Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Components of a Poem

A well-chosen title is an important key to understanding a piece of writing, especially poetry. The title usually tells the reader what the poem is about, its theme, or central meaning. For example, Edgar Allen Poe’s title “Eldorado” not only tells the reader that the poem is about a mythical city of great wealth, but at the same time, it suggests the poem’s theme, that people will always pursue their impossible dreams.
The structure of a poem is it’s organization. In a poem, every rhyming sound, rhythmic beat, word, image, line, and stanza is arranged to create one dominant impression. Understanding how this arrangement contributes to the theme of a poem adds greatly to one’s enjoyment.
A stanza is a group of lines, with no spaces between them. Most poems are organized in stanzas, easily recognized by their fixed pattern of lines and rhyming words at the end. In many poems stanzas reflect divisions of the poem, each one developing a different aspect of the theme. Often you can understand a difficult poem by examining the different stanzas.

A Couplet
A pair of rhyming lines in a poem. Shakespearean Sonnets end with a couplet.

When the last line or two in a stanza is repeated, common in ballads and contemporary pop songs.
Incremental Repetition
Like a refrain, a line is repeated, but with subtle changes and variations, advancing the story bit by bit.

In normal English speech, some words and syllables are stressed and others are not (to-mór-row). This fact makes it possible to establish a beat using the sounds of words. As in music, recurrent beats form a rhythm. In poetry, the basic rhythms (measures, or meters) result from the repetition of regular patterns of accented and unaccented syllables.
            Rhythm is not something the poet artificially imposes upon a poem. It grows out of the ideas and feelings expressed and, ideally, complements them perfectly. Indeed, rhythm is one of the poet’s chief means for intensifying and reinforcing a mood. Just as the background music of a film changes as the action shifts from a gun battle to a love scene, so the rhythm of a poem fits its mood: slow and sad, then fast and happy, then strong and triumphant, etc.
The patterned repetition and variation of similar sounds. Rhyme delights the ear and it emphasizes and/or varies the basic rhythm of a poem. By changing rhyme sounds, especially at the end of lines, the poet sets off certain stanzas, as separate units. Rhyme is not essential in poetry, especially starting in the 20th century. But it doesn’t make a poem easier to remember.
            There are two kinds of rhyme: masculine and feminine. Masculine rhymes are when the final syllable at the end of two or more lines rhymes, like “sky” and “by”. Feminine rhymes are similar, but involve the last two syllables at the end of two or more lines, like “shrieking” and “speaking”. Masculine rhyme sounds more final, whereas feminine rhymes feel incomplete, wanting to continue.
The basic rhythm of a poem is described in terms of the predominant foot and the number of feet per line. A foot is the single combination of stressed and unstressed syllables which, when repeated, produces the pattern we call rhythm. A trochaic foot (or trochee) is an accented followed by an unaccented syllable, like the word oxen (óx-ěn). Used alone, trochaic feet are best for light poems, songs, and nursery rhymes. An iambic foot is composed of an unaccented followed by an accented syllable, such as the word delight (dě-líght). A spondee is a foot composed of two accented syllables (great hall). It tends to be slow and heavy, adding force and solemnity to the rhythm. A pyrrhic foot, is the opposite, with two unaccented syllables (and a), making it quick and light. See examples in John Masefield’s “Sea Fever”:
And the wheel’s kick and the wind song / and the white sail’s shaking
pyrrhic    spondee       pyrrhic  spondee      pyrrhic   spondee   trochaic
Some feet have three syllables, for example the anapaest and dactyl. The anapaest is composed of two unaccented and one accented syllable (to the hills).
The dactyl is the opposite, one accented and two unaccented syllables, like the word ‘happily’ (há-pĭ-lˇy). It sounds stately and dignified.
An amphibrach is a 3 syllable foot with the one accented syllable in the middle, like Martina (Măr-tí-nă)
A tribrach is a 3 syllable foot that’s all unaccented, like in Robert Frost’s poem, “An Old Man’s Winter Night”:
All out-of- / doors looked  / darkly /  in at him
 tribrach          trochaic          trochaic   dactyl
A molossus is a 3 syllable foot where all three are accented, like “Great North Road”.
Here’s a chart of feet:

˘ ˘
˘ ¯
¯ ˘
trochee, choree (or choreus)
¯ ¯
˘ ˘ ˘
¯ ˘ ˘
˘ ¯ ˘
˘ ˘ ¯
anapest, antidactylus
˘ ¯ ¯
¯ ¯ ˘
¯ ˘ ¯
cretic, amphimacer
¯ ¯ ¯
˘ ˘ ˘ ˘
tetrabrach, proceleusmatic
¯ ˘ ˘ ˘
primus paeon
˘ ¯ ˘ ˘
secundus paeon
˘ ˘ ¯ ˘
tertius paeon
˘ ˘ ˘ ¯
quartus paeon
¯ ¯ ˘ ˘
major ionic, triple trochee
˘ ˘ ¯ ¯
minor ionic, double iamb
¯ ˘ ¯ ˘
˘ ¯ ˘ ¯
¯ ˘ ˘ ¯
˘ ¯ ¯ ˘
˘ ¯ ¯ ¯
first epitrite
¯ ˘ ¯ ¯
second epitrite
¯ ¯ ˘ ¯
third epitrite
¯ ¯ ¯ ˘
fourth epitrite
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯

The meter is the number of feet in a line of poetry. It can vary from line to line; it’s up to the poet. A meter with one foot is a monometer; two feet, dimeter; three feet, trimeter; four feet, tetrameter; five feet pentameter; six feet, hexameter.

To understand a poem, you need to know its subject matter. Titles usually help but not always. Sometimes a title simply names a thing, person, memory, or idea that caused the poet to ponder some other deeper subject. Selma Robinson’s poem “Country Night” is not just a description of rural twilight, but about the fear of darkness. In every poem, ask yourself what the true subject is.

Poets not only recreate their experiences, but they also convey what those experiences mean. John Wheelock in “The Black Panther” does not merely depict the experience of being greatly angered; he also reveals that his unexpressed anger is so intense that it torments him physically:

“The eternal passion stretches me apart,
And I lie silent––but my body shakes.”

In this poem, the subject is his situation and anger, and the theme is how it torments him. The theme is the argument put forward by the work.

Tone of Voice
One of the most common complaints in the world is, “It’s not what he said; it’s the way he said it.” Such comments prove that tone of voice is important in communication. When language is written, the audible voice of the writer disappears. What does “no” mean to you on the printed page––confusion? Dismay? Resoluteness? Anger? Insolence? Ignorance? Without the inflection, volume, and pitch of the voice, without facial expressions or body gestures to help one interpret, readers must depend upon context clues to grasp the true meaning, as well as the author’s attitude toward the work he’s written.

The careful selection of words when writing. Diction is important because some words, like “brown hills” or “cool green grass” can create an impression in your mind – a picture, or a feeling. Some diction is meant to surprise, like “waves spanking the boats” or “nun-like hills”.

Poets often convey ideas through comparison. Stated comparisons that are indicated by like or as are called similes. For example in Selma Robinson’s poem “Country Night”, “The house was like a ship that slowly listed.” Here the house is compared to a slowly sinking ship.

Comparisons that are not announced with like or as are metaphors. An extended metaphor continues throughout a poem; it’s a longer comparison. Metaphors serve a similar purpose in literature to symbols. They’re really stated symbols.

Is any figure of speech that gives inanimate objects or animals human qualities. Expressions like a “night’s starred face,” “magic hand of chance,” and “the sea’s face” are examples of personification.

Is the repetition of similar vowel sounds: “breaking of day”

Is the repetition of similar consonant sounds: “flip flop, babble and bubble”

Is a kind of consonance. It's the repetition of any similar consonant sounds in the stressed syllables of a line of poetry: “around the rock the ragged rascal ran"

Obvious, intentional exaggeration for special effect, usually humorous.

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