The Poets

December 14, 2009


And there was war again with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, whose spear staff was like a weaver's beam. ~I Chronicles 20:5

Was a son of Jair’s
Who slew like David
Anak’s heirs-
Titan men
From days of old,
Whose lofty minds
And hearts were cold.

Like Lahmi-
O that foolish foe-
Who mocked the Lord
With words of woe.
His pride-lust
And his scand’lous ways
By Elah’s grounds
Would end his days.

War-prone how
He towered high
As humble lad
And Lord drew nigh …
And just as he
Was weapon clad
A fatal blow
Came from the lad!

And so upon
The desert plain
Dagon’s pride
By God lay slain
The days to be
When Christ would claim
Like victory.


Of the Poem (Parameters):

Meter: Loose; No less than 3 syllables, no more than 5 (per line)
Rhyme Scheme: x.a.x.a.x.b.x.b ('x' represents unrhymed lines)
Stanza: Octet (i.e. 8 lines per stanza)
Note: The meter was inspired by anacreontic verse.

Coming to terms with names:

Elhanan (el-haw-nun) was a warrior and hero who, like David, slew a giant.
Jair (j-air) was the father of Elhanan.
Anak (an-nack) refers to an ancient family of giants, sometimes associated with the Nephilium.
Lahmi (lah-mee) was a giant, and the brother of Goliath.
Elah (ee-lah) is the field where Goliath was put down.
Dagon (day-gun) is the god whom the Philistines worshipped.

Note that in comments area is a brief explication as to the developement of the poem.


John W. May said...


This poem has for its existence several contributing factors, and I'm quite amazed in retrospect to see how this is true of my other works. Here's how this particular one emerged .


A long time ago I began to flirt with the idea of rendering a poem pertaining to David’s defeat of that Philistine giant, Goliath (a story that captures perfectly triumph over all odds, and no doubt one worthy of poetic accolade). Blank verse was my initial intent, but this veered off into the following experimental form:

Before the fall, true rogue, goes pride.
Neither this stone, nor this my sling,
Nor there that noble troop of Saul,
Would dare the Host of Heaven chide!
Yet you defy what all we sing-
You mock where soon your blood'll crawl.

This stanza is one of many completed with respect to that poem (in it David responds to the taunts delivered by Goliath just before they battle). The working parameters should be plain to sight:

Meter: Tetrameter (eight syllables per stanza)
Rhyme Scheme: a.b.c.a.b.c. (with each stanza)
Stanza: Sestet (six lines per stanza)

After completing six stanzas out of twelve intended, the poem went dormant for a while due to other works (I find that happening a lot, and truthfully it’s been fruitful in the production of other poems).

On Nov. 4th I came across a poem written by Sir Thomas Wyatt: What Should I Say. The form this poem was modeled on is called a Rhyme Royal (a beautiful structure whose parameters I elaborated on in a previous blog). I enjoyed the form so much that I took up the equally enjoyable task of mimicking it with experimental stanzas. (Of course a few of those experimental stanzas incorporated the David and Goliath story.)

The weekend that followed that Wyatt poem introduced me to another poetic form similar to- but different from- his model ... anacreontic verse. This is a lyrical form of poetry inspired by the 6th century Greek poet Anacreon. It consists of 20 to 30 lines with three to five syllables per line (this meter may vary line by line through the poem). A good example of this form is from Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound:

Spasm! Again
what manias
beat my brain
hot i’m hot
where’s the fire?
here’s horsefly
His Arrowhead
not fire forged
but sticks: heart
stuck with fear
kicks at my ribs
eye balls whirl
spirally wheeled
by madness, madness
stormblasted I'm
blown off course
my tongue my tiller
it’s unhinged, flappy
words words thrash
dashed O! at doom
mud churning up
breaking in waves

After having studied this type of verse I decided to incorporate elements of it in this particular poem- i.e. a poem of 20 to 30 lines with a loose meter having no less than three syllables a line, and no more than five. The most obvious difference from Anacreon's model is that I broke the poem up into stanzas containing a rhyme scheme.

On top of that- and this is probably the biggest developemental shift of the poem- I moved the popular story of David and Goliath to the more obscure story of Elhanan and Jahmi.

And now here we are, with a work that materialized from the combination of several factors, a work that I enjoyed a lot.


I used to think that poets- professonal or otherwise- would sit down during the evening by the fireplace and, clad in their robe and slippers and sipping on brandy and puffing a pipe, would compose a poem in a single sitting, this without flaw or without edit.

Thankfully since then I grew up, and am now amazed at how poems truly emerge and come to be what they are (I only wish I could speak with the poets, and inquire into the contributing facotrs of their works).

Nancy said...

Perhaps not by ... "the fireplace and, clad in their robe and slippers and sipping on brandy and puffing a pipe" ... but I see you sitting evenings at a desk or table with your pen and pad scribbling and musing, scratching out and rearranging, digging out a scrap of previous inspiration, thinking and pondering, stopping to research an obscure bit, and finally, when all is right, gracing us (your admirers) with a new birth.

I so much enjoy the background given. Believe it or not, I was JUST thinking about Goliath and wondering about that poem (and Lascaux). Must have felt you being in that process :)

I love that you shifted (for this work at least - I'm sure we've not seen the last of this theme) to the more obscure story - of which I'm sure I'm not alone in being unfamiliar with. Just more of that famous JohnMay freshness! The form chosen also lends a clear simplicity and smooth flow. I like it!

My favorite phrase is "The days to be When Christ would claim Like victory" - O glorious expectancy! I also like the poeticism of "Whose lofty minds And hearts were cold" and the quality (how it sounds to my ear and looks to my eyes) of foe and woe. Nice!

Re-reading the scripture I am fascinated with "whose spear staff was like a weaver's beam." A great visual to incorporate into a future work... no, my friend?

.... "explication"? I had to look it up. PERFECT word choice! Who is the borg now?

As of April 9th, 2010