More Liberties Taken

Napping in the Studio. JMN.

Napping in the Studio. JMN.

I puzzle over how the formal properties of verse help, or fail to help, verse. How do meter and rhyme support imagery and diction if they do, and why not if they don’t?

I think rhythm and rhyme originally were mnemonic tools to help the rhapsode recite from memory his (her?) thousands of lines of tribal lore before writing came along.

Which of the following texts are poems or fragments of poems, which prose? (Key below.)

(A) … In a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

(B) No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

(C) These and all else were to me the same as they are to you, I loved well those cities, loved well the stately and rapid river, the men and women I saw were all near to me, others the same — others who look back on me because I look’d forward to them, (The time will come, though I stop here to-day and to-night.)

(D) so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens

(E) You’re stepping on your father, my mother said, and indeed I was standing exactly in the center of a bed of grass, mown so neatly it could have been my father’s grave, although there was no stone saying so.

(F) If I suffer at this typewriter think how I’d feel among the lettuce-pickers of Salinas?

(G) We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn that water would certainly wet us, as fire would certainly burn: But we found them lacking in uplift, vision and breadth of mind, so we left them to teach the gorillas while we followed the march of mankind.

(H) He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin. A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin; they fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh! And he rode with a jeweled twinkle, his pistol butts a-twinkle, his rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky.

What role does typography play in verse? If meter isn’t at work, what criteria trigger a line break? What’s a “prose poem”?

There are answers, though I don’t want to slog through treatises any more to get them. Having the experience of a truism that blossoms into obviousness as the result of a unique lived moment thumps hearsay.

Key:
(A) Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address”; (B) John Donne, “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions”; (C) Walt Whitman “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”; (D) William Carlos Williams, “Red Wheelbarrow”; (E) Louise Glûck, “Aboriginal Landscape”; (F) Charles Bukowski, “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth”; (G) Rudyard Kipling, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”; (H) Alfred Noyes, “The Highwayman.”

(c) 2018 JMN.

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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