Tuesday, November 13, 2007

a closer reading

A poem is a magical encantation: intended to be spoken out loud, and capable of evoking powerful emotion. While often appearing simple, a good poem can be broken down into it's component parts and examined to help gain a better understanding of how and why it works.

As I was reading yesterday's poem of the day, which looks pretty simple, I noticed a particular rhythm that kind of bothered me. So I took it apart, I labeled the rhyme-scheme, counted the syllables, located the stresses, and I found a very tight structure in what seemed, at first glance, much more random. Seeing the structure spelled out and named that way helped me realize what was bothering me about the rhythm. As I read it out loud, I can feel that it is written as if to accompany music. I can almost hear an old jazz standard playing in the background. I wonder if she heard music as she wrote it?

Anyway, here are my notations, for your perusal. The number to the left of the margin indicates the number of syllables per line. Notice that the pattern repeats exactly in the second stanza. The letter to the right of each line indicates the rhyme scheme. Notice the ABBCADDC pattern. And finally, I have CAPITALIZED the stresses in each line, to help illustrate the rhythm. Stress can be in the mouth of the beholder, though, so my stresses may not feel to you like the natural stresses. That one can be subjective.

August, by Dorothy Parker

5 When my EYES are WEEDS, -A
8 And my LIPS are PEtals, SPInning -B
8 Down the WIND that has beGINning -B
7 Where the CRUMpled BEEches START -C
7 In a FRINGE of SALty REEDS; -A
8 When my ARMS are ELder-BUSHes, -D
8 And the RAngy LIlac PUSHes -D
7 UPward, UPward through my HEART; -C

5 SUmmer, do your WORST! -E
8 Light your TInsel MOON, and CALL on -F
8 Your perFORming STARS to FALL on -F
7 HEAD*LONG through your PAper SKY; -G
7 NEVER*MORE shall I be CURsed -E
8 By a FLUSHed and AMorous SLATtern, -H
8 With her DUSty LACEs' PATtern -H
7 TRAILing, as she STRAGgles BY. -G


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