Do you prefer masculine or feminine poetry?
‘Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night.’
‘Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land.’
I don’t think I’ve ever had reason to think about rhyme by gender. I wonder how that will change given that gender is recognised as a spectrum rather than a binary. For now, you can sex your poems by looking at the final syllable of each line: male is stressed and the female is unstressed. I’m guessing that it was a man who came up with the allusion of stress to strong and brave.
Iambs, trochees, anapests and dactyls are not part of my monthly vocabulary. So I had no idea that William Blake’s ‘Tyger! burning bright’ was a vivid trochaic tetrameter.
But I could recall from learning Shakespeare’s sonnets that Elizabeth Barrett Browning went ‘into the silent land’ by melancholy iambic pentameter.
Which takes me to the petrarchan sonnet. Two quatrains or one octave making one stanza of eight lines with rhymes that alternate ABBAABBA. Now, call me a conspiracist if you want, but by what happy coincidence did the band Abba chose the order of their forenames?
Sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is in the petrarchan structure, well suited to portray love.
‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.’
And then there’s Villanelle, easily spotted in Mad Girl’s Love Song by Sylvia Plath.
‘I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)’
This excerpt follows an ABA rhyme scheme in a structure that creates the sense of despair that the reader cannot but feel.
The structure also gives us a name of despair known to many in show business. Villanelle is/was the psychopathic assassin in Luke Jennings’ self-published series of novellas Codename Villanelle. It became the BBC 3 series Killing Eve, a series that captivated and repulsed and confounded and made me laugh at all the wrong things.
More interested in the structure of poetry than assassinations? Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote Metrical Feet in 1806 to help his son understand the many feet in poetry.
And so it goes … according to a few seeds for my unforgetting things I should have learned in school from Homework for Grown-ups (2008) by E. Foley and B. Coates