Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Tight-Rhymed Fourteener Couplet (poetry)

Euterpe - Muse of Poetry - with her odd flute-like Aulos

Her mystery envelops me; she sings as Aulos calls;
 And in the mist, by magic kissed, we dance with waterfalls.

Ever wonder about the odd selection of 'tabs' across the top of this blog?  Well, the names originated from a little poem that I formerly used as the blog's subtitle.  It goes like this:

Of Hopping Rocks, of Paradox, of Books, of Nature's Code
A few small Crumbs, whatever comes, to mark my winding road.

This is an example of my 'signature' version of an old English poetic form called a 'Fourteener.'  My personal twist is to add an internal rhyme scheme--I call it the RGB rhyme scheme (Red, Green, Blue):

The best way to describe my modification is with this "instruction manual" that demonstrates the form:

You start with RED, his rhythm FED by gliding into GREEN;

And now sweet BLUE, her meter TRUE, completes the pure FOURTEEN.

As the exampe suggests, the basic style is called a Fourteener (this is a link to the Wikipedia article).  It has a meter scheme called Iambic Heptameter--two lines of seven stressed syllables each, thus fourteen stressed syllables in all.  I call the two lines together a couplet because the cohesion is provided by two rhyming words at the end of the two lines (Green and Fourteen) in the example above.

(There's even a more tightly rhymed alternative, which I'll propose here for completeness:

You start with RED then march AHEAD to see what's SAID by GREEN;

Then switch to BLUE and let line TWO complete the TRUE fourTEEN.)

The Fourteener rhyming couplet was popular in sixteenth and seventeenth century English poetry.  But its usage back then was much less constrained than the form I have fallen in love with - only rhyming the last word of each line.  The familiar old nursery rhyme provides an example:

Mary had a little lamb.  Its fleece was white as SNOW;
And everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to GO.

By contrast, you could rewrite this to form my peculiar tight-rhymed Fourteener thusly:

A little LAMB had Mary, MA'AM. Its fleece was white as SNOW;
And ev'ry PLACE that Mary'd PACE, the lamb was sure to GO.

As you see, this form is more tightly restricted.  And yet I find it fascinating to construct these.  I've done more than a hundred to date.  An extended example appears in my Book Review of Lord of the Rings

Another internally rhymed example that most everyone is familiar with is the old spiritual 'Amazing Grace'.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the SOUND that saved a wretch like ME
I once was lost, but now I'm FOUND was blind, but now I SEE


I like this form also, but to me the more tight rhyming style just seems to resonate better as a true Fourteener. (Amazing Grace might be considered a four line 4-3-4-3 format with alternate rhyme scheme rather than a Fourteener couplet.)

Over the past few years I've spent plenty of idle hours creating these little RGB (Red, Green, Blue) gems.  Below is a generous sampling.

I posted this first one on Twitter and got a great response:

Fed Dr. Seuss some Twitter juice. A silly song he sung
as viral toads on spiral roads snatched hashtags with their tongues.

The following ones got good responses on Twitter too. The first could be considered 'Flash Fiction'

Time travel man—his risky plan: I’ll kill my young self first.
New me’s that roam the quantum foam will rise from bubble burst.

As the content of the 'Paradox' tab demonstrates, I tend to obsess about big picture philosophy.

Man’s fall from grace did not take place when Eve consumed the fruit,
But when, in Sixteen-Sixty-Six, it fell on Newton’s snoot.

Worlds best designed are those that find their God permits mistakes
To such degree that even S/he occasionally partakes.

To man I brought the beasts I wrought with life’s breath, good and fit.
To wipe them out is license flouted far beyond my writ.
            (—God, Genesis 1:26-31, 2:18-20)

“Live free or die” we hear men cry; but jails come by degree.
The birds would scoff: “Take shackles off! Can’t fly? Then you’re not free.”

Objective fact alone can’t crack the code of reasoned thought.
It first must find th’experienced mind, for there its truth is wrought.

Then there are the multiple couplet examples. Alexander Pope wrote whole books in rhyme. I've not been that ambitious yet, but here are some of my longer efforts, beginning with this five-part

"Ode to the First Woman to Thru-hike the Appalachian Trail"

Emma Gatewood: Fourteen States, the Appalachian Trail—
Two thousand miles of grueling trials. And therein lies a tale.

A test that broke much younger folk, she trekked through rain and cold—
Georgia to Maine, alone, in pain, at sixty-sev’n years old.

She hiked in Keds, and note: Instead of fancy custom pack
She stuffed her gear inside a queer old home-made denim sack.

No bag, no tent, the year she went was nineteen-fifty-five.
It earned her fame, and some would claim she kept the Trail alive.

But hype aside, this truth abides: What Grandma Gatewood did
Was conquer fear and pioneer a path for countless kids.

The following set of four is an adaption of the

Unitarian Universalist 'Seven Principles'

To seven bold-struck rules we hold. The first says ‘All have worth.’
The last declares ‘Bequeath your heirs a healthy living earth.’

Rules two and six: let justice fix compassion’s primal drive
So world-wide peace achieves release from bonds for all alive.

Our fifth and third rules guide the ‘herd’ of fellow trav’lers all
Accept and cheer your friends and peers toward growth by common call.

And at the core is number four, for balance springs from this:
Seek to be free, responsibly; dynamic truth is bliss.

For my ongoing, ever evolving 'magnum opus' novel project, 'Eden's Womb' (see the 'Books' tab to the left of this one) I used Fourteeners liberally.  First here's the one used as epigraph to the entire novel--sort of a prologue and introduction to the 'Big Picture' setting of the story.


Men knew me not.  Those fools forgot the Eye that opened first—
The Voice that spoke when Time awoke and Heaven’s water burst.

‘Midst raging void, ere dark destroyed, ‘twas I who stooped to nod,
Gave form to place o’er waters’ face … and made their precious God.
 
When worlds were new my garden grew in perfect timeless bliss.
Its fruits of life wrought man and wife.  On
her I laid my kiss.
 
To praise the good of Motherhood I taught her of the fruit;
But Good revealed leaves Sin unsealed, hence jealous thoughts took root.
 
God loved the man.  He hatched a plan to seize my universe:
So males could claim the pow’r and fame, he smote me with a curse.
 
Thus in men’s eyes my mortal guise now takes a serpent’s form,
Which sets the stage, this final age, for one most righteous Storm.

                                                                        —StrongMother Naja, demiurge,
                                                                                      “The Flame of Creation”,
                                               ‘Essential Elements’ from the ‘Core Narrative’
 
And so Naja sets into motion her scheme to take control of the distant future Earth of our story:
 
Since primal dawn I've conjured spawn, and into Chaos hurled.
Now fly at need, my living seed--approach yon hapless world.

Descend from height by dark of night; invade their misted skies.
There make from cloud an icy shroud--a clever snowflake guise.

Thy prisms train, my devious grain; enslave the witless sun.
To scour the land with beacon's hand--and seize their Chosen One.

He dwells, 'tis said, where glaciers spread - "For lo!" the prophet cries,
"From icebound womb, ere crack of doom, my final King must rise."

Below are some examples of chapter epigraphs, some better than others (I'll forgive you if your eyes are glazing over at this point.)

Beneath the ice, like winter mice, the careworn Gleaners toil
To slowly chip from glacier’s grip the fruits of once-warm soil.

FOLLY ON THE ICEWAY

To river Sprite, to squandered sight, I rise with desp’rate ode.
A mercy grant, ere Heavens rant—pray ease my awful load!

THE HAND OF THE GODS

Nine branches hath the Shepherd’s path. You cannot scout them all.
Retreat to peace … accept release!  Each road fulfills thy Call.

BLOOD OFFERING

From shore to shore, our Buddha bore his people’s urgent dream.
Yet dukkha claims all mortal gains.  Nirvana is the stream.

THE LAST OPTION

The Rotted Lands raise ghostly hands to guard their secret spawn.
Dare trespass here, you’ll flee in fear … or die before the dawn.

THE QUICK BROWN FOX

Her trifling verse—a toxic curse—escaped and plays its card.
When tamper’d bit trumps Dealer’s writ the final trick comes hard.

KIM

To stand and stare, or choose to share thy precious living wine:
Two voices stilled? One dream fulfilled? The vital choice is thine.

DEMOCRACY

Man’s god, God’s man—the early plan: A kingdom and its Lord.
But later tastes would soon replace a monarch with a board.

MYCELIA
Plague four of sev’n: lift eyes to Heav’n where mind and faith compete.
Should faith prevail the further trail shall spread before thy feet.

THE RECORDING
Where reason fails trust ancient tales to yield a path to light.
Let truth unfold from words of old: hope spring from darkest night.

THE PROFESSION
‘Step forth’, they taunt, ‘accept the gauntlet laid before thy feet.
The last gate’s key, thy destiny—at DunCanon shall meet.’ 

EYES
The sickle’s blade—of pure light made—Heav’n’s sharpest cutting brand
Cannot surpass one blade of grass deprived of human hand.
 
CONCUSSION
Those desp’rate hours—while doubt devours—evince the greater goal.
Blind Chaos bends to Spirits’ ends when pray’r directs the soul.

SNAKES
O beast of pow’r, now comes the hour: a balm applied today
Relieves thy pain in hope to gain a favor down the way.

IN A CLOAK OF EIDERDOWN
By gloom of night a new-come fright disturbs the rancid air.
An omen charm rings clear alarm: ye company beware.

MRS. WYCHERLEY’S CAT (in honor of Alexander Pope)
Her husband dead, I watched her wed that money-grubbing rake.
Sev’n years in Fleet his fate would meet; and not a penny take.

NELL
An ancient norm sustains its form within this Rotted Land:
Ere balance chose, crude science froze, usurping Nature’s Hand.

UNTIL WORD ARRIVES
In realms unseen a Fungid queen records her firm command:
“This consort-clone, ‘til now unknown, dies only by my hand.”

AVATAR
By quantum bits her Voice emits a message faint and thin.
What strength denies, the frail espies: a pow’r from deep within.

DILEMMA
From random drift a current swift; from Chaos comes a plan:
Thus Naja rose; and from her flows the Noble Course for man.

THE PHRASE
A child, thirteen, confronts a queen ‘til truth stands undenied:
‘Your sacred phrase, from ancient days, is Adam’s constant guide.’

TO CATCH HER DRIFT
Awake, stout soul!  Assume the role that Naja's plan portends:
Thy knowledge grows, Her guidance flows, Sustains, Impels, Transcends.

RUNNER
‘Twixt land and sky her peak lifts high: commanding all the realm.
Through countless years no man came near ‘til Lissa took the helm.

NO AHAB
Endure your pain for greater gain: our quest—our hallowed goal.
Leave doubt behind and steel your mind: to DunCanon we roll.

2 comments:

  1. PJ, I am a poet of sorts on the site AllPoetry, going there by the name of Corrideo. I have been playing with the tight rhyme in fourteener sonnets since I discovered it here. I am going to introduce it as a contest option in April. I certainly give you credit...unless you would like to log on, and do so yourself.

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    1. Hi Corrideo - I'm flattered and delighted that you've picked up on this rhyme scheme. It's a challenge, and lots of fun, isn't it! I'll be checking AllPoetry from time to time, and if I see the contest posted, I'll try to respond, though I'm pre-occupied at the moment with my hiking adventure (Appalachian Trail). Best wishes in your writing pursuits, and thanks for the comment.

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