Some prefer Michael Fassbender, but I think that one drags too much (Fassbender taking direction from the word “creeps”, just as the whole 2015 film does) while Ian McKellan seems too insouciant. McKellan’s analysis is spot on.
Means: 4 sentences, each expressing the futility of life. Remember, this is Macbeth talking, not Shakespeare. Never consider a character’s words as the writer’s personal philosophy.
Method: alternating lines of 10 and 11 syllables, with the next to last hitting 12 syllables and the last line hitting 6. Not for nothing is Shakespeare called genius. In the world of symbols,
10 represents completion (the completion of Macbeth’s life is drawing close).
11 represents transition (and the greatest transition is death, doubled here as Lady Macbeth to whom he speaks is dead and his own death is rapidly approaching).
12 equals man’s relationship with God (and Macbeth will soon be judged for his crimes).
6 represents doubled mystery (and the greatest mystery is Death, again for Lady M and himself).
Opportunity: Shakespeare is reminding the audience that everything we do in life will have consequences far reaching into our deaths. Time may seem to pass slowly … until our own death approaches. We may never understand our lives; they may seem no more than a shadow or an idiot’s tale with no meaning ~~ but we must still answer for the sins we commit.
Old Master 2: William Cowper
Cowper brought about a revival of Blank Verse in the late 1700s, just in time for the English Romantics BLAKE, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Shelley and Byron.
A few lines from “Winter Morning Walk”, Book V of The Task:
`Tis liberty alone that gives the flow’r
Of fleeting life its lustre and perfume,
And we are weeds without it. All constraint,
Except what wisdom lays on evil men,
Is evil; hurts the faculties, impedes
Their progress in the road of science; blinds
The eyesight of discov’ry, and begets,
In those that suffer it, a sordid mind
Bestial, a meagre intellect, unfit
To be the tenant of man’s noble form.
Means: You can hear the intellectual conversation the poet is having in the rhythm of his words. While Cowper is writing strict Blank Verse (count the syllables, every line is 10), he avoids the rocking-chair beat. In this section we hear the conversations of the coffee salons of the 1700s, when people discussed the role of man in society and the ills of society in harming man’s soul.
Method: pure Blank Verse, unrhymed which allows the conversational tone. Only one line appears to have more than 10 syllables, but if we pronounce “bestial” as “beast-al”, we achieve 10.
Opportunity: Look at Cowper’s theme: Liberty/Freedom gives life its beauty. Only those restrictions which prevent evil should be allowed (as in “no murder”). Cowper believes restrictions hurt us and hurt progress while those who impose those restrictions are narrow and base.
That’s an interesting juxtaposition to Macbeth’s Famous Speech, isn’t it?
New Master 1: Robert Frost
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
Means: “Birches” is a long poem, 60 lines, another one of those poems that high school students hate and adults remember with sadness. This section is the poet addressing his audience: Remember when you were a child and had fun ~ until Truth broke into your life. In this, Frost is like Cowper: restrictions restrict us. Where’s our freedom, the freedom we had in childhood, the freedom we have lost and dream of regaining?
Method: Primarily 10 syllables per line, with others that reach 11 and 12. Curiously enough, the two lines about Truth are 11 and 12 syllables; check back up to Macbeth for the meanings of those numbers. See a sly point by Frost?
Opportunity: It’s an ice storm that bends the trees down, Truth reminds the speaker, but he would rather it were a boy at play. And while Frost describes the childhood event, he zings us with two truths: “He learned all there was / To learn about not launching out too soon” and “So was I once myself a swinger of birches / And so I dream of going back to be”.
New Master 2: Wallace Stevens
The Plain Sense of Things
After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.
It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.
The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.
Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence
Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.
Means: 5 stanzas, each presenting an idea: literal, vacuum, need, silence, potential ~ the great flashiness set aside for a time, we have a chance to think and peruse and rebuild, focused on the essentials rather than the amendments.
Method: This is a loose Blank Verse, meaning that most but not all of the lines are 10 syllables. “Plain Sense” is not conversational, not philosophical. It is introspection, one of the few times we can point to master poetry and say, “This is what the poet is thinking.”
Opportunity: “Plain Sense” was published in 1954, a year before the poet’s death. Is he discussing the loss of his imagination, his creativity with poetry? Is he discussing the drained feeling of every person who has poured every bit of self into a project and sits back after its completion with a sense of emptiness rather than success? “After the leaves have fallen”, after the work is finished, what do we have? Is Stevens capturing that moment before the next project seeds itself?
The Irony of Blank Verse
Most writers launching into poetry as a career will avoid the Blank Verse and Pure Verse methods of expressing themselves. They seek the freedom of Free Verse without realizing that Free Verse is actually bounded by more rules of structure than Blank and Pure Verses are.
Robert Frost shares with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edna St. Vincent Millay a great benefit that is also a detriment: all three poets make writing poetry look easy. Their lines are easily understood and accessible. They don’t find it necessary to twist the words or show off their snobbery. They make it look so easy that sometimes we don’t really see what they are doing.
And all three poets, along with Wallace Stevens, work in very structured poetic forms, both line and stanza—and rhyme scheme, as we will consider next month.
While I have a great love of Free Verse, especially the challenging poems by e.e.cummings, writers working in poetry make a great mistake in thinking Free Verse is the best method for their writing.
“In ‘The Problem of Form’, poet J.V. Cunningham spoke in 1962 of the exhaustion of modernism: “We have lost the repetitive harmony of the old tradition, and we have not established a new. We have written to vary or violate the old line, for regularity we feel is meaningless and irregularity meaningful. But a generation of poets, acting on the principles and practice of significant variation, have at last nothing to vary from. The last variation is regularity.”
When modern poets abandon the structured verse methods and consider themselves edgy and avant-garde by doing so, they forget the very point that Cunningham made in 1962. Modernism has created a curious situation in which breaking the rules is considered establishment and following rules is considered anti-establishment: rebellious.
So, if you want to be one of the avant-garde poets, you need to write structured verse.
We’re looking at Major Poetic Methods Every Poet Should Know.
Our focus this time is the MMO: the poet’s Means, Method, and Opportunity, or kairos, as Aristotle called it.
The Old Master: Roger McGough, “40 Love” with the net between them
MMO > Means: lobbing the words back and forth, just as a tennis ball does. Method: the shape of a tennis game. Opportunity: the couple stays together, even though they may bicker, even though they may no longer love each other, they have lost the connection between them.
The barrier is there, like the net on a tennis court invisible to us but relevant to them.
And this invisible net now explains the title, both a reference to the score of a tennis game and the ennui of the middle-aged couple.
A New Master: well, this is an interesting problem. It’s hard to find contemporary shaped poetry that doesn’t devolve into sentimentality or juvenile wish fulfillment. Let’s try the Prose Poem.
In the morning of the tribe this name Ancapagari was given to these mountains. The name, then alive, spread into the world and never returned. Ancapagari: no foot-step ever spoken, no mule deer killed from its foothold, left for dead. Ancapagari opened the stones. Pine roots gripped peak rock with their claws. Water dug into the earth and vanished, boiling up again in another place. The water was bitten by aspen, generations of aspen shot their light colored trunks into space. Ancapagari. At that time, if the whisper was in your mouth, you were lighted.
Now these people are buried. The root-taking, finished. Buried in everything, thousands taken root. The roots swell, nesting. Openings widen for the roots to surface.
They sway within you in steady wind of your breath. You are forever swinging between this being and another, one being and another. There is a word for it crawling in your mouth each night. Speak it.
Ancapagari has circled, returned to these highlands. The yellow pines deathless, the sparrow hawks scull, the waters are going numb. Ancapagari longs to be spoken in each tongue. It is the name of the god who has come from among us.
MMO > Means: four paragraphs. Fragmented sentences alternated with complete ones. Method: It looks like any other prose; however, it reads as poetry, compact ideas with rhetorical repetition and climatic ordering. Opportunity: the resurgence of life once gone yet never departed, the power of the cyclical eternal to influence us when we allow ourselves to open and “speak it”.
Old Master: Carl Sandburg’s “Bones”
MMO > Means: a dramatic monologue of someone who died at sea. Method: the speaking voice contrasts the mundane grave with the “song of thunder, crash of sea”. Opportunity: if we cannot live an extraordinary life, we can give our bones an extraordinary death.
New Master: Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry”
MMO > Means: presenting the reactions a poet wants to hear from the audience. Method: the catalog across stanzas. Check out that list! Opportunity: Collins wants students to enjoythe poem, not analyzeit to death.
Literature classes often over-analyze. As Archibald MacLeish says, perhaps the poem “should not mean / But be.”
New Master: Charles Simic’s “Stone”
MMO > Means: a simple imagining of the life of a stone. Method: three unrhymed stanzas, repetition, anaphora and other devices. Opportunity: Like Sandburg’s “Bones”, this poem is about transformation. Simic, however, imagines the serene existence of the stone only to wonder if it hides a more volatile existence beneath a cold, hard covering ~ as we often encounter with people, the difference between their exterior and interior lives.
Coming Next: We look at Blank Verse. Part 2A will introduce considerations with Blank Verse; part 2B will provide more examples.
Discovering Sentence Craftis celebrating its 2nd birthday!
In the forests of words that we writers grow, blazed trails mark the way to our destination. Without those trails, without paths leading down to sun-sparkled streams, without the yellow brushstroke painted on tree after tree, we might lose our direction and our sanity.
Reading through that opening paragraph, most writers will recognize the extended hiking metaphor. Many will spot inversion and alliteration. A few will appreciate the anaphora and auxesis and zeugma, even when not familiar with those terms.
This is Sentence Craft. Controlled use creates appreciative readers. Over-blown use drives readers away.
Sentence Craft—from easy imagery to involved structures—is essential for the poet.
Bloggers and other nonfiction writers will find it a marketing tool, distinguishing them from their competition.
Speech writers and great broadcast journalists use these devices to make their spoken words become memorable.
With fiction, writers paint expositions and settings and character tags, capturing readers who may not even recognize the sweeping stroke of the magical wand.
Discovering Sentence Craft is for writers new and old. For newbies, word-tricks can be fascinating ventures into an unknown forest. These tricks can renew a veteran writer’s love of words and sentences flowing onto the page.
In small offerings, of course. Too many tricks glaze our readers’ eyes.
Discovering Sentence Craft covers figurative and interpretive concepts as well as the structural elements that build meaning, emphasis, and memory.
Writer M.A. Lee believes writing is a skill-based craft which can be learned and practiced. Artists learn composition, perspective, depth, proportion, and shading. A baseball player learns in-field and out-field, pitching vs. throwing, batting and bunting. An electrician learns reading blueprints, voltage and current, circuits, outlets, and panels.
A writer needs much more than grammar and spelling. Reading widely, Discovering Sentence Craft concepts and structures, and practicing them will open doors for anyone who wants to improve.
Hey! Remember this? We’re looking at the various ways that we classify poetry.
First off, all writing is either Prose or Poetry. Plays are either one or the other—with Shakespeare, you sometimes get both.
For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare distinguishes between prose and poetry and between Blank Verse and Pure Verse.
Prose: any lines that are just plan fun are usually written as prose, such as the servants’ conversation at the very beginning.
Poetry: All other lines follow poetry, with a standard meter (Yss, a few lines are exceptions. Cast back to the Symbolic Numbers blog and consider why a line about Death would have 11 syllables?)
Blank Verse: Lines that discuss the feud between the families.
Pure Verse: any lines that advance the love story are written as poetry.
R&J is about the only Shakespeare play that is so tightly written to follow this rule. The classic procrastinator’s play Hamlet is not one of his better written works, and the structure of the lines is all over the place.
This is all digression, however, to remind you of what we’re doing.
And we’re focusing on the New Masters of Free Verse.
On the 15th, we looked at Old Masters of the three forms of Free Verse.
Today, the 25th, we look at New Masters of those three forms.
The New Master: Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Constantly Risking Absurdity”
Ferlinghetti reminds us that poets are performers, risking their public acceptance just as a trapeze artist does. Both work without a safety net.
Ferlinghetti’s structure mimics the acrobatic performance as the words walk back and forth across the taut lines of verse.
The New Master: Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Pool Players” which begins “We real cool. We / Left School. We / Lurk late.”
Brooks plays with unusual rhyming, but the tight control of her lines lands this poem firmly in the free verse world. She adds in alliteration to keep everything tightly controlled.
The New Master: Arcelis Girmay’s “Elegy”: at this link. To reproduce here is to break copyright since I’m not doing a line-by-line explication.
As you read, notice how Girmay uses the ampersand, that looping connecter, which stresses that this poem is about connections. She plays with the idea of the catalog, but doesn’t carry it through–that would become too jerky and abrupt for her concept of smoothly curving connections.
Free Verse offers varied options to structure our poems. While free of rhyme and rhythm, free verse by master poets gives us our own MMO.
Once we see the MMO in action, we discover free verse is as highly structured as the pure and blank verse forms.
Let’s look at three different version of Free Verse :: Shaped, Catalog, and Classic. When we want our poetry memorable, we learn from the masters.
For each, we will have an example of an Old Master, On the 25th, we’ll look at New Masters.
The Old Master: George Herbert’s “Easter Wings”
A first practitioner of shaped verse, Herbert did follow a rhyming pattern. He worked in the early 1600s. How’s that for age?
Our souls, in celebration of the Resurrection at Easter, are enabled to fly up to Heaven.
The Old Master: Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself 26” (a selected series of lines)
Now I will do nothing but listen,
To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it.
I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals,
I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice,
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following,
Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds of the day and night,
Talkative young ones to those that like them, the loud laugh of work-people at their meals,
The angry base of disjointed friendship, the faint tones of the sick,
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronoun-cing a death-sentence,
The heave’e’yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves, the refrain of the anchor-lifters,
The ring of alarm-bells, the cry of fire, the whirr of swift-streak-ing engines and hose-carts with premonitory tinkles and color’d lights,
The steam-whistle, the solid roll of the train of approaching car. . . .
Sometimes the Classic Form is called Simple Form. Hey, is anything ever simple?
The Old Master: Stephen Crane’s “The Wayfarer”
The wayfarer, Perceiving the pathway to truth, Was struck with astonishment. It was thickly grown with weeds. “Ha,” he said, “I see that none has passed here In a long time.” Later he saw that each weed Was a singular knife. “Well,” he mumbled at last, “Doubtless there are other roads.”
When we examine these poems, we see interconnections of ideas through the shape, through the catalog, through repetition, and through other rhetorical techniques.
In addition to other techniques, Whitman’s catalog uses anaphora and plays with alliteration while Crane writes a narrative. Herrick’s poem may rhyme, but the controlling shape lands it firmly in the free verse world.
Join us on the 25th, for the new masters working in free verse.