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How to write a Pastiche Poem, or a Parody

Updated on February 1, 2013

Imitation - the sincerest form of poetry

Until fairly recently, most English poetry was metrical; it was written to an underlying pulse and rhythm. Some was even more controlled, conforming to one of many standard forms, like the villanelle or rondeau. To learn to write metrical or formal poetry, there are two very different approaches: you can study prosody (the theory of poetic metre) or, you can listen and copy. The second is much more fun.

Pastiche is the name given to a poetic imitation. It is not quite the same as parody which tends to make fun of the original, also by copying but by hamming it up for comic or satirical effect. A true pastiche is affectionate and respectful to the original. It recognises and tries to emulate the skill of the seed poem. A successful pastiche doesn't just copy the rhythm and rhyme pattern of the original, but also preserves something of its tone and ethos. Any serious attempt at pastiche is a learning exercise. It forces you to meet and solve the same writing problems that your role model solved long ago. It increases your repertoire of techniques and makes you a better poet. And all this without having to mention iambs or anapests.

Here are a few pastiche and/or parody pieces from my own humble pen:

The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe - opening stanza

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more."

The Traveller (after The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe)

Long ago upon a hilltop (let me finish then I will stop)
I espied a curious traveller where no traveller was before.
As I raised an arm in greeting all at once he took to beating
at the air like one entreating passing boats to come ashore
like a castaway repeating empty movements from the shore
or an over-eager whore.

Never one to wonder blindly I demanded not unkindly
"Are you waving, or behaving in a manner heretofore
generally unexpected, or perhaps you have neglected
to observe the mien affected by humanity before?"
(For he seemed to have elected to gesticulate some more.)
Quoth the traveller "Semaphore"

There is a Garden in her Face, by Thomas Campion - opening stanza

There is a Garden in her face,
Where Roses and white Lilies grow ;
A heau'nly paradice is that place,
Wherein all pleasant fruits doe flow.
There Cherries grow, which none may buy
Till Cherry ripe themselues doe cry.

There is a Fardle in her Face (after Campian, with Lewiss Caroll overtones)

There is a fardle in her face
With marly pones all ghoralee.
No poley welans singing grace
Would overglee her werrings. She
Has many groles who gad about
And "Fardle Aah!" is all their shout.

The fardle daily waxes great,
Bejumes the uppallicious throng
Who goorbal as they speculate -
"Will she sperang? if so, how long?"
But groles pursue her in and out
And "Fardle Ohh!" is all their shout.

So wretched is her daily round
Of pardelay and pardeloh.
Bespeckled gamberings abound,
Intent on fardelising, though
The groles shall take her, never doubt
And "Fardle Ooo!" is all their shout.

The Eve of St Agnes, by John Keats - opening stanza

St. Agnes' Eve - Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith.

Eve of Stagness (after Keats)

Stagness - rough-hewn from a western isle's
farthermost reach, lashed by Atlantic gale,
quite neighbourless for twenty bleakened miles
of tortured gorse, condemned to writhe and flail
wind-dried arthritic fingers at the wail
of hooded gulls. Stagness, where wreckers plied
their ill-starred trade, where echoes tell the tale
of broken ships, drowned ghosts, of men who died,
throats cut by fiends who lured and pulled them from the tide.

Here in this weary place a castle stands
high on the cliff, though crumbling to the west,
prey to the sea's insatiable demands
for ransom. Lumps of castle are the best!
(A gothic joke - I hope you're well impressed).
The eastern tower is habitable still
though failing fast the unrelenting test
of time and tempest. Through the cracks the shrill
wind skirls like some demented demon piper's reel.

There in the tower a lonely maiden dwells,
Eve of Stagness, a prisoner by choice
for even when she flips her lid and yells
for help, there's none to hear her silvery voice
(the wind and sea make such a lot of noise).
And how by choice? Alas, she cast her shoes
into the raging sea, which wasn't wise
since twenty miles of gorse is sorry news.
Enthroned alone she sings her barefoot beauty blues

And eats the fungus that a kindly fate
causes to burgeon beardlike from the cracks
around her prison walls. It tastes like late
bottled chianti laced with carpet tacks
and gingerbread. The only thing she lacks
is human company. "Although I sowed
the seeds of my unhappiness, this smacks
of overkill. Perhaps I'll kiss this toad?"
She did. It turned into a frog and hit the road.

So perished all her plans, etc, etc....

Enough from me. For anyone interested in developing metrical writing skills, I strongly suggest having a go at pastiche. Start with something that has a very distinctive rhythm, like Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha.

On the Mountains of the Prairie,
On the great Red Pipe-stone Quarry,
Gitche Manito, the mighty,
He the Master of Life, descending,
On the red crags of the quarry
Stood erect, and called the nations,
Called the tribes of men together.

Read it aloud, until the rhythm is in your very bones. Then write your own:

Underneath the shiny spandex
Clinging tightly as a limpet
Are the legs of Hiawatha,
Lower limbs of Hiawatha
Gaily decked in glossy spandex
Like the butt of Linford Christie,
Muscled butt of hero Linford
Sparkling fount of many medals
Gleaming golden like the spandex
Gold and silver like the spandex
On the legs of Hiawatha.

Have fun!


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    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      There have been quite a few famous pastiche pieces through the ages, usually intended as respectful acknowledgements of the original. I don't think there are any copyright issues as the pastiche is considered an original work. Have a go - it's quite an addictive pastime :)

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 6 years ago from Canada

      Wow! I am really glad I found this! I get so bogged down in the iambs (not exactly sure what an iamb is) and get lost trying to count the syllables and work the rhymes (Poetry department would not take me). The pastiche seems like a more intuitive way to learn. Your examples were great also. Does one need to acknowledge the original poem (poet) when doing this? I would think so. How would that work? While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery is it allowed? Or is it only used for practice?

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Well, the words change over the years of course. The main thing with pastiche is to look after the form and rhythm, and try at least to relate to the content in dome way. I'ts a great exercise for a rainy Sunday!

    • prettydarkhorse profile image

      prettydarkhorse 8 years ago from US

      hi Dave, thanks for introducing me to Pastiche,and the Art of it, never heard of that before, I noticed the use of words is just a litte bit different too!

      good day always, Maita

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Iðunn - thanks :) It's a habit that means you never need to be bored on a long flight or train journey!

    • profile image

      IĆ°unn 8 years ago

      really cute Hub. I had never thought of pastiche before, although I've certainly been guilty of parodies. great poems. :)

    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

      I know you were joking since you don't believe in reincarnation ;)

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Agree completely - related languages are much more approachable and will even rub off on you by exposure. Da Vinci was a close personal friend in a past life (joking ;)

    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

      I guess you get the central idea about what I feel i.e., that there are some languages based on our background which we can pick up easily over others. But overall I admire your depth and breadth of knowledge in so many areas. It is rare to see a person using effectively both there left/right brain like you(of course Da Vinci is one of the greatest examples who has done it successfully in the past). :D

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      No apologies, please :) I was never more lost than in my few days in Poland. I could make nothing at all of the language, spoken or written. I looked to me like a bad scrabble hand, and sounded similar. My problem, not theirs!

    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

      My apologies. I thought you meant how to speak. To read and write is totally another dimension. Especially languages like Chinese with countless syllables for millions of words. In that case I am very weak and I hardly know 3/4 Indian languages in which I can barely read/ write.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      My French is not too bad and I can read Spanish reasonably well though I don't speak it, but languages that use different characters, like Arabic or Chinese are v difficult to get to grips with.

    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

      Well for me I have been able to pick farsi (Persian) from an office colleague. And my office colleague wondered at my ability to pick up then I realized since I know Hindi and little bit of Urdu it was much easier for me.

      I guess for you Spanish, German, French, Italian and so on would be easier languages to pick up. We all have our strengths. Now I hope I am not preaching to the preacher...LOL

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi CW - thanks very much :) English seems to be the only language I can get to grips with though. Even after 6 years in the Gulf, Arabic is still a closed book to me.

    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

      You are truly gifted. I always learn something new about the English language whenever I read your hubs. Thumbs up for another fantastic hub.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Ralph and agvulpes - thanks for the read & comment. Pastiche can also keep you out of the bar for an evening...

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 8 years ago from Australia

      Paraglider, speaking purely as one of the uneducated masses I say "Bravo" and "well done old boy" !!!!! :-)

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Pretty funny! I hadn't heard of the the term pastiche but I've heard songs re-written with new words to old tunes.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks Teresa. Something I should have mentioned is that an even easier way to start is rewriting the words to songs. That [i]forces[/i] the rhythm to match, or it just doesn't sing. I used to do that mentally while travelling to work, to pass the time.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 8 years ago from The Other Bangor

      A veritable hoot and a half. You have such a facility with language -- I'm jealous. Clever, clever stuff.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      nms - thanks! :)

    • nms profile image

      nms 8 years ago from Cochin

      gr8 work....excellent ! Thumps UP ;)