To accommodate a particular version of a set of lines in the “Cranes and Sheep” draft, I have, over the past few weeks, contorted its stanzas in every conceivable arrangement to no avail. This is one of the paradoxes of traditional poetry that one can write an excellent line that cannot be used (in the exact form one would like) within the poem for which it was conceived; either for reasons of context, clarity, structure or style, it must be foregone or significantly altered to achieve a coherent poem. The traditional poet’s notebooks are littered with word sequences that will never see the light of verse.

Composing “Cranes and Sheep”

Composing “Cranes and Sheep”, 14 November 2019. Copyright 2019 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

In the current “Cranes and Sheep” draft, the first three stanzas are all but complete. There is here and there a word or line I am yet to decide upon, but having gone through numerous variations of each of the three, they seem to me the most evocative expressions of the theme.

As is often the case, the last stanza (here the fourth) proves the most challenging. I am left with seventeen variations after the last edit. These are the possible versions I am testing for the conclusion of the poem (the while my recent compositional dilemma remains unresolved).

They all describe the same subject—a lamb afrolic—but the exact lines with which to convey it is the great question that diligence (and a poet’s inclination) must answer. This then is my work in the days to come. It always seems an impossible task, but I find the right verse in the end!

It occurs to me how easy it would be in free verse to eliminate (indeed, altogether avoid) the compositional challenges traditional poets encounter by simply sweeping them away in unfettered lines; but, it is precisely those dilemmas (and here is a perfect example), created by the constraints and conventions of the style, that make the writing of traditional poetry so uniquely appealing—so intriguing, engaging and satisfying.