationship?

Chorus ~ Inferences becoming Clearer

Again “you are”.  This time, we know what it is:  he misses her.  She was everything, but he realized it to late.  “Nothing else compares” to her and to the life they were trying to build together.

How do I know?  She represented “home” to him:  “home, home where I wanted to go.”  That was his dream for the relationship: together they would make a home. 

Not now.  So he sings his lament with its obsessive repetition.  Too late.  She is gone.  The dream is gone.  And he is alone in that echoing house.

Questions? Trouble with your own poetry? Check out Discovering Sentence Craft, covering ideas both figurative and interpretive as well as structures like inversion, opposition, repetition, and sequencing. Find it here:

Paradox: Dream vs. Reality

This lesson is about “Counting Stars,” written by Ryan Tedder and performed by One Republic. We’re at the second blog in our Poetry Lessons series. Enjoy!

“Stars” symbolically means “goals that we hope to accomplish, goals we cannot reach.”  To count stars is to look at the dreams we have and contrast it with the reality we face.

The full lyrics for “Counting Stars” can be found here. If you’re not familiar with the song, head off now to read the lyrics. (The music video, while “interesting”, defaults to the trite Hollywood criticism of religion.  This song is not about religion—unless it is how we can become so devoted to dreams or materialism that we don’t focus on reality.)

The opening chorus presents that the young couple is just starting out.  The persona is “dreaming about the things that we could be”.  The goals that they have set are money-based;  this is the reason he wants to abandon “counting dollars”.  They need to re-cast their goals into something that is not dependent on money.

Verse I ~ Paradox Begins

Dreams are like a “swinging vine”, one of those that we jump on to send us into the river of life–life, not mere existence, freedom, not slavery to the dollar.  The persona wants to jump on that vine, but “flashing signs” are warning him to stop, re-consider, change.  The biblical allusion of “seek it out and ye shall find” serves as a prod to pursue the dream he wants.

As the verse continues, he reflects that he is “old but I’m not that old”.  This contrast seems impossible, yet it presents the mistakes he’s made.  He is experienced (old) but young in years;  life has tossed him around, yet he’s still trying.

“Young but I’m not that bold”:  his turbulent experiences that matured him at such a young age also have warned him not to continue ahead recklessly, an idea reinforces with the practical wisdom of others: “I’m just doing what we’re told”.

Should they follow that practical wisdom?  Counting dollars has helped others get close to something that somewhat resembles their dreams.  Should they continue?  Or should they count the stars and cast off their original dream?  The line “I don’t think the world is sold” appears to say “yes” to the second question.  But “thinking” doesn’t mean reality;  the world is corrupted by the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Which leads us to the three paradoxes that make this song so clever:

I feel something so right by doing the wrong thing
I feel something so wrong by doing the right thing
… Everything that kills me makes me feel alive.

How can we feel such excitement when we do the wrong things while feeling “wrong” (saddened, depressed, caged) when we do the right things?  That adrenaline rush we get when we break society’s rules makes us take risks to “be burned up with beauty”, as Don Marquis informed us in “The Lesson of the Moth” (previous blog).  We want to feel alive, so we recklessly abandon good sense to pursue that beauty.

These paradoxes are his truth.  He could lie to himself and to her, but he won’t.

Verse II ~ Paradox Everywhere

The paradoxes help us understand that the couple must abandon “counting dollars” and a practical existence in order to achieve their starry goals.  And they have to pursue those goals actively.

Which leads us to “Hope is our four-letter word”.  Four-letter words are curse words;  to this couple, hope is a curse.  If they merely “hope” instead of taking action, if they merely dream instead of believe, if they merely dream instead of taking action, their dreams will gradually fade in their pursuit of the dollars that they mistakenly think will lead them to their goals.

And that leads us to the new paradox:  “Everything that drowns me makes me wanna fly.”

The daily pursuit of dollars drowns us, drowns our dreams, drowns our souls.  He recognizes the crisis they are in, and he realizes they must flee from any practical goal that society approves.

The repetitive lines of the bridge serve as the final reinforcement to abandon society’s perspective:

Take that money watch it burn / Sing in the river the lessons I learned.

The Truth of the Paradox

Pursue a life of personal goals, not society’s goals.  Give up the drowning focus of practical living.

This isn’t logical, but . . . where is logic in the pursuit of dreams and love?  Jump into the river.  Pursue life.  Stop hoping and do.

Having trouble with your poetry? Check out Discovering Sentence Craft, covering ideas both figurative and interpretive as well as structures like inversion, opposition, repetition, and sequencing. Find it here: