Poetic Form: Sapphic Verse
There was some woman back in ancient Greece named Sappho who wrote poetry a certain way. You don’t remember her? Neither do I. But to really get a handle on rhythm in poetry, you might try writing some Sapphic verse.
The Sapphic form is made up of four-line stanzas. Strictly speaking, each of the first three lines has eleven syllables that go like this:
Line 1,2, and 3:
_ . _ . _.. _. _.
(dah di dah di dah di di dah di dah di)
The last line has five syllables and goes like this:
_ .. _ .
(dah di di dah di)
Let’s write an example of Sapphic form, shall we?
Love bereft a lover's embrace, disdaining
Comfort's vain rebuke, disregards the friendly
Face without a welcome, preferring rather
Silence welcomes lovers whose love has ended
As a tree beloved for shade will welcome
Strangers who return from their travels weary,
Needful of respite
Let them rest in silence’s shady bower
Far away from passion’s inferno hidden
‘Til the fiery sunset of love’s horizon
Darkens and cools down
Let their sore hearts resting in silent darkness
Heal from passion’s angry and painful burning
Punish not with comfort, entreat no soothing
Silence will heal
Notice how the triplet beat in the middle breaks up the otherwise relentless marching feel it would otherwise have. This is the essence of using rhythm in poetry.
Let’s try another one:
Some say life is only illusion, playthings
We, existing only to please immortal
(Yet with somehow human characteristics)
Beings who scare us
Be they Hairy Thunderer, caring God or
Cosmic Muffin, deities crowding round us
Painting guilty all our meanderings and
Forcing our worship
Kind of an heretical haiku. Ah, well. Let’s do sad:
Overflowing wells filled with only sadness
Steal my breath and still all my worldly madness
With morosely tenderized passions laden
There all my tremblings
Ending hopes and daydreams that sorely taunt me
Knowing that my dreams only ever daunt me
Now in my futility finding that my
Thinking was just this
All I hoped and everything I said and did
When older and also when I was younger
Dust and only dust, whether any poem
I wrote was read, or
Whether anyone, enemy or lover
Or those future someones who may discover
Ever understood any word I ever
Wrote upon a page, these rote verses crying
Tears that fill the swells of my sadness, dying
Words of mediocrity I displayed so
Proudly and loudly
Swirling ‘round me slowly, my apathetic
Stasis breeds a maelstrom of misspent scribbling
Drowning, inundating and smothering to
Buried I forever shall be, cadaver
Over which a headstone expresses, “Here lies
Mediocrity. He wrote poems, however
None were remembered.”
My goodness! Where did that come from? Guess I’ll schedule an appointment with my therapist, or perhaps head down to the bar.
Using the Sapphic form rigidly can feel rather constricting, but if you take the lessons learned therein and apply them to your free verse, you will have gained control of the rhythm of your poetry – although there is something to be said for poetry that is out of control, too.
Bottom line: have fun. :)
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