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A study of Metrical Writing, Part 5: Self-Discipline

Published by OJB in the blog OJB's blog. Views: 309


Today I wanted to talk about Self-Discipline in terms of writing meter. Last Blog entry I talked about self-imposed restrictions that you should place upon yourself when writing Meter, but before you can even do that, you first must master writing Basic Blank verse (Iambic Pentameter without Rhyme.)


In the strictest sense, one should learn how to write Iambic Pentameter using NO substitutions or Variations, and make sure each line is its own Syntaxial unit (no enjambment.) Many writers, myself included, like to go straight to the more advanced and fun stuff before we have mastered the basics.

The end result?

Unsalvageable garbage that needs to be dumped into the nearest landfill and a "Shame on you" Critique posted on their work.

A lot of writers fight against the 'learning the basic' Critique, they scream 'I am an artist. Your wrong! I am smart enough to use the more advanced techniques! (My personal favorite) 'You are a Yeti!' The list of whiny defensive replies goes on, but the end result is always the same: Work that is unpublishable and soon forgotten by those who read it.

Take the time, learn the basics. If you don't, the more advanced Metrical Theory is going to kill you.

I wanted to end today's post by looking at another poem. While there are a few substitutions and variations that appear, I wanted to pay special attention to how each line is a close form (A complete Syntactical unit). As usual, I will post a clean version and a marked up version.

The Tuft of Flowers
By Robert Frost

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,—alone,

‘As all must be,’ I said within my heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a ‘wildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’

I went /to turn /the grass/ once aft/er one (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

The dew/ was gone /that made/ his blade /so keen (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Before/ I came/ to view/ the level/led scene. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

I looked/ for him/ behind/ an isle of trees; (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
I listen/ed for /his whet/stone on/ the breeze. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

But he/ had gone /his way, /the grass/ all mown, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And I/ must be,/ as he/ had been/,—alone, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

‘As all/ must be,’/ I said/ within/ my heart, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Whether/ they work /togeth/er or/ apart.’ (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

But as/ I said/ it, swift /there passed/ me by (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
On noise/less wing/ a ‘wild/ered butt/erfly, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

Seeking/ with mem/ories/ grown dim/ o’er night (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/IAmb)
Some rest/ing flower /of yes/terday’s /delight. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

And once/ I marked/ his flight /go round /and round, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
As where/ some flower/ lay with/ering on the ground. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

And then/ he flew /as far /as eye/ could see, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And then /on trem/ulous wing/ came back to me. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

I thought of ques/tions that/ have no reply, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And would/ have turned /to toss /the grass/ to dry; (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

But he/ turned first, and led /my eye/ to look (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
At a/ tall tuft /of flowers/ beside /a brook, (Double Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

A leap/ing tongue/ of bloom/ the scythe/ had spared (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Beside/ a reed/y brook/ the scythe/ had bared. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

I left/ my place /to know/ them by/ their name, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Finding/ them butt/erfly /weed when/ I came. (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

The mow/er in /the dew/ had loved/ them thus, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
By leav/ing them/ to flour/ish, not/ for us, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

Nor yet/ to draw/ one thought /of ours/ to him. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
But from/ sheer morn/ing glad/ness at/ the brim. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

The butt/erfly/ and I/ had lit/ upon, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Never/theless, /a mess/age from the dawn, (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

That made/ me hear /the wake/ning birds/ around, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And hear/ his long/ scythe whisp/ering to/ the ground, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

And feel /a spir/it kind/red to/ my own; (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
So that /henceforth/ I worked/ no more/ alone; (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

But glad with him, I worked/ as with his aid, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And wear/y, sought/ at noon/ with him/ the shade; (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

And dream/ing, as /it were,/ held broth/erly speech (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
With one /whose thought /I had/ not hoped /to reach. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

‘Men work/ together,/’ I told /him from/ the heart, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb) *
Whether/ they work /togeth/er or /apart.’ (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb) *

*In the second to last line, 'Together' is pronounced in 2 syllables, in the last line together is pronounced as 3. Also the word 'Flower' is pronounced as 1 syllable throughout the poem. We've not gotten to Dialect pronunciations and Elisions yet, as they are very complex theory, but understand that people pronounce words differently from region to region, and from time period to time period. Later on I will be going into this.

Robert Frost uses no variations within the poem, and only uses 6 substitutions -all in the first foot- throughout the whole poem. Also, every line is its own Syntactical part, we can see that by how most of the lines end in some form of punctuation, and the lines that don't are because he is simply following the rules of punctuation (Such as a dependent clause doesn't need a comma if it follows the main clause.)

Robert Frost was a very disciplined writer, and when he does use substitutions, it he follows a strict rule to place them only in the first foot of the line. This is not the work of a novice, but of someone who has mastered the craft of Metrical Writing, and this level of Discipline is what anyone wanting to write Metrically needs to aim for.

So, take the time and learn to write like Robert Frost, Pure Iambic lines that all end when a unit of Syntax would end. Do this for 6-8 months, 10 lines a day, and you will have mastered the Basics and can start weaving in the more complex ideas of Meter into your work.


Note: In years to come, Robert Frost will be 1 of 20 poets I do a in-depth look into, much like my Clive Barker study (which I will finish after this blog series is over.)

If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave a comment of a like!


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