I move heaven and earth to achieve internal rhyme in a poem. There are few things quite so satisfying to the traditional poet—it is like solving a puzzle of one’s devising.
One can easily lose sight of a poem’s original vision in the midst of its development; exploring a maze of possibilities, new paths appear that lead one astray. Yesterday, I came to my senses regarding the direction of the “Cranes and Sheep” poetic sketch; I realised I was diluting its basic concept, writing variations that were promising but divergent. I breathe a sigh of relief as I return to the original idea.
In the “Cranes and Sheep” poetic sketch I am presently developing, I refer to the creatures in the title as I often encounter them: in small congregations on the hillsides. In terms of venery (that is, hunting) both are collectively described as a “herd” (along with “sedge/sege” or “siege” for cranes and “flock” for sheep).
I have long been fascinated by terms of venery for they possess a poetry of their own: there is a flamboyance of flamingos, a charm of goldfinches, an ostentation of peacocks, a bouquet of pheasants, an unkindness of ravens, a lamentation of swans and—without a doubt my favourite—an exaltation of larks!
I am certain “an exaltation of larks” was the origin of my “An Exaltation” title as the sketch was composed in 2017 when my interest in the subject was at its peak. So smitten was I with its figurative power that it must have lingered with me, later to emerge as a title. I am pleased it did—“exaltation” is a glorious word!
A few days ago, I extolled the simple beauty of my rural surroundings—the fundamental function of my work—in a few lines under the title “An Exaltation” and referred to it again later as an example of how my poems typically begin. I have since succumbed to temptation and turned the piece into a rough poetic sketch.
Incidentally, the title was taken from a redundant sketch in the current litany of poems for the collection; I am pleased to see it revived in this way but conflicted about including it. I resolved not to add new sketches to the list, and this reimagined version is technically so—I may have to move it to the “future collection” set.
What troubles me about the typical politician is the glibness of his words; he has ever an answer at the ready, never is there a pause—a moment of reflection to suggest genuine thought.
Thus far, the initial “Cranes and Sheep” sketch has produced a number of variations which have led to five versions of the draft. (I explain here how I end up with so colourful a body of text.)
Whilst the first stanza has a few word variations in its third line—as I consider internal rhyme with its corresponding second stanza—it is an established part of the poem and the three stanzas that follow echo its structure, tone and style.
I must now work through the variations of each of these versions towards a final draft. I shall inevitably discover new ideas and directions as I do so, adding more variations along the way.
The origination of a traditional poem may seem a tedious task to the unfettered free verse poet, but to the lyric poet, the meticulous assembly of a composition—word by word, line by line, stanza by stanza—is a source of great fulfilment.
From the earliest stages of a poem’s development, there is almost always one stanza that remains all but unchanged. I find it is usually the first in the poem for from it the rest of the stanzas proceed. While they generate many variations—versions of themselves informed by that stanza—it is a near-constant throughout.
It is spring in South Africa (September to November), and the Greater Striped Swallows (Cecropis cucullata) are returned from north Africa for the breeding season. A week ago, I photographed one of their many mud-pellet nests in the entrails of a bridge where I often stop to admire them as they frolic in the air.
From sketch to draft
The way a poem develops ever fascinates me: already “Cranes and Sheep”, initially a single four-line verse, has burgeoned into a four-stanza idyll1. Like “Mist on the Mountain”2, its stanzas emerged from variations on the original quatrain: as I experimented with different versions of the primary verse, the resulting variations became stanzas in their own right; I now have a draft with a recurring motif, an element that imbues it with a lyric quality.
From concept to theme
My approach to the poem is a juxtaposition of a scene at the top of a hill—where Blue Cranes congregate against the sky—with one at the bottom of the hill—where Merino Sheep graze against the slope. Thus, the stanzas come in pairs: one and three are devoted to the cranes at the summit, two and four to the sheep at the base (a meta-theme of Heaven and Earth3); moreover, one and two present a sense of stillness and three and four, movement.
From structure to style
Each stanza has three short lines with an average of six words per line. As with all my poems, the style is reminiscent of Maurice Carême and Eugène Marais in its simplicity, written in a combination of iambic dimetre4 and trimetre5; for example, in the first stanza (in its current form): didi-DUM didi-DUM / DUM didi-DUM / DUM didi-DUM didi-DUM. This cadence lends itself to the underlying theme of Wonder and Delight as you happily cavort through the verses.
- A short description in verse or prose of a picturesque scene or incident, especially in rustic life. (Oxford Dictionary of English)
- I should perhaps note that the poems I am composing are for a collection to be published together in a printed book (likely in 2021) and so none of the works I reference are available anywhere at present.
- I have made no secret in the past of my reverence for the Blue Crane.
- A line with two metrical feet, for example: “Jack and Jill / Went up the hill…” (Forgive my spelling of “dimetre”; it is usually rendered “dimeter” but I prefer the alternative spelling of “trimeter”—“trimetre”—and “dimetre” must therefore follow.)
- A line with three metrical feet, for example: “Ring-a-ring o’ roses, / A pocket full of posies…”