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  1. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Epic poems

    Discussion in 'Poetry' started by OurJud, Aug 5, 2018.

    This is a branch of poetry I’ve pretty much ignored. I’ve never read a ‘long’ poem, let alone an epic, largely because I find the thought of doing so rather daunting. For the same reason I’ve never even contemplated writing one.

    That said they are something I feel I should at leat explore, so I’m here to gather opinion and thoughts on what an epic should be, what form they take, and how one would approach writing one.

    ETA: A quick search tells me it may not be epic poems I’m thinking of, but simply long poems that span many pages. Epic poems are something all of their own.
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2018
  2. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I would recommend reading Rudyard Kipling, for such as The Rhyme of the Three Sealers or McAndrew's Hymn (and many more). These run to ten to twenty pages and are both very dramatic and poetically exquisite

    Away by land of the Japanee
    Where the paper lanterns glow,
    And crews of all the shipping drink
    At the house of Blood Street Joe's
    At evening when the twilight breeze
    Brings up the harbor noise
    And ebb of Yokohama Bay
    Swigs chattering through the buoys,
    In Cisco's Dew-Drop Dining Room,
    They tell the tale anew
    Of a hidden sea, and a hidden fight
    When the Baltic ran from the Northern Light
    And the Stralsund fought the two.

    -
    Opening to The Rhyme of the Three Sealers, by Rudyard Kipling
     
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  3. ReproveTheCurlew

    ReproveTheCurlew Active Member

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    Difficult to say - especially if you're talking more about long poems, rather than epics... epic poetry is (as I'm sure you've read) a particular form of story-telling through verse which contains its own set of rules (such as containing lists, evoking a muse etc. pp.); so all I could do would be to recommend some long poems I like, I suppose, and if that helps? And with that being said, I think the possibilities of writing long poems (rather than epics) are as endless as the options you have for shorter ones... probably a good rule of thumb is 'the poem has to be as long as the poem needs to be', although that's vague - sort-of 'if the subject matter warrants a long poem, write a long poem'. One popular and quite fun example (if you get over the archaic language) is 'An Essay on Criticism' by Alexander Pope, which is written in heroic couplets (i.e. aabbcc etc. rhyming iambic pentameter), and he divided it into several parts. In proper Epics you often have the poem divided into 'books' (which are like novel chapters). More recent examples would be Wallace Stevens, 'Auroras of Autumn' or 'Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction', which are written in a loose blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter)... if you go back quite far in time you could read the Canterbury Tales, which are borderline Epic... it's a collection of different stories written in verse (some of them really funny!). But, as I said, it's a very wide field, so difficult to say!

    As for how to approach writing one... hm! Again it depends on what you want to do - tell a story? Then the plot would dictate how long it needs to be, and then it's probably just best to plan it out and write the individual sections (so, cut it into smaller chunks so that it doesn't feel as overwhelming). If you're conveying an emotion, think of the images you want to use to deliver the emotion and think on how long you want to spend on each image until you have a similar 'list', I suppose, as with the story-poem. If you're providing a section of thoughts/philosophical ideas or whatever the same would apply, perhaps.

    Sorry this isn't particularly concrete advice - the longest poem I've written was three pages, so I'm trying to think in terms of my studies, experience in novel writing, and how I approach writing more-than-very-short-poems.
     
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  4. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks, both.

    @Lew - that extract alone makes me want to read it. I love it. I shall be printing that off if I can find the whole thing.

    @ReproveTheCurlew - all very helpful notes. Thank you.
     
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  5. ReproveTheCurlew

    ReproveTheCurlew Active Member

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    My pleasure as usual! I believe @OJB was writing an epic poem - see https://www.writingforums.org/threads/paradise-mourned-progress-journal.155036/ - so he might be able to help; in the past his tips were also quite good, even if he's sometimes dogmatic in his opinions. Haven't seen him in a while, though

    Another sweet long poem came to mind since I wrote that post btw - 'Ballad of the Reading Gaol' by Oscar Wilde - https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/ballad-reading-gaol

    And all men kill the thing they love,
    By all let this be heard,
    Some do it with a bitter look,
    Some with a flattering word,
    The coward does it with a kiss,
    The brave man with a sword!

    Written, as the title suggests, in a ballad stanza, i.e. interchanging iambic tetrameter and trimeter with the trimeters rhyming.
     
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  6. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Nice. I'll hunt that one down, too.

    Strange but I always imagined rhyming would be dropped for long poems, although I've nothing at all to back that thought up.
     
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  7. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Just Google up "The Rhyme of the Three Sealers", it comes right up. Kipling was very good at turning ordinary every-day events into epic stories. Though I agree with @ReproveTheCurlew, that true epics are on the order of the Iliad, Odyssey and the Aeneid, hundreds of pages rather than tens. That would be on apar with writing a novel, with the added constraints of rhyme and meter. Probably why the ancients didn't bother with rhyme.
     
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  8. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Here you go, @OurJud... http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_threesealers.htm

    I got the complete collected works of Kipling when I was about 14, and that was one I memorized in its entirety. I still do Gunga Din, but only after too many drinks, to my wife's chagrin.
     
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  9. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    And I still have that book, though we had to put some packing tape on the spine. I've had it 56 years, and it was old when I got it.
     
  10. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks @Lew. I printed it off earlier - pretty easy to find as you say. And to think he'll have done all that without the aid of a rhyming dictionary. Damn I use an online rhyming dictionary for even the shortest of my poems!
     

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