Back in February I tried my hand at seriously writing a poem. I’ve mentioned here before how poetry is usually not my thing. I’ve thrown around Mythopoeia as being my favorite, and there are a few others I like as well, but on the whole I don’t pay much attention to it. It may be because of how abstract poetry can be, making it difficult to follow, so that is why it doesn’t hold my interest (I cannot, however, say with certainty that this is the reason). Nevertheless, here I am.
What made me choose to do this? There are a few reasons, but I’m not sure I want to go into those yet as I had contemplated actually sharing this piece on my blog, writing a kind of forward to go with it. At the same time, I’m not sure I want to share it on what is essentially a public forum; so do I go ahead and talk about what it is and why I’m doing it anyway? Ugh.
The subject matter is nothing personal, but I suppose I fear no one would have an interest in reading it, or that some jerk might come around, copy it, and take credit–not that I think it’s some masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it has happened to my friend Kylie before when she shared pieces of her first novel online a year or two ago before it was published.
I guess what I’ll say for now is that the poem actually concerns one of my favorite fictional universes. An aspect of this universe that bugs me a little gave me a peculiar urge to express my thoughts in a different way. That way was not to treat it as someone from the outside looking in, but from a perspective inside the Secondary World so as not to break any illusion. I wanted to insert my commentary into a character, turn it into his musings, and have him reach a conclusion. In the process, a mythological parallel is also made–in fact, that’s what the whole thing is about in the first place: a mythological parallel.
It started out as a thing for fun, and was incredibly free-form–merely some words arranged as if in verse. Other than what I wanted to talk about I had no plan and just let it flow out. I wasn’t sure I wanted to mess with any structure. I did not then, nor do I now, remember any meaningful fraction of poetic forms or styles from my studies of it years before. I wasn’t even sure I was serious about this thing to begin with or if I even wanted to finish. I contemplated a couple of different things, but at the time I wasn’t sure I could make them work, or if I even wanted to go back and do the editing required after how much I had already written–not that the poem was long. But by the time I was about three quarters of the way finished, I found myself trying some of my ideas anyway, even if I wasn’t convinced I could make these themes reoccur enough for them to be justified. At that point, I realized how seriously I was taking this and had resolved to go back and make changes necessary to include what I wanted to do.
From the get-go, I didn’t want to try any traditional rhyming scheme people normally associated with poetry.
Hickory, dickory, dock,
The mouse ran up the clock;
The clock struck one,
And down he run,
Hickory, dickory, dock.
What was going through my mind was the style of epic poetry similar to Beowulf, or the Elder Edda, or The Odyssey, even though I had no idea whatsoever what the conventions of an epic poem were (I still don’t). Well, other than the fact that they are really, really, long. And I think there’s an invocation of the muses. Also starting “in medias res”, epic similes, having Zeus turn into a swan or something and knock up some poor dude’s wife, battle descriptions that go on and on and on for practically forever, and wine-dark seas.
Other than that? Totally clueless.
On all sides saw I | Valkyries assemble,
Ready to ride | to the ranks of the gods;
Skuld bore the shield, | and Skogul rode next,
Guth, Hild, Gondul, | and Geirskogul.
Of Herjan’s maidens | the list have ye heard,
Valkyries ready | to ride o’er the earth.
I also decided to couple this Whatever-the-heck-it-was-but-definitely-not-epic-poetry-thing with Synonymous Parallelism, which is basically the rhyming of thoughts or ideas as oppose to actual word rhyme. This can be found in Hebrew poetry like the Psalms in The Bible.
The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From His temple He heard my voice;
my cry came before Him, into His ears.
Finally, one of the things I contemplated from the start was Iambic Pentameter, which is… er… well, it’s a certain kind of measurement used in certain kinds of poetry, see… and Shakespeare used it a lot. It’s like… er…. It’s this. Basically, every line consists of ten syllables with stresses occurring on certain syllables.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?Thou art more lovely and more temperate.Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
The stresses on certain syllables was thrown out pretty quick though. Immediately, in fact. It never happened. Probably because I forgot about it. I don’t think I wanted to mess with it anyway. So I guess it’s just “Pentameter” and not Iambic Pentameter…. I’m not sure how much that survived either.
In struggling with syllable count, I thought of an idea where if a complete sentence takes a single line, it has ten syllables, but if the sentence spans two lines, I was a little more lenient with distribution. An example is one line having 9 syllables, the next having 11, then I close the sentence–two lines, twenty syllables. I’m pretty much cherry picking some rules, throwing them together, and bending them a little. Because I suck at this.
But why am I going through all this trouble and not just leaving the poem in its original free-form? Because imposing my own mishmashed restrictions is my pathetic attempt to mimic the Renaissance philosophy, Sprezzatura. Basically to achieve an incredible feat, despite restrictions, but treating it like it was no big deal. It’s almost like a kind of humility, which is ironic because the whole thing is just showing off in disguise.
I managed to do most of this work in a single day, and even had a some help from a friend, but the poem is only about 70% complete. I haven’t touched the thing since February, but I’m planning on getting back to it soon as I don’t want to abandon it. The last stanza still needs to be written, and I’m having trouble with the syllable count in another. It’s actually a really short piece, and I’ve contemplated making it longer, but I think it would kill me to try at this point. I’m honestly having enough trouble as it is. I was also messing with patterns, such as when a certain rule is used, and I think I hurt my head in the process. I’m not going to try and explain that.
That’s all I got for now. I really would like to share it when it’s finished, but we’ll see.