Wednesday, July 02, 2008

poetic technique

If I hear one more person saying "I only like poetry that rhymes", I swear I will scream. There is so much more to poetic technique than mere rhyme.

So, in an effort to educate, entertain, and inform, I present the beginner's guide to poetry:
  • Assonance is repetition of vowel sounds to create internal rhyming within phrases or sentences, for example:
    That solitude which suits abstruser musings - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Alliteration is the repetition of the first consonant sound in a phrase; it was very popular in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic poetry. For example:
    He aerest sceop aelda bearnum
    Heofon to hrofe Halig Scyppend

    ~ Caedmon's Hymn
  • A caesura is an audible pause or break in a line of poetry (used in Greek, Latin, French, Old English and Middle English poetry), for example in the opening line of Beowulf:
    Hwæt! we Gar-Dena || on geardagum
  • Consonance is like assonance but involves the repetition of consonants instead of vowels, as in "zig-zag" or "pitter-patter".
  • Haiku is a Japanese form with 5-7-5 syllables, and includes a kireji (cutting word) and a kigo (season-related expression); in scifaiku the kigo is replaced by an SF-related concept.
  • Metaphor is language that directly compares seemingly unrelated subjects; for example:
    My love is like a red red rose. (Burns)
    Metaphors can be distinguished from other closely related rhetorical concepts such as metonym, synecdoche, simile, allegory and parable.
  • Then there's metre. At this point, we require a little assistance from a certain Mr Coleridge - take it away, Sam:
    Trochee trips from long to short;
    From long to long in solemn sort
    Slow Spondee stalks, strong foot!, yet ill able
    Ever to come up with Dactyl's trisyllable.
    Iambics march from short to long.
    With a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.
    One syllable long, with one short at each side,
    Amphibrachys hastes with a stately stride --
    First and last being long, middle short, Amphimacer
    Strikes his thundering hoofs like a proud high-bred Racer.

    If Derwent be innocent, steady, and wise,
    And delight in the things of earth, water, and skies;
    Tender warmth at his heart, with these meters to show it,
    WIth sound sense in his brains, may make Derwent a poet --
    May crown him with fame, and must win him the love
    Of his father on earth and his father above.
    My dear, dear child!
    Could you stand upon Skiddaw, you would not from its whole ridge
    See a man who so loves you as your fond S.T. Colerige.
    ˘ = short syllable,
    ¯ = long syllable
    (macron and breve notation)

    ˘ ˘ pyrrhus, dibrach
    ˘ ¯ iamb
    ¯ ˘ trochee, choree
    ¯ ¯ spondee

    ˘ ˘ ˘ tribrach
    ¯ ˘ ˘ dactyl
    ˘ ¯ ˘ amphibrach
    ˘ ˘ ¯ anapest, antidactylus
    ˘ ¯ ¯ bacchius
    ¯ ¯ ˘ antibacchius
    ¯ ˘ ¯ cretic, amphimacer
    ¯ ¯ ¯ molossus

    In French (and Baroque German), there is also the Alexandrine, a line of twelve syllables, usually with a caesura between the sixth and seventh syllables. Corneille and Racine used the Alexandrine a lot.
  • There are many poetic forms (types of poem with specific rhyme schemes and metres):
  • Rhyme is much more complex than you might think:
    • masculine: a rhyme in which the stress is on the final syllable of the words. (rhyme, sublime, crime)
    • feminine: a rhyme in which the stress is on the penultimate (second from last) syllable of the words. (picky, tricky, sticky, icky)
    • dactylic: a rhyme in which the stress is on the antepenultimate (third from last) syllable ('cacophonies", "Aristophanes")

    In the general sense, "rhyme" can refer to various kinds of phonetic similarity between words, and to the use of such similar-sounding words in organizing verse. Rhymes in this general sense are classified according to the degree and manner of the phonetic similarity:

    • syllabic: a rhyme in which the last syllable of each word sounds the same but does not necessarily contain vowels. (cleaver, silver, or pitter, patter)
    • imperfect: a rhyme between a stressed and an unstressed syllable. (wing, caring)
    • semirhyme: a rhyme with an extra syllable on one word. (bend, ending)
    • oblique (or slant): a rhyme with an imperfect match in sound. (green, fiend)
    • half rhyme (or sprung rhyme): matching final consonants. (bent, ant)
  • Rhyme schemes are also important; let us fly free from the tedious imprisonment of AABB and discover the joys of Chant royal, Clerihew, Sestina, Terza rima, and many more. Here's an example of the sonnet form: Wyatt's Farewell Love and all thy laws for ever.

All of which reminds me that I am only scratching the surface with my poetic technique; but at least I am aware of these things. You cannot break the rules of a craft or art without first knowing how to work within them.


Bo said...

Splendid! Do you know Stephen fry's The Ode Less Travelled?

Yvonne said...

I didn't, but I Googled. There's a review by the splendid Ranjit Bolt (I sat next to him at a Molière play once) in The Observer, wittily entitled "He's come to read the metre":

Could Stephen Fry be the Delia Smith of poetry? 'By the time you have read this book,' he tells us in his preface, 'you will be able to write a Petrarchan sonnet, a Sapphic ode, a ballade, a villanelle and a Spenserian stanza.' I can just hear these words on Delia's lips, only substituting 'cook' for 'write', omelette for villanelle and boeuf bourguignon for sonnet.

syren said...

Thank you yvonne. Now I stand a much better chance of understanding what you and Bo are talking about while discussing poetry. LOL and big hug.

Yvonne said...

Glad to be of service :D

Bo said...

I had the misfortune to endure his (Bolt's) Oedipus the King once. The single worst and most painfully tin-eared translation I have ever heard. *Don't put Sophocles in bloody off-rhyming couplets!*

Yvonne said...

Really? I haven't seen that one, but rather enjoyed his take on Beaumarchais' Marriage of Figaro (but then I haven't read the original).

I usually get offended by English translations of Brecht, instead.

Balador said...

Who knew there was so much to poetry. I still prefer rhyming poetry though ;-). but like other arts forms each to his own.

Yvonne said...


(see, I said I would)

The Silver Eel said...

Re: metaphor. I think your Burns quote is a simile. "My love is a red, red rose" would be metaphor.

I've had to look this up because I've never, since Primary 4 or 5 when I first remember being introduced to them, been able to tell one from t'other with any certainty. Hence:

"[...]a metaphor is a departure from the literal (that is, the standard) use of language which serves as a condensed or elliptical simile, in that involves an implicit comparison between two disparate things." (entry on theories of metaphor in Abrams' Glossary of Literary Terms)

"simile: a figure of speech in which one thing is likened to another, in such a way as to clarify and enhance an image. It is an explicit comparison (as opposed to the metaphor, where the comparison is implicit) recognizable by the use of the words 'like' or 'as'." (Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory, ed. J.A. Cuddon)

Cuddon is well, well worth getting because it's as comprehensive as anything the general reader will ever need, it's extremely well written and, unbelievably for a reference book, is sometimes quite funny.

I agree, however, that this a very useful summary.

Yvonne said...

Ah, thanks - I always assumed that simile was a sub-species of metaphor.