(Numbers in parentheses
indicate pages in R. S. Gwynn's Poetry: A Pocket Anthology, 3rd
from John Keats
Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" (140)
Lesson 1. The pathetic fallacy
makes the setting evoke the right mood for the reader. Here, the knight's
environment is one where "the sedge has withered," "no birds sing," and
it's a "cold hill side." La Belle Dame's world is one of garlands, roots
of relish sweet, manna dew. The effect created is what Bakhtin might call
a "character zone."
Lesson 2. Established poets
have historically talked about others, not about themselves and their own
personal problems and desires. They sublimate their emotions in their characters,
imagining another life, another time, with all their own desires.
"Ode on a Grecian Urn" (196)
Lesson 3. Poems of address
can bring inanimate objects alive, especially works of art. A good exercise
is to sit in front of a huge canvas or sculpture at the Portland Art Museum
with pen and paper and start talking to the artwork.
from A. E. Housman
"Eight O'Clock" (195)
Lesson 1: Rhyme gives a
sense of inevitability, of harmony. It creates a tension in a situation
like this, where there's an about-to-be-hanged man resisting the inevitability,
but rhyme wins out. The strongest sense of inevitability (and of harmony)
comes with the last word, which fits perfectly: "struck."
Lesson 2: Strong verbs bring
even a static scene to life. In this poem, nothing happens until the last
word; everyone is simply waiting until the clock strikes eight a.m., then
the traditional hour for executions. Then the clock strikes, and the lever
to make the man fall is struck. But look at the verbs that convey action
during the wait: stood, heard, sprinkle, tossed, strapped, noosed, nighing,
stood, counted, cursed, collected. The poem has twelve verbs among its
fifty-three words; 23% of the poem is verbs! (And of course not a one of
them is a "be" verb or other linking verb.)
Lesson 3: Poems gain power
as they shed the clutter of qualifiers, especially adjectives. The entire
poem has only one adjective--"morning," in front of "town"-- and that one
adjective is really a noun functioning as an adjective. The rest of the
poem's nouns stand alone, immediately meaning exactly what they mean, without
the reader's mind having to qualify what kind of the noun is meant: steeple,
quarters, town, market-place, people, hour, luck, clock, tower, strength.
We might also note that no nouns are repeated.
"Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now"
Lesson 4: Subtle alliteration
links concepts: bloom/bough, woodland/wearing/white, ten/twenty, seventy/springs/score.
Lesson 5: A metaphor becomes
more immediate if it's prepared for by a similar grammatical structure
earlier in the poem with the tenor of the metaphor in the vehicle's place.
In stanza one, we get "the cherry now / Is hung with bloom along the bough,"
and then in the last stanza, the elliptical and synecdochical "the cherry
hung with snow" has a stronger, more immediate effect with fewer words
Lesson 6: Obvious transitions
ease the reader's movement from thought to thought of the poem. Look at
the first line of each stanza, and we get "now," "Now," "And since."
Lesson 7: The stanza structure
of the poem makes the ideas more immediately graspable if each stanza is
a self-contained thought unit. Here, we have Stanza 1: observed fact; stanza
2: reflection on the fact; stanza 3: proposed action on the reflection.
from William Butler Yeats
Lesson 1: The greater world
which education opens up provides a starting point which can speak across
differences in geography, era, and culture.
Lesson 2: Exact words recreate
Lake Isle starts from Thoreau's
Leda from Greek myth,
Byzantium from European history,
Second Coming from the Bible,
Aegnus from Irish folklore.
Lesson 3: Parallel structures,
especially compounds, create memorable lines:
Lake Isle: "clay and wattles,"
Byzantium: "salmon-falls," "mackeral-crowded
seas," "hammered gold and gold enameling"
Aengus: "hazel wood," "silver
trout," "dappled grass"
of clay and wattles made
There midnight's all a glimmer
and noon a purple glow
On the roadway, or on the pavements
Fish, flesh, or fowl
Begotten, born, and dies
To lords and ladies
What is past, or passing, or
The best lack all conviction,
while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity
A gaze blank and pitiless as
Lesson 4: Quotable lines often
follow a rigorous meter:
and cut and peeled a hazel wand
Through hollow lands and hilly
And kiss her lips and take her
Till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
/ The golden apples of the sun
from Edna St. Vincent Millay
An aged man is but a paltry
thing, / A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
u ' / u ' / u ' / u '
/ u ' / u ' / u ' / u ' / u
' / u ' = two exact iambic pentameter lines
"If I Should Learn, In Some Quite Casual
Lesson 1: A poem sometimes
starts by a writer imagining a particular person she or he knows well and
has strong feelings about, and then imagining a situation in the future
in which the writer's persona illustrates his or her feelings by a particular
Lesson 2: A poem can use
a Shakespearean sonnet form (abab, cdcd, efef, gg) in strict iambic pentameter
to make a normal statement, straying from ordinary colloquial syntax and
Lesson 3: The poem does not
explain feelings; instead, it demonstrates feelings by showing particular
revelatory actions. The last two lines of the poem express emphatically
the speaker's relegation of "you" to a level of importance below helpful
hints on storing one's furs and treating one's hair.
"Not in a Silver Casket" (244)
Lesson 4: The structure
of a poem typically indicates changes in subject or attitude. Here the
first quatrain is about the kinds of rich silver caskets some girls give
their lovers; the second quatrain is about the traditional love objects
other women give their lovers (lovers' knot, ring with a perfume compartment);
the third quatrain employs a "volta" in the way Petrarchan sonnets do--a
sudden turn in sentiment--and shifts from the bejeweled crafted world to
the natural world (cowslips, apples); and the final couplet speaks in a
simple loving child's voice, in tune with the third quatrain, to illustrate
feeling (without ever saying "I love you" or "I feel for you.")
from William Stafford
Stafford, "Traveling Through the Dark"
Lesson 1: Writing in quatrains
and in 5-stressed-beat lines gives a sense of form (form = art), without
worrying about the niceties of meter.
Lesson 2: Alliteration and
assonance can engage the ear instead of rhyme.
Lesson 3: Setting is everything.
Setting (context) often determines the justness or morality of an act.
Lesson 4: Doubleness rules
in poetry; it's the basis of understanding:
Lesson 5: Every act, every event,
is imbued with meaning. The poet's task is to recognize meanings and to
present acts and events in such a way that a reader realizes the meaning
without a prose-like explanation.
Dark (ignorance) / dark (night)
Swerve (car) / swerve (thinking)
Warm exhaust turning red / warm
deer turning red