". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Friday, April 17, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 11

The last lesson contained an example of a quatrain-- a stanza form consisting of four lines that rhyme in some sort of pattern. In an earlier lesson we studied couplets. These are just two of many options for giving structure and form to poetry. But there is also a type of poetry that does not adhere to any formal guidelines. Instead of being organized into regular stanzas and utilizing meter and rhyme, it is "free" from them and so is called free verse. Due to the lack of rhyme and meter, free verse may not even sound much like poetry when it is read aloud. What sets it apart from prose (non-poetical language) is that it still draws on many other poetic techniques such as intensity and conciseness of expression, figurative language, and a greater emphasis on creating an experience for the reader than on communicating information.

Some people think that free verse is a cop-out--that it is a way of making the writing of poetry easier, since the poet doesn't have to make his message fit within a certain framework. It could be argued, however, that the lack of rhyme and meter means that free verse puts other demands on the poet. Because the poem is not unified by rhyme and meter, it is perhaps even more important that it be unified by other poetic elements.

Below are two poems about the grass. One is in free verse, and one is not. Which is which? Which one do you like better?

In the Grass - Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

"Spring Grass" - Carl Sandburg

Spring grass, there is a dance to be danced for you. 
Come up, spring grass, if only for young feet. 
Come up, spring grass, young feet ask you. 

Smell of the young spring grass, 
You're a mascot riding on the wind horses. 
You came to my nose and spiffed me. This is your lucky year. 

Young spring grass just after the winter, 
Shoots of the big green whisper of the year, 
Come up, if only for young feet. 
Come up, young feet ask you.

"The Grass" - Emily Dickinson

The Grass so little has to do –
A Sphere of simple Green –
With only Butterflies to brood
And Bees to entertain – 

And stir all day to pretty Tunes
The Breezes fetch along –
And hold the Sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything – 

And thread the Dews, all night, like Pearls –
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too common
For such a noticing – 

And even when it dies – to pass
In Odors so divine –
Like Lowly spices, lain to sleep –
Or Spikenards*, perishing – 

And then, in Sovereign Barns to dwell –
And dream the Days away,
The Grass so little has to do
I wish I were a Hay – 

* a spikenard is a type of herb

I'm sure you figured out that the first poem is in free verse. But even though it sounds rather speech-like, it is very different from prose. Can you identify some of the ways? How does Sandburg help you to experience the grass? What sense words (imagery) and metaphors can you find? Without rhyme and meter, what is used to give the poem form?
What type of stanza does Dickinson use in her poem? (quatrain) What is the grass compared to? Why do you think certain words are capitalized? Why would the speaker rather be hay than grass?

(Note: My initial plan was to post a simple poetry lesson in observance of National Poetry Month every week day during April. I have already failed in that plan and will probably continue to do so, but I plan to keep posting as frequently as possible in case there is anyone reading and also to keep me on track with the student in my house!)

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