Monday, February 11, 2013

Balance in Poetry by Ezra

For all the aspiring poets in my readership, here's something my son wrote about writing poetry..

Balance in Poetry
The patterns in nature are obvious to the eye, though usually not absolute.  The seeds on the sunflower are always placed in a wonderful spiral pattern, but yet every sunflower is diverse from another.  Every snowflake is completely unique, yet each has it’s own pattern.  All animals of a specific kind look alike, yet every one looks different.  

Man’s patterns are usually more exact than those found in nature. Circles, right angles and straight lines will very rarely be found in nature, but they are the basic principles that man uses in most everything he builds. You would never walk into a tree plantation where the trees are all in perfect rows and call it a woods. A woods needs the randomness of nature.  Yet, you would never walk into a meadow and call it a garden. To have a garden you need more pattern and less randomness.  

Depending on how you want your poetry to feel, you can lean more one way or the other, but however it gets done, patterns and diversity must be balanced. You need enough pattern that the poem answers to itself and enough diversity that it is interesting. This goes for everything from rhyme and rhythm even to the content of the poem.  For example: stop and brake do not rhyme because they have no pattern, whereas brake and break do not rhyme because they have no diversity.  But brake and lake rhyme because with them you have the perfect balance of pattern and diversity.  

As stated, the meter of a poem is an important place to balance pattern and diversity. Without a pattern, you have prose. But for your pattern to be pleasing, it must have some diversity. A poem with longer verses may have more diversity than others, but each one has its own arrangement of accented and unaccented syllables. The pattern should be consistent throughout the poem but should contain enough variety that the poem is not sing-songy or monotonous. Only in the lightest children’s poem could you get away with as much pattern as in the following example:

Swimming, swimming,
The whale was swimming in the sea.
Swimming, swimming,
The dog is swimming after me.
Swimming, swimming,
I’m swimming swimming really fast.
Swimming, swimming,
My dog went swimming right on past.

Only in this modern world of rhyme can you get away with as much diversity as in this example:

While out for a swim in the sea
I saw a whale was swimming with me.
Not sure what it was, I swam really fast,
But my dog who is faster went swimming on past.

Each line has it’s own meter, making way too much diversity.  If I matched any three lines to the other one, I would have a consistent pattern, and the meter would then be acceptable.

Truth and passion are two factors that must be balanced.  Any poem that does not have both is quite worthless.  If all you do is state the facts, your poem will be bland, but if all you do is paint pictures and express feelings, your poem will be hard to understand.  The one is the meat, the other is the salt. Depending on your taste and the style you are writing, you can change which is which by emphasizing one above the other, but you must have both.

You also need the perfect balance of things old and new. You want to revive thoughts and feelings that the reader has already had, but it’s not enough to stop there. You must build on those thoughts and take your readers places they have never been before. If you only use language that is common and accepted, you will have a poem that is very understandable but very boring too. If you use completely new thought, you will have a poem that is very hard to understand.  If you mix the two and have a good amount of common language heavily mixed with your own new thought, you will then have a poem with power in it. Of course the best place to derive your common language is directly from the Bible, and the second is from the rich heritage of Christian literature that we have in English.

The idea of balancing both truth and passion, and things old and new, is very well summed up by this statement said of Jeremy Taylor, “We will venture to assert that there is in any one of the prose folios of Jeremy Taylor, more fine fancy, and original imagery — more brilliant conceptions and glowing expressions — more new figures and new applications of old figures — more, in short of the body and the soul of poetry, than in all the odes and epics that have since been produced in Europe.” ~Edinburg Review*

Sourcing your thoughts directly from the Bible is not only beneficial because it is good to use concepts that your reader has already thought before, but it becomes necessary if you are going to have a poem that will have a lasting effect on someone’s life. The words of Scripture are living words like no other words ever spoken.  So tapping into them will put power in your poem, because now you are not the one saying it, but you have taken God’s words and put them to use.  I am assuming that you will use Scripture in context, fitting passages together that go together, otherwise it is worthless.  Now, if you do all that perfectly  but do not add any personal experience, you will have a poem that is doctrinally correct, even deep in a sense, but not touching in the least. I have seen poems where some poet rewrote a passage of Scripture in a poetic form, but such poems tend to be dry.  I would rather read the Scripture just as it is.  On the other hand, if you write a poem that is full of experience and emotion so that it is very touching, but not directly biblical, you will have a poem that is poor at best. I am not talking about poems that are unbiblical, because they teach things contrary to the Scripture, but simply poems that are not directly biblical.  Such poems may release a flow of emotion, perhaps even make people cry, but changing their lives will remain the work of those who use Scripture.

*. Library of Old English Prose Writers volume viii Jeremy Taylor, facing the preface

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting observations and true.

    We were blessed by a recent visit from Dan O as he passed through, and he shared some of your and Ezra's hymns. They were really, really wonderful, both in content and in conveying some of the Lord's work in your lives. Praise the Lord.