The Poets

August 14, 2010

Of an Uncommon Measure

Her Uncommon Measure

Their choir filled the maple tree
Their fluting, too, the fir
And though they sang so beautifully
All I could hear was her


Of the Poem:

The idea for this poem was inspired by an incident that transpired at the pool last Sunday.

There's a question I pose in the comments area ... I'd love to know your opinion of it (and the poem).


John W. May said...

As a side note …

When I say the word ‘choir’ I always hear and feel two distinct aspects. The truth of the matter is that the word ‘choir’ is officially considered a single syllable. The problem, as I see it anyhow, is that as I’m writing down verse in meter I hear how I articulate its words; I hear how I accentuate what’s being said there. I say ‘problem’ because I feel I have to depart from the official considerations in order to adhere to what I deem the rhythmic value of the poem.

The rhythm of this current poem is intended to mimic what’s called common measure (also known as a ballad). These are typically arranged in the following meter: 8 syllables / 6 syllables / 8 syllables / 6 syllables. Here’s an example from a ballad written by Fulbert de Chartres, Chorus Novae Jerusalem:

Ye choirs of new Jerusalem,
your sweetest notes employ,
the paschal victory to hymn
in strains of holy joy.

Notice how the word ‘choir’ in the first line of his quatrain is used- and correctly so- as a single syllable. Still, I can’t render a single syllable in the poetry I write because I don’t articulate it this way. Rhythmically, for me at any rate, the sonorous articulation of the word renders two distinct tones, and so I feel compelled to utilize it as such- this despite the rule. Am I wrong?

Consider the word ‘rhythmically’. The word ‘rhythm’ is clearly two syllables (spoken or written); ‘rhythmical’ is three; but the word ‘rhythmically’ presents problems for me. No one says rhyth-mic-al-lee, but rather rhyth-mic-lee. On a technical level the word consists of four syllables; but spoken, there’s three.

I mention this because I intentionally use the word ‘beautifully’ in line three of the poem I wrote. From a technical perspective there would be 9 syllables to my line; but my intent was to mimic a ballad- which, as was shown above, contains 8 … and the way I pronounce ‘beautifully’ (coupled with the other syllables) makes that line audibly a tetrameter. Is this untrue?

The truth of the matter is that, while adhering to meter, my goal is ultimately concerned with expressing something beautiful. If poetry is reduced to that which is purely mechanical it ceases, at that moment, to be poetry. Indeed, beauty and truth expressed through the medium of poetry is, and always will be, my primary intention.

Notwithstanding, the question still remains (and I ask it of anyone who would like to respond): Am I wrong to assume or delete a syllable from a word if I don’t pronounce it that way?

Anonymous said...

I think you should go with your inherent feeling on this one. Though your not quite sure, it is your gut feeling that you're aligning with. Don't get bogged down by minutia. Trust yourself and your creativity will abound when you least expect it. And besides, you bring up valid points.

Bohemian Rhapsody said...

Aside from the technical aspects, which I agree with you can be seen as ambiguous. Aside from that the poem is beautiful! A poem of such brevity and loveliness. Shining with vivid description and a destinctive voice. I was truly impressed by this piece. I do hope you write more.

Obiterspeak said...

For me it's important to speak with your own voice but often that voice is something yet to be discovered/found/recognised as the words/lines/verses emerge. Difficult to say what is right or wrong because the poet's voice will vary even if there is considerable regard for certain rules or accepted ways of saying. The voice that is found is determined to a degree by the images/forms with which the poet relates/what takes place. Always nice to hear recordings of poets reciting their verses - to hear the voice the lines call for/forth.

Nancy said...

It's POETRY.... a creation.... an effluence of the heart. I believe that the rhythm of the syllables should flow from you in any way that your soul desires (or the form requires).... technically "correct" or not. The reader (the experiencer) - if they any sense of the beauty herein - captured by the current of the words, images, and emotion will adjust accordingly and flow with you.

Patrick said...

Damn. You've got talent.

It's poems like this that hint at a powerful poet.

If you can just keep shedding the overly literary sound of some of your other poems, you're going to amount to something.

I've added you to my blogroll under Traditional Poetry. Long overdue. My apologies.

As to pronunciation of words. Your job is to write the meter the way you hear it. That's the beauty of metrical poetry, John.

Metrical poetry takes not just a skilled poet, but a skilled reader - and it's the skilled reader to whom you have to write. Don't dumb down your art. The reader who understands meter (and they are out there) will make the adjustment. Take a look at a poet like Shakespeare: He would sometimes treat the same word as monosyllabic or disyllabic depending on what he needed. This was part of his art and readers knew it. This is part of mine and it's part of yours.

hannah jane said...

The commas feel like movement here without the weight of other punctuation.

Oh and the syllable thing, if it's spoken verse no problemo, but if it's in a book I think it's the reader's job to say the damn poem out loud. If they're sitting there wondering what you're trying to do and they're not tasting the poem then that's their problem.

John W. May said...

Wow ... thanks for the responses to the question, guys. It's something I've had some difficulty coming to terms with, something that made me feel a little 'unmetrical' in poetry writing, but something I simply couldn't change.

The written word 'oil' may be a single syllable, but I could never use it in a poem as such because rhythmically I perceive two tones in it when I say it. Or take the word 'being' (a two syllable word), I almost always pronounce it as a single syllable word (something akin to 'bing'), and therefore will almost always use it in a poem as such.

I pretty much already knew how I felt about the question, but I wasn't sure how other might respond. Thank you all for taking the time to answer it- it means a lot.

Anonymous: I totally agree ... "to thine own self be true"

Bohemian Rhapsody: Thank you for the kind words (can't wait to see what other works you produce).

Obiterspeak: I love it when I come across a poem that has an audio attached to it- who better than the poet knows how to utter the words that were written ...

Nancy: Beautiful words of wisdom and encouragement. You're very dear to me.

Patrick: Thank you so much for the honesty and words of encouragement- you have no idea how uplifting your comment was for me.

hannah jane: I hear you. I try to read every metrical poem I come across out loud ... and, on top of that, try to imagine the poem in the poet's voice.

Vivian said...

Hello John, I've just noticed you became a follower of my poetry blog....thank you for seeing something in my poetry.
Naturally, I had to come over to your blog and check out your poetry and I am so glad I did. There is so much here to sink my teeth into and I am quite impressed with your knowledge of poetry and its rules of meter and the like ( and there are many rules, but if you know them, than you can break them ).

Oh the silly bubbles of words....yes, it all depends on one's accent of where they reside.
Like oil and choir and fire.
And it all depends on who is reading it....your captured audience....who are they?
Are they English majors and scholars? Or are they everyday people looking to escape from reality, into your world of poetry? Those people will read your poetry for its content and not for the perfect meter.
Although, getting the meter perfect is what we poets strive for without it sounding dreadfully forceful, like a Hallmark card ( sorry Hallmark, no offense to you ).
Then there are the free-verses who think that anything is poetry when in fact it sounds like we are reading their journal. Oh don't get me wrong, I love free verse and write it also, but it must be poetic.
I myself am a work in progress and only dream of being a poet one day. And perhaps I will someday....when I'm dead!

Now your poem:
I truly enjoyed it! In just 4 lines you have managed to steal my heart with your sense of romance.
The last 2 lines are powerful!
"And although they sung so beautifully/
All I could hear was her."

Hey, if you are interested, there is a great poetry workshop site I am on, called
There are a few really good people on there that love to help out with suggesting how to better your craft of poetry. Plus, there are a lot more interesting things on there. It looks a bit over whelming when you first sign on but after you take a look around you'll get the hang of it...and it's free!
My pen name on there is "Serah".
Let me know if you join.

I am glad to meet your acquaintance on here.

Long live poets!


As of April 9th, 2010