Traditional-Form Poetry

My interests in poetry tend toward traditional verse, i.e. not free verse. I have written poems in a variety of standard forms and have also devised a number of original but still structured forms. The following excerpt is from a very large work entitled The Eoráðenlied (pronounced "ay-uh-RATH-in-leed"). I cast it in an exaggerated heroic style and make use of many archaic words and ideas, following a rigorously consistent metrical form throughout. The theme is one of personal transformation and metaphysical revelation.
Mystic traditions, the world over, speak of a spiritual journey the soul must undertake, an errand through darkness and shadow where self-doubt is confronted as one questions those values—amassed over a lifetime—that define one’s existence, one’s purpose in the universe. What emerges from this struggle with the demons within is an individual possessed of the self-confidence that comes only through acceptance of truth over illusion, of what is intuitively felt rather than what is perceived through the senses, of what is inwardly known to be right over that which convention dictates. Only then is the soul fully prepared for its rebirth—its reawakening into a world wholly transformed by this subtle shift of perspective.
This epic story from Rathvardic legend is presented as if recited by a scope, an Anglo-Saxon bard. The tale involves the clash of two very different ideologies. To represent the two, I have chosen names of Rathvardic origin for the protagonist's clan, while those of the opposition are of Old English etymology. ("Rathvardic" is my own, made-up culture and language.)
The excerpt featured below serves to introduce most of the principal characters. To display this sample, your web browser must accept JavaScript.
Proem: Matters of Prosody, etc.
Philologically, I have attempted where possible to employ a minimum of late English (and French-derived) words, opting instead for the earlier Germanic forms, and especially archaic words. The intent is to evoke the pre-chivalric, pre-Christian era of the Anglo-Saxon and Slavic warrior societies.

In terms of prosody, the poem is rigorously adherent to an iambic tetrameter form: Alternating lines of four iambic feet with lines of three feet (the first being an anapest, the second and third, iambs). These are grouped into ABAB-rhyming quatrains and these are moreover grouped into four stanzas (quatrains) to form a canto. A varying number of cantos form a book, the determining factor being the amount of material required to cover what would be analogous to a dramatic "act". The parallel to drama is intentional: as a narrative form, a heightened sense of realism is achieved by presenting to the listener the scene as if it were unfolding before him in the present tense.

The beginning of each book is marked by a metrical variant: the first two feet of the first line are replaced by an iamb followed by an anapest; this is equivalent to one of the even-numbered, trimeter lines of poem, but preceded by an extra iamb. The resulting rhythmic variation emphasizes the opening of the new book in much the same way an illuminated initial draws attention to the beginning of a passage in manuscript, but it also serves to relieve the metrical homogeneity with some welcome syncopation.

I have deliberately chosen a rhyming scheme of short period, since I believe that readers often fail to retain complex rhyme patterns through several lines of verse.

A Partial Exegesis
Click here to view a pop-up, line-by-line analysis and gloss of a portion of the excerpt.

Prolegomenon
Why am I so concerned with rules and rhyme schemes, with matters of philology and onymology and phylogeny? I would attribute it to a deep appreciation of this ordered universe in which we live—of the beauty and intricacy of nature and of the interconnectedness of all things. Indeed for me—if only because I conceived it—the Eoráðenlied is a microcosm of Creation: From strict prosodic rules and a familiar, almost storybook characterization, incomplete imagery gradually coalesces to form a complex, interrelated coherency that characterizes particular truths related to the human condition.

From a strictly scientific viewpoint, the parallel is obvious: the cosmogony of our technological age depicts formless, primordial energy condensing into matter through a process that can be described by a finite set of physical laws—a process through which a dynamic universe of intricate beauty—in all its underlying order—was born. Disregarding matters of scope and scale (to avert accusations of megalomania!) how is this fundamentally different from any aspiring artist’s true aim?

Acknowledgement of this analogy is not an implicit recognition of some necessity for a strictly causal relationship between the constituent elements and the encompassing creation as the sole expression of such a complexity, however: a similar pattern exists outside of linear time, independent of deterministic cause and effect, and is reflected in the hierarchy intrinsic to the creation itself. A composer’s masterpiece transcends the rules of music theory that nevertheless made its existence possible. And although a particular application of rules doesn’t constitute the composition any more than a topological map constitutes geographical terrain (or a physical law, reality, for that matter); it merely charts a transient creative event, while the rules provide a guiding framework for the composer. Yet those very rules, though abstract, are in themselves a thing of beauty no less admirable than the artistic possibilities they may manifest—that a superposition of this frequency with that should illicit such emotion in the listener. Nevertheless, this underlying complexity does not interfere with the spontaneity of creation; it is merely the artist’s grammar, the facile application of which comes only after years of diligent study then practiced application, till the practice becomes effortless in a Zen-like way. And while a detailed, formal musical analysis is not required to appreciate the work, there are those for whom such an understanding complements a purely intuitive aesthetic appreciation. Still, analysis, the primary tool of science, is necessarily a deconstructive process that isolates constituents in an attempt to understand the whole, and we must not fail to see the interrelations and their combined effect upon us; in short, we must not loose sight of the bigger picture.

Aristotle viewed art as imitative of that productive force inherent in nature—that potential, yet unexpressed ideal form, stripped of its superficial details. In a rare agreement between Eastern and Western philosophies I suppose, Buddhists would recognize this same force as Dharmakaya; and Hindus, as Brahman. (For if we tell the story well—portray our drama skillfully—others will be caught up in the Grand Illusion—the sound and fury that is no different, really, from the karmic existence we all lead.) Exactly what is the composer’s medium anyway? Is it sound? Is it theory and staff paper? Art involves layers of abstraction but at its core, in some mysterious, reflective way, Creativity is the medium. It is not the tone directly, nor even its idealized concept on paper, but rather some abstract idea that the composer molds to his satisfaction; so it is with the painter, the sculptor, the poet. They are not the true creators but merely conduits, tuned into some higher source through which creativity flows. Their role is to judiciously select the glimpses we are to witness and through their artifice, present them to us. But like any mystical assertion or inexplicable experience, such a notion cannot be proven or refuted, merely held as truth by those who intuitively feel it to be so.

Any successful work of art does not attempt to explain itself—to teach specific lessons; it merely stages a very specific action and in doing so, presents a possibility which poses questions that we instinctively, perhaps even subconsciously, attempt to relate to our own lives. I view this as an assimilation, an internalization of the transcendent to the immanent in which we draw parallels to our own experiences, map salient reference points to our private world view, and then ask ourselves ethical questions. To such questions, there can be no right or wrong answers, just consequences which cannot be foreseen with certainty. If consequences were entirely predictable—decision, a matter of right or wrong—this would be the deterministic realm of didactic drama, and as such, is necessarily closed to debate, stale, barren to further artistic growth. But high art is open-ended: it speaks of life without attempting to instruct. Indeed, any commentary is only possible in hindsight and so is only valid within the context of a particular outcome, which in any parallel to reality would be completely unpredictable. True art invites discussion, introduces differing interpretations, instigates debate and spawns further artistic achievement—in effect, it inspires the search for meaning. It transcends the instructive, the analytical, the dogmatic; for these are always direct reflections of our collective experiences, scientific knowledge, philosophical preoccupations and societal ethos which all change radically over time. True art is timeless because it poses questions that are paradoxically unanswerable, yet at the same time, relevant to any age.

So it certainly seems to me that any artist’s aim is not so much some grand, Wagnerian recapitulation of nature’s process of Creation, but rather a more humble expression of the understanding that comes from witnessing it unfold, on whatever scale that happens to be. And a measure of the success of any work of art is whether a truth thus revealed is conveyed to someone who will but set aside bias and take the time to really experience it.

Too Heavy, Too Stuffy?
Is all that a little too lengthy and academic for your tastes at the moment? Sounding a bit like a personal manifesto? Well then have a look at this cute little "CHILD'S VERSE" instead!

Copyright © 2004 - 2011 Brian Zegarski, all rights reserved.

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