The Heart Of Poetry

Chinese poetry was the fuel of its paper economy. However, there was an even more important role it played in history: the Chinese dream, a dream about everyone being equal and given the same opportunity to shine as a star in serving his country. Why? Poetry had been a preliminary exam to select government officials for thousands of years until about a hundred years ago. The ability to memorize tens of thousands of individual Chinese characters and permute them into a few lines to satisfy all poetic specifications while composing them as a wise and appropriate response to an exam question was a very basic requirement of intellectual capacity. In other words, the capability of choosing a right word among tens of thousands of options per few seconds could, according to the ancient Chinese who set up this tradition, demonstrate an implicit competency of scanning and evaluating hundreds or even thousands of characters for a particular context per second, a good measure of minimal intelligence even according to the majority of Chinese back then. Basically, if you couldn’t even write a poem, you would immediately be considered illiterate. It was a time when the government had to find the best of the best among hundreds of millions of people every year, given a system requirement to ensure that every Chinese must have this very opportunity to fulfill his Chinese dream.

Therefore, a high preliminary requirement of intelligence on the exams made the HR department happy. After all, the competency to make a fast and wise decision demonstrated by poetry writing seemed to have a strong correlation to strategic thinking and tactical planning when military leadership and law enforcement were about the most valued skills for a government official. Did it work? History tells us that it wasn’t too bad until late in the dynasty of Qing. However, no one is going to do this again. A central examination committee is probably no longer as useful today, due to the privatization of the many government functions to increase competitiveness and operating efficiency. National exams still exist, which may include economics, medicine, science and engineering as common subjects easily. It’s one of the fairest systems in the world anyway. In short, technology is the poetry in China today.

The heart of poetry lies in her heart that beats, as previously pointed out. Here, we are going to focus on English again, just because it’s the international language. To create a foot in a meter, we need at least two syllables, one strong and one weak. Otherwise, it’s monotonic and dead. Just because a rhyme is supposed to have high sonority, the iambic meter is the most natural choice. A trochaic meter works fine, too, but then a rich rhyme is preferred to preserve high sonority through the second to last syllable. A sound rhyme at the end of a verse does make a difference, a conclusion agreed upon by almost all civilizations that developed their own poetry.

Both iambic meters and trochaic meters are quite fast. In order to give a verse a slower pace consistent with a sad mood, an anapestic meter can be used for the effect. A foot with more than three syllables tends to be weaker than a double iambic foot or a double trochaic foot due to loss of simplicity. Also, a meter whose foot has more than one stress gives a feel of loss of continuity. Both simplicity and continuity are important metrics of the sound quality of poetry, because we want the complexity to come from the semantic of a poem. Complex meters tend to be distracting. A long foot, meaning one with more than three syllables, can be formed by the concatenation of shorter feet. For example, by concatenating an iambic foot with an anapestic foot, we can have a foot with five syllables that gives a slowing effect. The progressive touch can be quite interesting, too. An example is given below to illustrate this point:

So gentle and fair an angel descends.

-/+/-/-/+/-/+/-/-/+ 1

Alternatively as a pair of monometers, it can look like this:

So gentle and fair
An angel descends.

-/+/-/-/+ 1
-/+/-/-/+ 2

Again, it’s all about simplicity and continuity to give that flowy feel and move of poetry.

The length of a meter is another important consideration. When a meter is too short, a verse is difficult to write because you are forced to rhyme immediately. There’s simply not enough space to give you the freedom you need for creative writing. On the other hand, when a meter is too long, our mind has to make an effort to track its ending. The rhymes simply fade away as verses are lengthened. After a few experiments, you may arrive at the same conclusion that an iambic trimeter is probably perfect for short, an iambic tetrameter perfect for medium, and an iambic pentameter perfect for long. For me, if I am to go with iambic meters alone, I may simply stay with trimeters and tetrameters only, for simplicity.

Now, the pattern of thinking focuses on sequences. We always want a beginning and an end. Therefore, it’s most natural to form a line of thought, the most basic unit, through a pair of verses, one to open and the other to close. As it takes two lines of thought for the purpose of contrast, comparison or any other type of connections, it makes sense to form a stanza with two pairs, hence four verses. This particular configuration is actually the most traditional semantic pattern of Chinese poetry, with all four verses named as (1) start, (2) suit, (3) turn and (4) close. It so happens that in English, this is also the most preferred format of a stanza. For me, a stanza with three pairs is fairly good, too, where you follow the sequence of (1) introduction, (2) main body and (3) conclusion. Once you have decided the structure of your first stanza, you can simply repeat it as many times as you want. It makes the life of your readers easier, as our mind is in the most relaxed state with repetitions. This effect is particularly important because we want our readers to be alert on the semantic and relaxed on the syntax.

Therefore, the 8-6 iambic meter pair is probably one of the easiest and most relaxing format with pairs, for which I have introduced many productions as examples to support this particular form. A shorter closing verse in a meter pair is simply natural because summaries are meant to be short. By using two 8-6 iambic meter pairs for a stanza, we can define its poetic interface or contract as follows:

-/+/-/+/-/+/-/+ 1
-/+/-/+/-/+ 2
-/+/-/+/-/+/-/+ 1
-/+/-/+/-/+ 2

How about the name of this format? Well, now that I have produced quite a few examples, I want to use the best one to represent this contract. Among the nominated stanzas, we have:

What Makes The World Go Round? [all stanzas] (https://simplyjet.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/what-makes-the-world-go-round/)

A brilliant spark of life to be,
A morning wonderful,
Creates a heart of fire that beats
To evenings beautiful.

The steps of feet that travel through
Along the path unworn,
Not far beyond the mountains blue
I see a world unborn.

A little plant, a humble tree,
Whose roots in soil extend,
My rapid breaths, my pauses brief,
In forest deep they blend.

The tales to tell by word by hand
Of wars and peace entwined,
A sense serene in me commands,
Which morphs with me in line.

The sound of laughs, the feel of hugs,
The stories old that pierce
Come from a heart of glass uncut,
Sand forged with thunder fierce.

A touch of balm, a sigh of calm,
Is like a smile, a wink,
A flake of snow to melt in palms,
My delicacy inked.

It’s birds that chirp, with beasts that sound,
A raging river rush
Of nature’s song where peace abounds
In harmony as such.

And so what makes the world go round?
It’s conflicts, fights and strives.
And yet what makes the earth go round?
It’s passion, love and life.

Black & Gold [all stanzas] (https://simplyjet.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/black-gold/)

A choice of style, a bit of wit,
A touch of autumn breeze,
I hold in palms a candle lit,
A little part of me.

A sweater tight of Oslo gem
With Bershka shorts I pair;
On sandals high of H&M,
A golden bag I wear.

An earring flowy follows suit,
A beaded curtain bright,
Which moves with me, whose moves ensued,
A friend of love and life.

Blue Jasmine [stanza 3] (https://simplyjet.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/blue-jasmine/)

Her necklace broad, a bounteous touch,
In chorus soft and bright,
Beneath her neck, a lure as such,
It shines a radiant light.

And the best goes to “What Makes The World Go Round?”, which will be the name of this new poetic interface. Now, if you are a composer, you can feel free to compose music for this particular contract based on a few select productions. You see, it does make plug-and-play easier.

What Makes The World Go Round?

-/+/-/+/-/+/-/+ 1
-/+/-/+/-/+ 2
-/+/-/+/-/+/-/+ 1
-/+/-/+/-/+ 2

I would like to thank Devina (http://hotchocolateandbooks.wordpress.com/about/) for providing the original content (http://hotchocolateandbooks.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/what-makes-the-world-go-round/) so that I could focus only on the heart of poetry in this poem (https://simplyjet.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/what-makes-the-world-go-round/).

Have a nice day!

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About Run Song

Run Song (宋闰) is my pen name for the Moments of Poetry, a collection of poems about the greatest moments of life. If photography captures the greatest moments of life, poetry is the life behind them.
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One Response to The Heart Of Poetry

  1. Pingback: The Problem With English | Simply Jet

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