Fixed Poem Structures

Sonnet:

The Sonnet originated in Sicily and stayed there for 200 years before finally coming into English poetry. It has been thought of as a poem that sounds like a debate or subtle argument.

1) A fixed form of fourteen lines, normally iambic pentameter, with a rhyme scheme conforming to or approximating one of two main types.
2) Traditionally, the subject of a sonnet is love or praising or ruminating about a beloved.
3) Often metaphors and/or a conceit are developed. Historically, poets are not only writing about their beloved but also showing their cleverness as a poet.


Italian (or Petrarchan): The octave presents a narrative, states a proposition, or raises a question; the sestet drives home the narrative by making an abstract comment, applying the proposition, or solving the problem.

English (or Shakespearean): Three quatrains, each with its own rhyme scheme, develop the subject, theme, question, proposition, or narrative, often with three different conceits. The couplet at the end comments on, solves, critiques, or answers the preceding quatrains in an epigrammatic close.

Italian (Petrarchan)

a
b
a
b
a
b
b
a
(octet)
c c
d d
e c
c d
d c
e d
(sestet) The rhyme pattern may vary, but the scheme for the first 8 lines and the last 6 lines will work together to reinforce poem's meaning.

OR
English (Shakespearean)
abba or abab
cddc or cdcd
effe or efef
gg
(three quatrains, each developing a separate but related conceit, followed by a couplet that answers, critiques, or comments on the quatrains)

"That Time of Year," Shakespeare
"On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," John Keats
“Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem," Helene Johnson
“Forge” Seamus Heaney



Limerick:
1) A fixed form consisting of five lines of anapestic meter, the first two trimeter (three anapestic feet), the next two dimeter (two anapestic feet), the last line trimeter.
2) Rhyme: aabba.
3) Used exclusively for humorous or nonsense verse.
4) Themes often explore the manners, morals, and behaviors of human beings.


There was an old Man of the Dee
Who was sadly annoyed by a Flea;
When he said, "I will scratch it!"
They gave him a hatchet
Which grieved that old Man of the Dee.
(Edward Lear (Book of Nonsense, 1846)


There was a young lady from Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
Anonymous


Villanelle:
1. A poem of nineteen lines.
2. It has five stanzas, each consisting of three lines, with the final stanza of four lines.
3. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas.
4. The third line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas.
5. The two refrain lines follow each other to become the last two lines of the poem.
6. The rhyme scheme is aba. The rhymes are repeated according to the refrains.


Usual Characteristics of the Villanelle: The villanelle refuses to tell a story. It keeps going around with the same thought without any linear development (8).

1. The absence of narrative possibility.
2. Suggests powerful recurrences of mood, emotion, and memory at the deepest level.
3. Directly addresses the idea of loss.
4. Its stanzas become a series of retrievals.


"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," Dylan Thomas
"The Story We Know," Martha Collins
"Villanelle for the Middle of the Night," Jacqueline Osherow
"One Art," Elizabeth Bishop


The Ballad:
The ballad is a type of poetry that came from song forms. It is one of the least-defined formal types of poem.

1. It is a short narrative, which is usually, but not always, arranged in four-line stanzas with a distinctive and memorable meter.
2. The usual ballad meter is a first and third line with four stresses, iambic tetrameter, and then a second and fourth with three stresses, iambic trimeter.
3. Ballads often include a refrain and dialogue.
3. The rhyme scheme is abab or abcb.
4. The subject matter is distinctive: almost always communal stories of lost love, supernatural happenings, or recent events; also adventure, jealousy, heroism, disaster, revenge. Some are humorous. They often feature common folk, not the gentry.
5. The ballad maker uses popular and local speech and dialogue often and vividly to convey the story. This is especially a feature of early ballads.
6. Unlike lyric poetry, ballads are impersonal in tone, lack reflection and sentiment, are almost never in 1st person, present just the chief elements of the story, relate a single episode, and often begin in the middle with few or no transitions.

The Twa Corbies* *Twa Corbies: two ravens
As I was walking all alane.
I heard a twa corbies making a mane.*
*Mane: Moan
The tane unto the tither did say,
“Whar sall we gang and dine the day?”


“In behint yon auld fail dyke.*
*fail dyke: Bank of earth
I wot* there lies a new-slain knight;
*wot: know
And naebody kens* that he lies there
*kens: knows
But his hawk, his hound, and his lady fair.

“His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady’s taken anither mate,
So we may mak our dinner sweet.

“Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane.*
*hause-bane: Neck-bone
And I’ll pike out his bonny blue e’en;*
*e’en: eyes
Wi’ae lock o’ his gowden hair
We’ll theek* our nest when it grows bare.
*theek: Thatch

“Mony a one for him maks mane,
But nane sall ken whar he is gane.
O’er his white banes, when they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair.”

Barbara Allan
It was in and about the Martinmas time,* *Marinmas time: November 11
When the green leaves were a-fallin’;
That Sir John Graeme in the West Country
Fell in love with Barbara Allan.

He sent his man down through the town
To the place where she was dwellin’:
“O haste and come to my master dear,
Gin* ye be Barbara Allan.”
*gin: if

O slowly, slowly rase* she up,
*rase: Rose
To the place where he was lyin’,
And when she drew the curtain by:
“Young man, I think you’re dyin’.”

“O it’s I’m sick, and very, very sick,
And ‘tis a’ for Barbara Allan.”
“O the better for me ye sal* never be,
*sal: Shall
Though your heart’s blood were a-spillin’.

“O dinna ye mind,* young man,” said she,
*dinna ye mind: Don’t you remember
“when ye the cups were fillin’,
That ye made the healths gae round and round,
And slighted Barbara Allan?”

He turned his face unto the wall,
And death with him was dealin’:
“Adieu, adieu, my dear friends all,
And be kind of Barbara Allan.”

And slowly, slowly rase she up,
And slowly, slowly left him;
And sighing said she could not stay,
Since death of life had reft* him.
*reft: Deprived

She had not gane a mile but twa,*
*not…twa: Gone but two miles
When she heard the dead-bell knellin’,
And every jow* that the dead-bell ga’ed*
*jow: Stroke
It cried, “Woe to Barbara Allan!”
*ga’ed: Made

“O mother, mother, make my bed,
O make it soft and narrow;
Since my love died for me today,
I’ll die for him tomorrow.”
Brad Trad


"The Twa Corbies" (Brit Trad, p. 90)
"Get Up and Bar the Door" (Brit Trad, p. 88)
"Barbara Allen" (Brit Trad, p. 91)
"Ballad of Birmingham" (S&S p. 14)
"Ballad of Billy the Kid," (Billy Joel)
"Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"
"Taxi," Harry Chapin



Sestina:

It is a form that originated in Medieval France (12th century). It's a complex, elaborate fixed poem. The lines are grouped into six sestets and a concluding tercet. Thus a Sestina has 39 lines.

1) Thirty-nine lines; 6 stanzas (sestets) + concluding tercet (3 lines)
2) Lines may be of any length.
3) Their length is usually consistent in a single poem.
4) The six words that end each of the lines of the first stanza are repeated in a different order at the end of lines in each of the subsequent five stanzas. The particular pattern is given below.
5) The repeated words are unrhymed.
6) There is, through the structure, a fixed distance between the repetitions.


1 6 3 5 4 2 1,2
2 1 6 3 5 4 3,4
3 5 4 2 1 6 5,6
4 2 1 6 3 5
5 4 2 1 6 3
6 3 5 4 2 1


“The wit and ambition of its inventors [12th century troubadours] have shaped it right up to our own day” (22).

“These patterns of repetition are constructed across a selected number of key words, so that in the end the sestina becomes a game of meaning, played with sounds and sense” (Strand, 22). Emphasis added.

Troubadours “were court poets. They sang—their poems were always accompanied by music—for French nobles . . . . They competed with one another to produce the wittiest, most elaborate, most difficult styles. This difficult, complex style was called the trobar clus. The easier, more open one was called the trobar leu. The sestina was part of the trobar clus. It was the form for a master troubadour” (23). Emphasis added.

Strand, Mark and Eavan Boland, eds. The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of

Poetic Forms. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.

“Sestina,” Sir Edmund Gosse
“The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina,” Miller Williams
“Nani,” Alberto Rios
“The Book of Yolek,” Anthony Hect
“Sestina: Altaforte,” Ezra Pound
“Sestina of the Tramp-Royal,” Rudyard Kipling

The Pantoum:

1) Each pantoum stanza must be four lines long.
2) The length is unspecified, but the pantoum must begin and end with the same line.
3. The second and fourth lines of the first quatrain become the first and third lines of the next, and so on with succeeding quatrains.
4. The rhyming of each quatrain is abab.
5. The final quatrain changes this pattern.
6. In the final quatrain, the unrepeated first and third lines are used in reverse as second and fourth lines.


“Of all verse forms the pantoum is the slowest: The reader takes four steps forward, then two back. It is the perfect form for the evocation of a past time. Like the villanelle, like the sestina, these forms attract poets because, within the requirements and demands and repetitions, there are possibilities for the making and evoking of time past that are not to be found in straightforward narrative and not entirely in lyric either” (44). Emphasis added.

“Since the pantoum easily enchants, the close repetition of lines sets up a tight, mesmerizing chain of echoes” (45).

“[T]he form is certainly demanding for both reader and poet, with its strange twists of antinarrative time and its unexpectedly hypnotic repetitions” (45). Emphasis added.

Strand, Mark and Eavan Boland, eds. The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of
Poetic Forms. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.

“In Town,” Austin Dobson “Pantoum of the Great Depression,” Donald Justice
“Parents’ Pantoum,” Carolyn Kizer “Pantoum,” John Ashberry

Pantoum of the Great Depression
Our lives avoided tragedy
Simply by going on and on,
Without end and with little apparent meaning.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.

Simply by going on and on
We managed. No need for the heroic.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.
I don’t remember all the particulars.

We managed. No need for the heroic.
There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
I don’t remember all the particulars.
Across the fence, the neighbors were our chorus.

There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows
Thank god no one said anything in verse.
The neighbors were our only chorus,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.

At no time did anyone say anything in verse.
It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.
No audience would ever know our story.

It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us.
We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
What audience would ever know our story?
Beyond our windows shone the actual world.

We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
Somewhere beyond our windows shone the world.
The Great Depression had entered out souls like fog.

And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
We did not ourselves know what the end was.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.
We had our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues.

But we did not ourselves know what the end was.
People like us simply go on.
We have our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues,
But it is blind by chance only that we escape tragedy.

And there is no plot in that; it is devoid of poetry.
Donald Justice

Parents’ Pantoum
Where did these enormous children come from,
More ladylike than we have ever been?
Some of ours look older than we feel.
How did they appear in their long dresses

More ladylike than we have ever been?
But they moan about their aging more than we do,
In their fragile heels and long black dresses.
They say they admire our youthful spontaneity.

They moan about their aging more than we do,
A somber group- why don’t they brighten up?
Though they say they admire our youthful spontaneity
They beg us to be dignified like them.

As they ignore our pleas to brighten up.
Someday perhaps we’ll capture their attention
Then we wont try to be dignified like them
Nor they to be so gently patronizing.

Someday perhaps we’ll capture their attention.
Don’t they know that we’re supposed to be the stars?
Instead they are so gently patronizing.
It makes us feel like children-second-childish?

Perhaps we’re too accustomed to be stars,
The famous flowers glowing in the garden,
So now we pout like children. Second-childish?
Quaint fragments of forgotten history?

Our daughters stroll together in the garden,
Chatting of news we’ve chosen to ignore,
Pausing to toss us morsels of their history,
Not questions to which we only know answers.

Eyes closed to news we’ve chosen to ignore,
We’d father excavate old memories,
Disdaining age, ignoring pain, avoiding mirrors.
Why do they never listen to our stories?

Because they hate to excavate old memories
They don’t believe our stories have an end.
They don’t ask questions because they dread the answers.
They don’t see that we’ve become their mirrors,

We offspring of our enormous children.
Carolyn Kizer


Pantoum
by John Ashbery

Eyes shining without mystery,
Footprints eager for the past
Through the vague snow of many clay pipes, And what is in store?

Footprints eager for the past
The usual obtuse blanket.
And what is in store
For those dearest to the king?

The usual obtuse blanket.
Of legless regrets and amplifications
For those dearest to the king.
Yes, sirs, connoisseurs of oblivion,

The usual obtuse blanket.
Of legless regrets and amplifications
For those dearest to the king.
Yes, sirs, connoisseurs of oblivion,

Of legless regrets and amplifications,
That is why a watchdog is shy.
Yes, sirs, connoisseurs of oblivion,
These days are short, brittle; there is only one night.

That is why a watchdog is shy,
Why the court, trapped in a silver storm, is dying.
These days are short, brittle; there is only one night And that soon gotten over.

Why the court, trapped in a silver storm, is dying Some blunt pretense to safety we have And that soon gotten over For they must have motion.

Some blunt pretense to safety we have
Eyes shining without mystery,
For they must have motion
Through the vague snow of many clay pipes.

from The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland (New York: WW. Norton and Company, 2000)



Haiku:
1) A three-line poem, Japanese in origin, narrowly conceived of as a fixed form in which the lines contain respectively five, seven, and five syllables (in American practice, this requirement is frequently dispensed with).
2) Haiku are generally concerned with some aspect of nature and present a single image or two juxtaposed images without comment, relying on suggestion rather than on explicit statement to communicate meaning.



The New moon
is the toe nail
Of God

Run over by my lawnmower,
waiting for me to leave,
The frog

A raindrop from
The roof
Fell in my beer
Jack Kerouac

Winter burial:
A stone angel points his hand
At the empty sky

Fallen flowers rise
back to the branch—I watch:
oh . . . butterflies!

The lightning flashes!
And slashing through the darkness,

A night-heron’s screech.
Moritake (1452-1540)

(Strand, 167).

Terza Rima
In this great form, as Dante proved in Hell,
There is no dreadful thing that can't be said
In passing. Here, for instance, one could tell

How our jeep skidded sideways toward the dead
Enemy soldier with the staring eyes,
Bumping a little as it struck his head,

And then flew on, as if toward Paradise.

--Richard Wilbur
from The New Yorker, 8 December 2008, p. 78