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Old 12-13-2001, 06:53 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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Nyctom brought up one of my favorite topics under a General Discussion thread--heterometric poetry. If this has been featured here before, apologies. I'm off to the States for a couple weeks, and will peep in when I can, but thought I'd leave you all with something to discuss.

Heterometric poetry may be metric poetry of different line lengths, or, more rarely perhaps, lines of different feet. Organic, musical, surprising, it can range from the sublime (Wordsworth's "Intimations" ode) to endearing doggerel (Ogden Nash). And frankly, it is something we see too little of, at least too little skilled examples of, in the ranks of New Formalism.

Here are a few examples. Though distinctly "hetero", this first is also grounded in the iambic. (I am probably biased against "ars poetica" poems, but this has a delightful wit to it--I think it even gets away with the slightly pat closing phrase--which goes back, slyly, to "meaning" rather than "being"):

Ars Poetica

by Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown--

A poem should be worldless
As the flight of birds.


A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind--

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.


A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea--

A poem should not mean
But be.
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Old 12-13-2001, 07:07 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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Not to say that there are NOT some fine examples among contemporary writers, perhaps especially among the younger generation. This is a delightful (and deceptively "effortless" looking) piece by Catherine Tufariello (whose chapbooks are available from Aralia press), a playful poem that is, both in form and in subject, about "Free Time". (And there are all kinds of nice juxtapositions between rules and freedom here--"regulation" height, the "rules and hammers" of the janitor, etc.--just as the varying line lengths plays against measured iambics.) She's definitely playing tennis WITH a net here, as it were, even if the net is shifting.

This appeared in the Autumn 2000 issue of the <u>Hudson Review</u>.

Free Time

Their shrieks careening dizzily between
Delight and outrage, the students in the yard
Are playing hard,
Though they have little room and nothing green
In their asphalt pen. Nothing but fences, bricks,
And at regulation height, a pair of hoops
From which gray loops
Vestigially descend. With graceful flicks
And swoops they pass, block, feint and argue fouls,
And all the while the staccato, meaty thwack--
Now quick, now slack--
Thrums on, a backbeat to their cheers and howls.

Three stories up, on her habitual perch,
A black-and-white cat observes the scene,
Brushing the screen
With her whiskers, as intent on scan and search
As though the swirl below were birds or fish.
In the cacophony, it seems she hears
The singing spheres,
Each ear a separately tuning radar dish.

I join her at the window, and together
We watch the game until the tardy bell,
Whose clanging knell
Recalls them, some still wrangling over whether
The last shot counted. In the sudden peace,
A handyman, belt slung with rules and hammers,
Appears and clambers
Onto the gym roof. While a scrawl of geese
Ripples on windy gray in ragged flight,
He gathers up the balls that got away
And spent the day
Aimlessly free--red, orange, purple, white--

And punts them, in bright arcs, back into play.

by Catherine Tufariello
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Old 12-13-2001, 07:16 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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And OK, I know, I know, this is an obvious one, but I do love it so:

Dover Beach

Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;--on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one anothe! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

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Old 12-13-2001, 09:41 AM
Michael Juster Michael Juster is offline
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I worked on the draft of Catherine's poem; she is an extraordinary talent and this is an extraordinary poem (and the only way I get into The Hudson Review is by tinkering with the work of more talented friends!!!). I think there is something to be said for exploring the possibilities of this technique--I've done a little bit of it but never embraced it fully, and now I'm thinking it would be worth the effort. I think the hard thing is modifying lines with a purpose as opposed to just sticking rhymes where there fall easily.
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Old 12-13-2001, 11:56 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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I've always worked with stanzas with differing line lengths, but that's elementary, so that's where aspirants should start. Those three great Odes, Intimations, Lycidas, Dover, are quite beyond my powers of composition, but something to shoot for. I'm reading at Dove Cottage in February, and there to honor the great ghost and my hosts, I'll do Intimations from memory. Mike, I don't think there need be any inescapable reason for the variation in line length, what's required is that the result jumps in your mouth, as Catherine's poem does (which I too helped her edit.) And we're indebted to Alicia for posting it--no better example by a young poet exists.
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Old 12-13-2001, 01:17 PM
ChrisW ChrisW is offline
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Location: Boston, MA
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Thanks for posting these Alicia! I've long loved Dover Beach -- one of the first poems I memorized. I've sometimes heard people speak sneeringly of it, so I'm glad to find you love it too.

And now that I've read it, I love "Free Time" too.

[This message has been edited by ChrisW (edited December 13, 2001).]
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Old 12-13-2001, 02:08 PM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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Good heavens! Who would speak sneeringly of "Dover Beach"?!
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Old 12-13-2001, 02:15 PM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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Mike and Tim, Catherine is lucky to have such fine editors. I enjoyed this poem upon first reading it, but on each further reading have admired it more and more. (You get to know a poem better even by typing it out to post.)

I'd agree with Tim, too, that the point of this type of verse is not necessarily to have each shift in line length "mean" something exactly, but for it to be musical, and sound strangely right. So yes, I'd venture, sometimes where the rimes are "convenient"--where they spontaneously offer themselves. This is not a verse form that "hides" rimes, but flaunts them. (I guess that's one of the reasons I like it.)
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Old 12-14-2001, 01:28 PM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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Following some reference to and discussion of George Herbert (not to be confused with his older brother, the poet Edward Herbert) over on "General Talk" in an interesting thread started by nyctom, Alicia suggested I post some of Herbertís poems here.

As I noted on Tomís original thread, one of several remarkable aspects of Herbertís 1633 collection The Temple is that he seems to have invented a new stanzaic pattern for each poem, a stunning technical achievement.

Here are three poems, two of them, I think, well known, which show Herbert writing in lines of various lengths. I have modernised the spelling but left the punctuation unchanged.

It is worth noting that these poems should be printed with suitable indentations: their inventiveness is more obvious, and they are easier to read. Given the complex patterns employed in these poems, however, I have not attempted to replicate this feature here. Those who are interested can see them set out properly at the site mentioned below.

The first, typical of Herbertís formal practice in such mixed-line verses, is a dialogue between Herbert and his at first unrecognised Christ.

Love 3

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answeríd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

The second poem, "The Collar" is striking because here Herbert abandons repeating stanzas and instead writes irregularly in lines of various lengths, a device which embodies metrically the fierce rebelliousness of tone evident in this dialogue with his God.

The Collar

I struck the board, and cried, No more.
I will abroad.
What? Shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away; take heed:
I will abroad.
Call in thy deathís head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.
But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child:
And I replied, My Lord.

The third poem, "Denial", one which is much less well-known, I have included not only because it shows once again Herbertís skill in stanzas of mixed line-lengths but also because it illustrates another aspect of writing, his inventive use of rhyme, or rather, here, his avoidance of rhyme; for the last line of each stanza is unrhymed until, in the final stanza, in a formal enactment of its own theme, the rhyme pattern is at last fulfilled.


When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears;
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse;
My breast was full of fears
And disorder:

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.

As good go any where, they say,
As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come,
But no hearing.

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! all day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung:
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung

O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
Defer no time;
That so thy favours granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rhyme.

George Herbertís poems can be found at these sites:

Clive Watkins

[This message has been edited by Clive Watkins (edited December 14, 2001).]
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Old 12-14-2001, 01:51 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Clive, I'm not a teacher, but Dave Mason once sent me a prodigiously gifted boy for two years of independent study. I had him memorize and scan these three poems when we touched on Herbert, whose book is inexhaustible.
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