Poetry and Form - Using the Staff Site

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ACL1002
POETRY & POETICS
Dr Natalie Kon-yu
Email: [email protected]
Semester 2, 2011
 Appreciating poetic form — identifying poetic formality. Do the form and the
formal elements of a poem affect our understanding of it?
• Useful background reading for this lecture: ‘Rhythm, Form, and Metre,’
appendix to Leonard’s Seven Centuries of Poetry in English.
 Some fundamentals of form in spoken poetry (as distinct from graphic poetry,
e.g. concrete poetry):
• Sound quality;
• Rhythm;
• Duration; and
• Semantics.
 Examples of what English-language poets have done with form and formality in
their works.
Concrete Poetry
 We will be looking at concrete poetry
later in the semester, but there is
currently an exhibition of concrete
poems at the Heide.
http://www.heide.com.au/exhibitions
/born_to_concrete?exhib=54
How does the shape of this poem
influence its meaning?
Form and formality
 Think of how forms are used in daily life:
 Forms we have to fill in (e.g. change of enrolment forms).
 Builders use moulds called forms for the concrete on building sites.
 To form something is to be its creator (e.g. many people believe that a
god or divine power formed the world).
 When we talk about ‘forms’ of poetry, we mean classifying poems
according to certain ‘formal’ elements they have or lack.
 E.g. sonnet, ballad, rap, haiku, epic, blank verse, etc.
 When we talk about formality in poetry, we mean the extent to which a
poem is bound by the rules of its form (eg. rhyme in rap, metre in
epics, stanza structure in ballads, topical concerns in haikus, etc.).
Some conventional poetic forms
 Sonnet
 Villanelle
 Ballad
 Haiku
 others?
 What do conventional forms prevent you from
doing?
The Sonnet
 Sonnet is one of the more rigid poetic forms – one of the earliest forms
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established in English. Comes from the Italian (little sound/song)
In the middle ages developed by the great Italian poets including Dante and
Petrarch – the latter establishing it as a major poetic form.
A number of English poets wrote sonnet sequences: Sidney; Spenser;
Shakespeare – all very centrally about love and passion.
Often blazons, a poetic catalogue of a woman’s body parts.
E 17th century poets seemed less interested in the love theme; Donne in
religious themes and Milton less specific, occasional themes.
Virtually extinct until they were resuscitated in the Romantic period and
again in the Victorian age
Contemporary poets use the sonnet but explore the boundaries of the form
– often producing unrhymed poems
Sonnet CXXX (Sonnet 130)
 My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.
Form of Sonnet 130
 My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.
(a)
(b)
(a)
(b)
(c)
(d)
(c)
(d)
(e)
(f)
(e)
(f)
(g)
(g)
Form and meaning
 In this poem, we see that there is a regular rhyming
pattern (a, b, a, b).
 The pattern is repeated three times before changing
(a,b,a,b;c,d,c,d;e,f,e,f;gg).
 Why does the rhyme change in the last couplet?
 What does the rhyme scheme have to do with the
poem’s meaning?
Rhyme and Rhythm
 As Ian mentioned last week, rhyme was established in
poetry so that poems could be memorised and
performed.
 As we can see, the rhyme at the end of each line, also
helps us to establish the meaning of the poem – the
departure from a,b,a,b to gg in the Shakespearian Sonnet
tells us that special significance is to be paid to those last
two lines.
 When we read the poem aloud, we also notice there is a
particular rhythm to the poem
Finding form in poetry — I
Sound Quality
 Sounds that resonate identically or similarly:
 E.g. rhyme, assonance, alliteration, anaphora.
 Sounds to which we attach pre-conscious importance:
 E.g. bright sounds, loud sounds, gentle sounds, watery sounds,
violent sounds, tender sounds.
 Sounds that convey particular meaning (especially onomatopoeia
and poetic irony).
 A superb use of qualities of sound in poetry is Auden’s ‘Old
People’s Home,’ from the Discussion poems.
Finding form in poetry — II
Rhythm
 http://prosody.lib.virginia.edu/materials/poems/sonnet-73/
 In English, we tend to mark the rhythm of speech with emphasis (i.e. volume increases).
We do not much use length of syllable (as Greek and Latin do) or tone (as many east
Asian languages do).
 So the rhythm in English comes from our grammar of louder and quieter syllables.
 It is possible to ‘scan’ a line of verse, as Leonard’s appendix shows, counting its syllables
and tracking rhythms of stress/unstress (as well as more complex forms).
 If a poem’s rhythm follows formal rules, we call that a metre.
 It’s important to recognise that we always speak with a certain rhythm – none of us
speak in monotone.
Finding form in poetry — III
Duration
 We hear a poem as a series of sounds in time — quite different from
reading a block of letters forming words on a pile of pages.
 Our aural experience of listening and speaking is more time-conscious
than the visual experience of reading and writing. (Notice how agitated
audiences get when someone talks for too long.)
 Poetry can achieve major effects through its use of duration —
duration of the poem overall and duration of segments within the
poem. E.g. epic poetry builds on the time it takes ‘to tell a good story
properly.’
 A poem that plays creatively with duration is Wilfred Owen’s ‘Strange
Meeting,’ from this week’s discussion poems.
Finding form in poetry — IV
Semantics
Some poetic forms require particular semantics:
 E.g. An elegy always expresses a sense of loss.
 E.g. A traditional haiku is about a natural phenomenon, and
alludes to a season.
None is travelling
Here along this way but I,
This autumn evening.
Won't you come and see
loneliness? Just one leaf
from the kiri tree.
Finding form in poetry — IV
Semantics (contd)
Once we know the sound, rhythm, and time techniques of poetry
lend themselves to particular ways of forming meaning, we can see
poets start to play with those meanings as well:
 E.g. poems that pretend to say one thing (their formally
expected meaning) but really say another instead or as well
(poetic irony).
 E.g. poems that pass comment on their own formal
characteristics.
One of the cleverest semantic manipulations of form in poetry is
Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet XVIII.’
A final word on ‘formality’
 Whatever code of rules we’re following and/or breaking, they
inherently represent a formality:
 Following rules comes across as trying to do it ‘the right way.’
 Breaking rules reads as an effort to change the way things get done.
 Inventing new rules can come across as both visionary and arrogant,
depending on your audience’s point of view.
 In other words, remember that poetic formality is a question of style
— even in conservative periods of poetry composition.
 SO… look out for poetry that shows it is conscious of its own formality
or informality – ready to question itself or have a bit of a joke about it:
E.g. Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress.’
 http://www.bartleby.com/101/357.html
 How does this poem conform to our
expectations?
 How does it confront or challenge our
expectations?

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