Prepare: Prior to beginning your initial post, read the poems “We Real Cool” and “My Papa’s Waltz” in your textbook. You are also required to listen to “We Real Cool” and “My Papa’s Waltz” before completing this discussion. These clips demonstrate the importance of performance, rhythm, and musicality in the poetic form. Reflect: Poetry is a literary form that can offer readers a different experience based on whether the poem is read silently, read aloud, or simply listened to when read by someone else. For example, you might hear a certain rhythm or change of pace that you might not catch when simply reading the poem silently to yourself. For this week’s discussion, you read and listened to poetry. If you didn’t the first time, read and listen with careful eyes and ears so you can respond thoughtfully to the two parts of the discussion this week. Write: Part One – Answer the following questions about one of the poems based on your reading of them:What is the theme of the poem? How do you know this is the theme?What poetic devices (e.g., rhythm, figurative language, etc.) are used in the poem? Offer at least two examples.How do these poetic devices contribute to the development of the poem’s message?Support your ideas with textual details and analyses. Part Two – Describe your listening experience of the same poem you wrote about above. Respond to at least two of the following questions:How did hearing the poem recited aloud compare to a silent reading of it?Did the performance highlight certain words or phrases that were not as apparent in a silent reading?Did the pace change and, if so, how did it change your understanding of the poem?Did words have different connotations and, if so, what kind(s) of connotation did you associate with the poem?Do you think reading poetry aloud is a worthwhile endeavor when analyzing it? Why, or why not?We Real CoolGwendolyn Brooks, 1917 – 2000 THE POOL PLAYERS.
We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.My Papa’s WaltzBY THEODORE ROETHKEThe whiskey on your breath Could make a small boy dizzy; But I hung on like death: Such waltzing was not easy. We romped until the pans Slid from the kitchen shelf; My mother’s countenance Could not unfrown itself. The hand that held my wrist Was battered on one knuckle; At every step you missed My right ear scraped a buckle. You beat time on my head With a palm caked hard by dirt, Then waltzed me off to bed Still clinging to your shirt.08ch_clugston_literature.pdf8
© VideoBlocks
Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:
• Identify mechanical elements of poetry, including rhyme, rhythm, meter, and foot.
• Analyze the themes and concepts presented in this chapter’s literary selections.
• Identify and describe free verse and haiku.
• Analyze the presence of specific images used in a poem.
• Discuss the compression of ideas and the creation of aphorisms in poetry.
• Identify how poetry has been used to deal with important human issues throughout
• Explain how reading a poem aloud helps the reader experience its flow and overall effect.
• Write about a poem analytically, describing the different elements in a poem.
“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”
—T. S. Eliot
The Sound of Poetry
Chapter 8
   8.1 Introduction
According to Charles Simic (a Yugoslavia-born American poet and winner of the Pulitzer Prize
for The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems, 1990), there is a simple answer to the question “What
is poetry?” Poetry is everything the poet sees. To state it even more broadly, poetry is everything
the poet senses, feels, experiences, imagines. In other words, poetry has an intrinsic quality: It is
built into our human existence. It is there.
In response to an abstract statement like this, you might ask, so what? You’re surrounded by a lot
of things: The air is there; so is the sky—why bother to say “poetry is there”? It’s a fair question.
Here’s an answer: Saying that poetry is built into our life experience is another way of saying that
human experiences are more complex than they seem. And when you think about any experience that you usually take for granted, it’s possible to “see” interrelationships—not only see them,
but be surprised and enriched by them. For example, when you step into an elevator to go to the
third floor, you simply push the Floor 3 button, a routine motion. But when you watch a young
child standing on tiptoe, straining, stretching to be tall enough to reach the Floor 3 button for the
very first time, you can see that pressing an elevator button can be an extraordinary experience as
well as an ordinary one. It is multidimensional; it can be emotional as well as mechanical. In that
moment you are drawn into poetic awareness. The person standing beside you, texting, probably
didn’t feel what you felt as you watched the child. Of course, you could tell that person about the
warm sense of celebration you felt when the glow on the button she reached for lit up the child’s
face. When you attempt to describe how you felt, you are engaging in poetic expression. We are
all poets to this extent.
There’s no end to attempts that poets themselves make in describing poetry. Famous among these
is Emily Dickinson’s remark to her mentor, Reverend Higginson: “If I read a book [and] it makes
my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that it is poetry. If I feel physically as if
the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there
any other way?” (L342a). Echoing the spirit of romanticism, William Wordsworth considered
poetry to be “the spontaneous outflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origins from emotion
recollected in tranquility” (Lyrical Ballads, 1802). In the preface to Collected Poems, Robert Frost
envisioned the shape of a poem, seeing it as a figure that “begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”
Witty writer Marianne Moore, in her well-known poem called “Poetry,” quipped that it is “the art
of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.”
Ultimately, the poetic process, the poet’s work, begins with looking at ordinary things, discovering insights and surprises in them, and examining their complexities or contextualizing the
experiences of others and reframing them. Then, the poet looks for a way to express these observations or feelings in poetic form. Poems, then, are a means of capturing or refining what the poet
experienced. But adequately clarifying intangible feelings is not an easy task; it requires imagination. As the poet Gwendolyn Brooks acknowledged, “I write about what I see, what interests me,
and I’m seeing new things. Many things that I’m seeing now I was absolutely blind to before” (as
cited in Stavros, 5).
   8.2 The Sound of Poetry
Poetry sounds different from prose, which usually consists of straightforward language arranged
in accepted grammatical and structural form. Poets break out of the prose form by creating special sounds in language through the use of rhyme, rhythm, unique placement of words on the
page, and specific structuring rules.
The Sound of Poetry
Chapter 8
Rhyme occurs when two words share the same sound in the last stressed vowel and the sounds
that follow: tale–pale, fonder–wander.
Single rhyme (also called masculine rhyme) occurs when two one-syllable words rhyme (for
example: bright–night). In this pattern, the single syllable creates a forceful effect. Masculine
rhyme also occurs in words that have more than one syllable when the rhyming sound comes in
the final unstressed syllable: accuse–refuse.
Double rhyme (also called feminine rhyme) occurs when there are two or more syllables in the
rhyming words, with the first syllable stressed, the second unstressed (for example: staying–­
playing, marvelous–frivolous). The effect of this type of rhyme is lighter.
In poetry, rhyming words typically appear at the ends of lines. In the following excerpt from
“Sailing to Byzantium,” the end word thing in the first line is similar in sound to the word sing at
the end of the third line. A rhyming pattern creates a sense of expectancy as you read; you find
yourself anticipating the completion of a unit of thought as you approach each end rhyme. This
pattern, therefore, requires the poet to structure ideas and thoughts in poetic form.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.
—William Butler Yeats, from “Sailing to Byzantium” (1928)
The sequence or pattern of end rhymes in a poem is called the rhyme scheme. Sequential letters
of the alphabet, beginning with the letter “a,” are used to identify the rhyming pattern. The rhyme
scheme in the first stanza of Thomas Hardy’s poem “When I Set Out for Lyonnesse” (full text
later in this section) would be marked as follows:
When I set out for Lyonnesse
A hundred miles away
The rime was on the spray
And starlight lit my lonesomeness
When I set out for Lyonnesse
—Thomas Hardy, “When I Set Out for Lyonnesse” (1914)
When rhyming words are not at the end of lines, but within the same line, it is known as internal
rhyme. Take, for example, the internal rhyme in the following excerpt from Edgar Allen Poe’s
“Annabel Lee”:
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.
—Edgar Allan Poe, “Annabel Lee” (1849)
The lines above also contain an example of enjambment. This poetic device allows the thought
and grammatical structure in a line of poetry to carry over and be completed in the next line. It
creates a run-on line as opposed to an end-stopped line.
The Sound of Poetry
Chapter 8
Rhythm is the recognizable pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry, which
may recur in the poem. It is something you feel; it’s the beat you tap your foot to when you listen to music. When language is spoken, rhythm is expressed through the human voice. In this
process, some words, or parts of words (syllables), are stressed, or emphasized, and some are
unstressed. Of course, like music, speech has many rhythms. The repeated “beat” pattern of an
unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one creates a smooth, musical rhythm—and is one of
several standard patterns used in poetry.
The term meter is used to describe recurring rhythmical patterns in poetry; each unit within a
rhythmical pattern is called a foot. These patterns are created by the combination of stressed and
unstressed syllables. The symbol ˘ indicates an unstressed syllable, while the symbol ´ indicates
a stressed syllable.
An iambic foot consists of two syllables, with the second one stressed.
˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´
Come live with me and be my love
An anapestic foot consists of three syllables, with the third one stressed.
˘ ˘ ´ ˘˘
´ ˘ ˘ ´
˘ ´
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
A trochaic foot consists of two syllables, with the first one stressed.
´ ˘´˘ ´ ˘
´˘ ´ ˘´ ˘
´ ˘ ´˘
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary
A dactylic foot consists of three syllables, with the first one stressed.
´ ˘ ˘ ´˘ ˘
Trees in the wilderness
Scansion is the process of dividing a line of poetry into units, or feet, composed of stressed and
unstressed syllables. A line of poetry consisting of one foot is called monometer; with two feet it
is called dimeter; with three, trimeter; with four, tetrameter; with five, pentameter; and with six,
In Thomas Hardy’s “When I Set Out for Lyonnesse” (below), you know from its delightful tone
and its spirited rhythm that it is about romance. Delight and rhythm hardly need to be explained;
these characteristics of poetry become the poem. Rhythm and delight give poetry its experiential
quality—a true-to-life identification.
Hardy uses rhythm effectively in the poem below. The repetition of rhyming end words in lines of
poetry creates subtle rhythm, too. Hardy uses this technique in his poem and also repeats whole
lines, making a refrain, another way to create subtle, supportive rhythm.
Adding the element of surprise can make a poem even more enjoyable. Surprise sparkles in
Hardy’s poem through his references to the person who created “magic” in his eyes. The woman,
Emma Gifford, would become Hardy’s wife.
The Sound of Poetry
Chapter 8
Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
Thomas Hardy was a British novelist whose works often dealt with gloomy,
bleak human struggles. He turned to writing poetry in his later years. Hardy
was born in southwestern England and spent most of his life there; he
reflected the setting and traditions of Dorset in some of his major works.
He was trained as an architect and designed the house where he lived. Two
of his famous novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and The Return of the Native,
portray daunting quests of female characters.
© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/
When I Set Out for Lyonnesse
Thomas Hardy (1914)
˘ ´˘ ´ ˘ ´˘ ´
˘ hundred
´ ˘ miles
´ away,
˘ ´
Hardy’s name for the city of When I set out for Lyonnesse,
Branches and The rime was on the spray,
twigs had frost on them. And starlight lit my lonesomeness
When I set out for Lyonnesse
A hundred miles away.
What would bechance at Lyonnesse
While I should sojourn there
Durst means “would dare.” No prophet durst declare,
Cornwall was Nor did the wisest wizard guess
known for its magicians. What would bechance at Lyonnesse
While I should sojourn there.
When I came back from Lyonnesse
Note the playful double
meaning of magic in this line. With magic in my eyes,
All means “everyone.” All marked with mute surmise
My radiance rare and fathomless,
When I came back from Lyonnesse
With magic in my eyes!
This selection is in the public domain.
Free Verse and Haiku
Free verse does not have a fixed metrical pattern. Its lines are of varying length and usually do
not rhyme. Without these restrictions, free verse offers great potential for spontaneity and is
widely used by contemporary writers. William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”
is an example of free verse. It also is considered an Imagist poem. The Imagists, influenced by the
Japanese haiku, were early 20th-century American poets who moved away from use of conventional forms and created brief, vivid poems meant to convey the poet’s precise impression of a
visual object or scene. An example of haiku follows this poem.
The Sound of Poetry
Chapter 8
William Carlos Williams (1883–1963)
William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and practiced as a pediatrician for 40 years. He had a full career as a writer as well,
writing fiction and critical essays as well as poetry. His poems are centered
in everyday circumstances in the lives of common people. His first collection, Poems, was published in 1909. Toward the end of his life, he wrote
Paterson, a five-volume epic poem memorializing the history and the way of
life in Paterson, New Jersey. Williams was an innovator and also a mentor for
younger poets, several of whom became known as Beat Generation poets,
including Allen Ginsberg.
Oscar White/Historical/
© Pach Brothers/CORBIS
The Red Wheelbarrow
William Carlos Williams (1923)
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow” from Collected Poems: Volume I, 1909–1939, copyright
© 1938 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
1. Because the title of the poem is “The Red Wheelbarrow,” do you focus on the wheelbarrow
image immediately as you read, or are you more aware of the landscape that includes the red
2. In his free verse, Williams places “wheel” and “barrow” (and “rain” and “water”) on separate
lines. What effect does this placement create? Does the placement of “white” and “chickens”
create the same effect?
3. The poem suggests that “so much” depends on the red wheelbarrow. What might “so much”
include? Identify images in the poem that relate to the idea of vital relationships.
The Sound of Poetry
Chapter 8
As in other forms of free verse, the pattern in a haiku is not measured by meter and frequently
does not rhyme. Instead, haiku is identified by the compact arrangement of 17 syllables, consisting of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, respectively. The haiku poet’s goal is to convey an emotion, usually a response to nature, briefly and precisely. The poem below illustrates
the sudden break in imagery and tone in the final line, which is typical of haiku. Haiku is an
unrhymed poetic form that had its beginnings in Japanese culture, popularized by poet Masaoka
Shiki in the late 19th century.
Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902)
Known by this pen name,
Masaoka Shiki’s birth name
was Masaoka Tsunenori. He
was a popular Japanese poet
and is recognized as the person who introduced the term
haiku to replace earlier terms
that described single image
Public domain
The Apprentice Priestling
Masaoka Shiki
A boy not ten years old
they are giving to the temple!
Oh, it’s cold!
“The Apprentice Priestling” from Introduction to Haiku by Harold Gould Henderson, copyright © 1958
by Harold G. Henderson. Used by permission of Doubleday Publishing Group, an imprint of the Knopf
­Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
1. Describe the action in the poem. From whose point of view is it described?
2. Which words evoke emotions?
3. Do you think the people involved in the action of the poem share the speaker’s emotions?
Identify details to support your answer.
Poetry Is Evocative: It Draws Out Emotions
Chapter 8
   8.3 Poetry Is Evocative: It Draws Out Emotions
Richard Wilbur said that he wrote “Boy at the Window” after seeing how distressed his five-yearold son was about a snowman they had built. His response provides one answer to the question
“What is poetry?”: Poetry is a response to ordinary life experiences. But in order to write the
poem, he first had to pay attention to something that was right there in front of him, to allow
himself to be drawn deeply into it, and then to call forth, or evoke, feelings and implications
from it. Therefore, it is more accurate to say that poetry is an evocative response to ordinary life
Richard Wilbur (1921—)
Richard Wilbur is an American poet, literary translator, and university professor. He was born in New York and graduated from Amherst College. After
serving in World War II, he earned a master’s degree at Harvard University.
He has taught at Wesleyan University and served as writer in residence at
Smith College. He lives in Cummington, Massachusetts. The second person
to be named U.S. Poet Laureate, he has won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
twice. Most of his poems are reflective, restrained, orderly expressions of his
deeply felt emotions and values.
© Oscar White/CORBIS
Boy at the Window
Richard Wilbur (1956)
Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen1 eyes
Returns him such a God-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to paradise.
The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
Though frozen water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.
“Boy at the Window” from Things of This World, copyright © 1952 and renewed 1980 by Richard Wilbur.
Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Poetry is intended to evoke thought or strong feelings. Wilbur’s poem, for example, expresses
deep compassion—the compassion of the speaker who sensitively recognizes the boy’s innocent
Bitumen: pieces of coal used as the snowman’s eyes
Poetry Is Concise: It Compresses Ideas
Chapter 8
concern and, more deeply, the compassion of the boy as he looks at the snowman “standing all
alone / In dusk and cold.” The poem also conveys the boy’s fearful feelings about the “gnashings
and enormous moan” of the wind. Beyond that, it suggests that the boy is experiencing a sense
of alienation, perhaps for the first time, as he imagines being an “outcast” from the security and
love that he treasures.
   8.4 Poetry Is Imaginative: It Creates Images
Imaginative language is what gives poetry its power. Prose writing often depends on descriptive language and logical structure, but poetry is driven by words that create more spontaneous,
intuitive responses. Let us turn once again to the selection from “Sailing to Byzantium.” In the
first line of the selection below, William Butler Yeats uses paltry (insignificant) to describe an
old man but follows it immediately with metaphorical language, “a tattered coat upon a stick,”
which, with startling clarity, paints him as a scarecrow. Notice how different the next image is.
To capture the quality of the old man’s spirit, Yeats creates the vibrant image of his soul clapping
and singing. With just two contrasting images, Yeats enables you to visualize an old man holistically—both the insignificance of his appearance and the significance of his personality—while
simultaneously making you uneasily aware of the incongruities of aging.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.
—William Butler Yeats, from “Sailing to Byzantium” (1928)
   8.5 Poetry Is Concise: It Compresses Ideas
Poetry has a compressed quality; the language of poetry refines ideas and feelings, making them
both incisive and penetrating. Poets are always in search of just the right word, just the right tone.
This search produces the beauty and dignity that have always characterized poetry. Additionally,
this artful process sometimes produces witty assertions wrapped in clever phrases or humor.
When original thoughts of this kind have a memorable quality, they are called aphorisms or
maxims. You may be familiar with the aphorism that begins the poetic selection below: “A little
learning is a dangerous thing.” Alexander Pope, a British satirist, created this image of the learner
300 years ago. Notice how succinctly he supports his assertion with just one extended reference
to classical literature: drinking at the Pierian spring. In Greek mythology, the Pierian spring was
a source of inspiration because the muses of art and science drank there. Pope’s paradoxical
explanation that a small amount of learning can make you drunk and a large amount can make
you sober humorously illustrates his central contention.
A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
—Alexander Pope, from “An Essay on Criticism” (1711)
Poetry Is Provocative: It Stimulates Thought
Chapter 8
   8.6 Poetry Is Provocative: It Stimulates Thought
Robert Frost once said that “poetry is a way of taking life by the throat,” an image that suggests
poetry can provoke both emotional and mental awakenings. In doing so, it does not have to be
stern or moralistic; in fact, poetry can be highly provocative while remaining gentle. Consider
Mary Oliver’s gentle, yet instructive approach in “Wild Geese.”
Mary Oliver (1935—)
Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and the National Book
Award, has some 20 books of poetry to her credit, including Swan; Why I
Wake Early; Dream Work; New and Selected Poems; Volumes One and Two;
Thirst; Evidence; and her most recent poetry/prose collection, A Thousand
Mornings. Oliver has held residencies at several colleges and universities,
including Bennington College, where she held the Catharine Osgood Foster
Chair of Distinguished Teaching. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts
and writes extensively about nature and the insights nature offers. Her walks
in the Massachusetts outdoors often inspire her works.
Kevorak Djansezian/Getty
I­ mages News/Thinkstock
Wild Geese
Mary Oliver (1986)
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
“Wild Geese” from Dream Work by Mary Oliver. Copyright © 1986 by Mary Oliver.
Used by permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Mary Oliver begins “Wild Geese” by acknowledging that “you” have a problem, identified later as
loneliness and despair. The first sentence awakens the reader to intellectual awareness, which is
both supported and developed in the next part of the poem by images that reflect quiet emotions.
Her perspective is positive, and her forthright advice is an invitation to approach this problem
with uplifting self-expression (“let the soft animal of your body / love”) rather than by putting
yourself down (“walk on your knees / . . . through the desert, repenting”). Her confidence in
Poetry Is Inspired by an Impulse for Artistic Expression
Chapter 8
offering this advice springs from the beauty and wonder she’s discovered in the natural world—in
the pattern of the sun, the clarity of the rain, and the dependable movement of the wild geese
“heading home.” When you allow yourself to explore the natural wonders that “the world offers,”
she suggests you will find a sense of place. In a subtle way, though, she lets “you” know that this
advice is more than just pretty words: It is a call to active engagement, represented in the call of
the geese, which can be “harsh” as well as “exciting.” Like every human quest, the journey from
loneliness to belonging requires a deep awakening.
    8.7 Poetry Is Inspired by an Impulse for
Artistic Expression
The following poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Pablo Neruda explore the impulse for artistic
expression. The poems give you a sense of what it’s like to be a poet. Ferlinghetti makes you aware
of challenges the poet faces; Neruda describes what compels a poet to write.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919—)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York in 1919. He
completed a doctoral degree at the Sorbonne in Paris just as the Beat
Generation was gaining prominence. He moved to San Francisco, where he
joined the publisher of the City Lights magazine in establishing the nowfamous City Lights Bookstore, with which he is still associated. His poetic
style is simple, with feeling developed through ordinary language. As one
of the most popular Beat movement voices, he celebrated nonconformity, sought change, and advocated pacifism. Ferlinghetti is still active in
liberal causes.
© Kim Kulish/Corbis
Constantly Risking Absurdity
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1958)
Constantly risking absurdity
and death
whenever he performs
above the heads
of his audience
the poet like an acrobat
climbs on rime
to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
above a sea of faces
paces his way
to the other side of the day
performing entrechats1
and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
Leaps made by ballet dancers
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Chapter 8
and all without mistaking
any thing
for what it may not be
For he’s the super realist
who must perforce perceive
taut truth
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
with gravity
to start her death-defying leap
And he
a little charleychaplin man1
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spreadeagled in the empty air
of existence
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1958 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
Ferlinghetti’s “Constantly Risking Absurdity” suggests that a poet’s impulse to write doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s worth the risk—even when attempting to write about an abstract concept
like beauty. After all, beauty is something every artist seeks to achieve with each new creation.
Pursuing such a task makes the poet look a lot like an acrobat on a high wire, moving carefully,
aware of challenges that could spoil the entire performance. Such risk-taking is part of the creative process: His poetry is “a high wire of his own making” and he must be concerned about
“mistaking / any thing / for what it may not be.” As the poet strives to find an adequate way to
express his inner awareness of what beauty is, he realizes how difficult his task is. He imagines
Beauty as a person hovering above his high wire, ready to leap toward him, and admits that he
“may or may not catch / her fair eternal form.” At such a point, a poet is “constantly risking absurdity.” As described by this poem, then, the impulse to create poetry requires the poet to develop
accuracy and expert skill in his or her work, an endeavor that is both challenging and uncertain.
Personification, which we will discuss in Chapter 9, is a literary technique in which human attributes are assigned to animals, ideas, or inanimate objects. Notice that Ferlinghetti uses personification effectively: Beauty is capitalized to indicate personification; it is presented as a female
figure perched above the high-wire performer. Notice the simile—the direct comparison between
a poet and an acrobat.
1. As you read it, you discover this poem is about a performer (poet) and a performance (poetry).
Had you ever thought of a poet as a performer before? Why or why not?
2. How does the poet communicate his ideas? What visual imagery does he use? What senses do
these images awaken? What thoughts do they inspire?
Charlie Chaplin, a comic actor in the silent movies era
Poetry Is Inspired by an Impulse for Artistic Expression
Chapter 8
In the poem below, Pablo Neruda also uses personification—the impulse to create poetry is presented in the form of a person who greets and engages the poet.
Pablo Neruda (1904–1973)
Pablo Neruda was born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in Chile. When he
became a contributor to the literary journal Selva Austral in 1920, he began
to use the pen name Pablo Neruda, which honored the memory of the
Czechoslovakian poet Jan Neruda. He lived in various European countries
and held several diplomatic posts assigned by the Chilean government. In
1971, Neruda received the Nobel Prize for Literature, “for a poetry that with
the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and
dreams.” In his diplomatic service, Neruda had been challenged by political
critics and denied access to government officials because of his revolutionary
activities and association with the Chilean Communist Party. For this reason,
many literary voices and others questioned the appropriateness of the
© Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images
Nobel honor. But within his own country, he remained a championing
voice against exploitation of native Chilean people. His works have been
translated into many languages. He is recognized for his erotic love poems, his epic poetry that captures struggles of oppressed masses seeking freedom, and his romantic poems that celebrate life’s
daily pleasures and activities. Published posthumously in 1974, his final work, Book of Questions, is a
reflection on the questions that define humanity.
Pablo Neruda (1969)
And it was at that age . . . Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.
I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
Poetry Is Inspired by an Impulse for Artistic Expression
Chapter 8
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.
And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.
Neruda, “Poetry,” trans. Alastair Reid from Isla Negra, published 1982
(originally 1957) by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
Neruda’s “Poetry” springs from his personal experience, but it also describes what compels a poet
to write. He explains that becoming aware of the impulse to create poetry is like discovering a
person who is looking for you. In Neruda’s case, “Poetry” appeared suddenly (“I don’t know where
/ it came from”) without speaking (“they were not voices”) and then made contact (“it touched
me”). But there was more than just a meeting. The impulse to create poetry “summoned” him
and he felt he must respond, even though, as he admits, “I did not know what to say, my mouth
/ had no way / with names / my eyes were blind.” Nevertheless, at that moment Neruda felt a
compulsion deep within himself (“in my soul”) to write, and he began. With his first faltering
attempts to create poetry, he sensed a vast imaginative world opening before him, making him
look insignificant—an “infinitesimal being”—yet he knew he was connected to a vast source of
inspiration. Intentionally, he would shape his poetry to express his inspiration in those moments
when his heart was “loose on the wind.”
1. Neruda is describing a personal experience, an invitation to communicate through poetry. He
feels compelled to respond. Does this approach bring to your mind an experience or time when
you felt taken over by a sensation or an awareness that demanded a response?
2. In “Constantly Risking Absurdity,” Ferlinghetti writes about the poet’s performance, and in
“Poetry,” Neruda writes about the poet’s perceptions. What does the culminating image in
Neruda’s poem, “my heart broke loose on the wind,” suggest about the role of the artist in the
creative process?
Importance of Poetry
Chapter 8
    8.8 Importance of Poetry
Poetry is an expression of the human spirit. While we often experience it through words on a
page or a screen, poetry pre-dates literacy. It has been a universal vehicle for communicating oral
history. The epic is the oldest written form of poetry, created to relate pivotal adventures in the
development of nations and races. In this genre, the Epic of Gilgamesh is considered the oldest
poem, describing quests of a king in Sumer, an ancient civilization (modern-day Iraq). It dates
to 2700 BCE or earlier, written on clay tablets in cuneiform script. Much later, around 750 BCE,
Homer is thought to have written the famous Greek epics The Iliad and The Odyssey. The first
of these poems recounts episodes and heroic achievements in the 10-year Trojan War; the companion poem describes the trials that Odysseus, Greek hero of the Trojan War, encounters on
his journey home to Ithaca. In the following centuries, as nations and societies have developed,
poetic expression through ballads, folk songs, and national anthems has served to interpret central human relationships, values, and aspirations in each culture.
Prominent in primitive traditions, poetry still has a place in the celebration of important ceremonies in our culture. Since the 1930s, the U.S. Congress has officially identified particular poets as
distinguished artists. Given the title “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry” and serving a one-year
term, each poet selected seeks creative ways to increase appreciation for poetry in educational
and public settings.
In recent times, for instance, poets have been invited to participate in presidential inaugural
ceremonies. For Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013, Richard Blanco, a Cuban-American poet
acclaimed for his two books of poetry, City of a Hundred Fires and Directions to the Beach of the
Dead, wrote and delivered the poem “One Today,” which celebrated both the ordinary daily patterns in American life and the extraordinary expectation that a presidential inauguration inspires.
Poetry in the form of songs has long been used to preserve our national identity and capture the
spirit of generations and movements within American society. Its unique rhythm patterns can
reflect ethnic traditions; its solemn intonations can swell and culminate in religious expression. Poetry is indispensable: Children respond to its simple rhymes and rhythms; people of all
ages in all countries incorporate bits of it into their daily lives. No experience—whether ugly or
beautiful, actual or imaginary—is beyond its grasp. We would, indeed, be spiritually deprived
without it, as William Carlos Williams humorously implied when he observed in Asphodel,
That Greeny Flower, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day
for lack of it.”
As poetic expressions of praise, hymns reflect universal human experiences and emotions.
Hymns connect to and elevate feelings—joy, fear, sadness, gratitude—to a divine realm as evidence of faith and hope. In a classic manner, John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” plainly celebrates
the interconnectivity between human and divine realities. Consequently, the hymn is often sung
by individuals and by whole communities, especially at difficult times when humans seek comfort and renewal.
Importance of Poetry
Chapter 8
John Newton (1725–1807)
As a young man, John Newton joined England’s Royal Navy, deserted it,
and eventually became a slave-ship captain, carrying men and women from
Africa to be sold as slaves. In the middle of a storm on one trip, Newton had
a life-changing spiritual experience. He became an Anglican priest and hymn
writer, advocating the Christian view of redemptive forgiveness. He wrote
“Amazing Grace” as an expression of that prospect. In his final years, he
helped bring about the abolition of slavery in England.
Rev. John Henry Newton
(1725–1807) (engraving),
English School (18th century)/
Private Collection/The Bridgeman Art Library
Amazing Grace
John Newton (1779)
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me;
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
This selection is in the public domain.
1. What universal human experience does “Amazing Grace” address?
2. How does this hymn inspire hope?
Writing About Poetry
Chapter 8
   8.9 Reading and Listening to Poetry
Poetry exists to be heard, to be listened to for echoes of life experiences. From primitive times,
humans have experienced poetry through listening, and that approach continues today in classrooms, in poetry forums, and even on YouTube. Robert Frost had a lot to say about the importance of listening to the sound of a poem. In his essay “On the Figure a Poem Makes,” he points
out that “the object in writing poetry is to make all poems sound as different as possible from
each other . . . sound is the gold in the ore.”
Whenever possible, seek out recordings of poets reading their own works. Listen to their voices,
then try reading their poems aloud yourself. The following are some helpful guidelines for reading or listening to a poem.
The first time you listen to a poem or read it aloud, don’t worry about explaining what the poem
means. Let it “speak” for itself; listen; think about the overall impression it creates. Let yourself
respond to the poem’s dominant elements that produce its overall effect: its rhythm, rhyme, tone,
and feeling. Listening to its sound effects in this manner, as Robert Frost (1914) explained in a letter to Robert Bridges, allows you to discover “the living part of the poem.” Reading poetry aloud is
an important further step; it helps you discover the flow of thoughts that hold the poem together
and comprehend its overall meaning.
As you read poetry, proceed slowly. Even though poetry is written in lines, you should not expect
to pause at the end of each line. Take your cues for pauses from the punctuation: Commas, semicolons, dashes, and periods are there to help you discover the flow of the poem. Usually, when
there is no punctuation at the end of a line, the poet is carrying the thought to the next line, and
a pause is not needed until you reach the next punctuation cue—this technique, described earlier
in this chapter, is called enjambment. Reading a poem aloud will help you to experience its flow
and its overall effect.
   8.10 Writing About Poetry
Writing about poetry—like all writing—requires planning. In planning a response to a poem, you
can take a descriptive approach initially. A descriptive approach explains what you experienced
in reading or listening to the poem. Using this approach, you might describe specific aspects of
the poem that made it easy for you to connect with it. Additionally, you might describe what
thoughts or feelings the poem stimulated in you. If it’s a narrative poem, you might summarize
what happens in the poem and describe your reactions. This approach, as you can see, is general;
its primary purpose is to present your personal response to the poem—its effects on you.
At the university level, you are expected to write about poetry analytically. When you plan a written response from an analytical perspective, your response needs to be more objective. Instead of
focusing on how you feel about the poem, you now need to ask: How are these effects combined
to create meaning? What does the poet do to make the significance of the poem clear? Asking
these questions will help you identify the poem’s theme or its relevance to a common human
circumstance or moral question. The final step in this analytical process is to identify details in
the poem or particular poetic techniques that validate your interpretation. Chapters 9 and 10 in
this text are designed to help you answer that question. These chapters will introduce you to the
forms of poetry and to the poet’s tools and techniques. You will learn to analyze the distinctive
effects created by the poet’s tools and to write an essay based on your analysis.
Writing About Poetry
Chapter 8
Use the list below to help you answer the most common question students have when asked to
prepare an analysis: “Where do I begin?” Consider the questions in the list as you begin to structure your analysis. A useful approach, as you work through the list, is to highlight parts of the
poem that relate to the various questions. Use these notes as references to support your analysis.

What overall effect did I sense after reading and re-reading the poem?
What mood did I experience? (delight, reflection, etc.)
What specific insight(s) did I gain?
What surprised me in the poem?
Did I see a striking connection between this poem and another literary work?
Did the poem present a human dilemma or circumstance?
Did the poem raise or attempt to answer a significant question?
What literary techniques and tools did the poet use to get my attention, enabling me to see,
hear, feel, and think?
• What is the poem’s underlying message or idea (theme)?
After reading William Wordsworth’s “She Dwelt Among Untrodden Ways,” read the four-­
paragraph analytical response to the poem in Responding to Reading: Sample Student Response.
William Wordsworth (1770–1850)
William Wordsworth was one of the great voices of Romanticism—a literary genre that expresses feelings and praises the beauty of nature. In 1798,
Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge jointly published the Lyrical
Ballads, which heightened the Romantic Movement. Wordsworth lived in
England’s picturesque Lake District, except for short stays in France and
Switzerland. Because he was the recipient of an inheritance, he was able to
devote his life primarily to writing. He was serving as England’s poet laureate
at the time of his death.
© Bettmann/CORBIS
She Dwelt Among Untrodden Ways
William Wordsworth (1799)
Dove Cottage was She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Wordsworth’s home in
Beside the springs of Dove,
North West England.
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:
A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!
This selection is in the public domain.
Two Short Poems for Listening and Exploration
Chapter 8
Sample Student Response
Analysis Question: What did you find most appealing about William Wordsworth’s poem
“She Dwelt Among Untrodden Ways”? How did the poet create this effect?
Indicates how
the essay will be
Perhaps the greatest strength of the poem—and what makes it appealing—is the
exquisite picture of Lucy that it creates. In just a few words, William Wordsworth
gives a lot of information about a person named Lucy and creates strong feelings
about her as well. In developing these details and feelings, Wordsworth uses figurative language, emotional images, and a surprise (ironic) twist at the end of the
Paragraph 2: Shows
how a metaphor
and a simile are
used to provide
information about
Lucy’s character
We don’t know Lucy’s age, but we discover important aspects of her character
through the figurative language Wordsworth chooses to describe her. The metaphor comparing her to “A violet by a mossy stone / Half-hidden from the eye”
emphasizes her modesty (or maybe her shyness). The simile that paints her as “Fair
as a star, when only one / Is shining in the sky” emphasizes her solitary and quiet
Paragraph 3:
Identifies two emotional images that
help create strong
feelings about Lucy
To create strong feelings about Lucy, Wordsworth uses images that evoke emotion. For example, the image of her living unnoticed in “untrodden ways” creates
sympathy. Further, these two images deepen this feeling of sympathy and sadness:
“there were none to praise [her] / And “very few to love [her].”
Paragraph 4:
Identifies the unanswered question
and discusses the
irony associated
with it
But there is an important question left unanswered in the poem: What was the
speaker’s relationship to Lucy? Wordsworth chose not to answer this question.
Instead of learning fully about this relationship, all we know is that it is “different” now that Lucy is dead. This sudden twist in the poem’s details creates an
ironic tone. The “difference” the speaker feels about her death could be caused
by regrets he has about their relationship, or it could be a source for even greater
admiration. Or both. We simply don’t know.
   8.11 Two Short Poems for Listening and Exploration
Giving consideration to the poetic techniques presented above, ask yourself these questions as
you read and reflect on the following short poems, “To Waken an Old Lady” and “We real cool”:
• Where is an ordinary situation explored?
• Where is imaginative language used to create emotion? Which images are particularly
• Where does surprise appear? How does it change the tone of the poem?
• Where are rhythm and delight illustrated?
• Where is deep thought provoked?
(See section 8.2 for biographical information on William Carlos Williams)
Two Short Poems for Listening and Exploration
Chapter 8
To Waken an Old Lady
William Carlos Williams (1921)
Old age is
a flight of small
cheeping birds
bare trees
above a snow glaze.
Gaining and failing
they are buffeted
by a dark wind—
But what?
On harsh weedstalks
the flock has rested—
the snow
is covered with broken
seed husks
and the wind tempered
with a shrill
piping of plenty.
By William Carlos Williams, from The Collected Poems: Volume I, 1909–1939, copyright ©1938 by New
Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
In relation to the “what is poetry” question raised at the beginning of the chapter, “To Waken an
Old Lady” illustrates the imaginative use of images. More specifically, it shows how an idea can
be communicated when it is embedded concisely in poetic images. Williams combines a series of
images into an extended metaphor comparing aging to a tumultuous flight made by small birds.
Then, with two rejuvenating images, “seed husks” and a “tempered wind,” he allows the reader
to imagine the birds in a more sustaining environment. In doing so, he subtly calls attention to
an innate human idea: that somehow, regardless of the circumstances, we can be awakened to a
benevolent perspective.
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000)
Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas. She spent most of her life
in Chicago and often addressed challenges and changes in inner-city life.
She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry in 1950 and served as
poet laureate of the United States. In an interview printed in Contemporary
Literature she said, “I have not abandoned beauty or lyricism and I certainly
don’t consider myself a polemical poet. I’m a black poet, and I write about
what I see, and what interests me, and I’m seeing new things” (as cited in
Stavros, 1970, p. 5).
© Bettmann/CORBIS
Key Terms and Concepts
Chapter 8
We Real Cool
Gwendolyn Brooks (1960)
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Die soon.
Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harper. Copyright © 1960 Brooks Permissions.
Reprinted By Consent of Brooks Permissions.
As we have seen, a poem’s expressiveness and its rhyme and rhythm patterns are important. “We
Real Cool” has strengths in both of these areas. Brooks uses just 24 one-syllable words to fully
express the seemingly blasé but insecure spirit of adolescent groups. Verbs in the poem, each
placed at the beginning of a line, express attitudes as well as action. The verb “left,” for instance,
in “We / Left school,” conveys boldness and implies a deliberate, uncaring attitude. “Lurk,” in “We
/ Lurk late” suggests a risk-taking attitude and group presence to back it up. The poem’s internal
rhyme is an unusual feature: The rhyming words, such as cool/school and late/straight, consistently appear within lines, not at the end of lines. These middle breaks create a rhythm that allows
each of the group’s distinguishing activities to be identified in a celebratory manner. The repetition of “We” at the end of the lines draws the reader into a continual awareness of group identity.
Chapter 8 identifies common and enduring attributes of poetry as an artform. Each attribute is
illustrated to help you understand the evocative, imaginative, concise, artistically expressive, and
reflective power of poetry. Additionally, the chapter notes historical and current contributions
poetry makes to personal, group, and national activities and offers specific guidelines to use in
reading and writing about poetry.
Key Terms and Concepts
anapestic foot Consists of three syllables, with the third one stressed.
aphorism A pointed statement that expresses a principle or observation in a concise, memorable way. This statement by Ralph Waldo Emerson is an example: “Nothing great was ever
achieved without enthusiasm.”
dactylic foot A foot consisting of three syllables, with the first one stressed.
double rhyme Also called feminine rhyme: staying–playing, marvelous–frivolous. It occurs
when there are two or more syllables in the rhyming words, with the first syllable stressed, the
second unstressed. The effect of this type of rhyme is lighter.
Key Terms and Concepts
Chapter 8
end rhyme Rhyme that occurs at the ends of lines in a poem.
enjambment Also called a run-on line, the continuation of a thought in a line of poetry into
the succeeding line, uninterrupted by punctuation.
foot The basic unit used to measure meter in poetry.
free verse Poetry that does not have a fixed metrical pattern. Its lines are of varying length and
usually do not rhyme. Without these restrictions, free verse offers great potential for spontaneity and is widely used by contemporary writers.
haiku A poetic form with Japanese origin consisting of 17 syllables compactly arranged into
three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, respectively. The haiku poet’s goal is to convey an
emotion, usually a response to nature, briefly and precisely.
iambic foot Consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. When a line has
five of these feet, the meter is called iambic pentameter.
internal rhyme Occurs when the rhyming words are not at the end of lines, but within the
same line: “For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams.”
meter The recurring rhythmical patterns in poetry; each unit within a rhythmical pattern is
called a foot.
rhyme Occurs when two words have the same sound following the last stressed vowel, as in
mate–rate or flabby–shabby. Appears most commonly when end words in lines of poetry have
the same sound.
rhyme scheme The sequence or pattern of end rhymes in a poem. Sequential letters of the
alphabet, beginning with the letter “a,” are used to identify the rhyming pattern.
rhythm The recognizable pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry, which
may recur in the poem.
scansion Process of dividing a line of poetry into feet composed of stressed and unstressed
single rhyme Also called masculine rhyme: bright–night. It occurs when two one-syllable
words rhyme. In this pattern, the single syllable creates a forceful effect. Masculine rhyme also
occurs in words that have more than one syllable when the rhyming sound comes in the final
unstressed syllable: accuse–refuse.
trochaic foot Consists of two syllables, with the first one stressed.

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