BLANK VERSE 1: TRADITIONAL

blank verse: traditionalObjective

To create a traditional poem in blank verse (iambic pentameters).

Starting

 

As usual, we start with a few jottings (which came to me late in the afternoon in central Chile, when with other guests we were leaving an hacienda outside Los Andes, the sun setting behind the mountains and our footsteps kicking up the dust in the long walk back to the car):

A strange country. You must be careful
not to see how the sun flares on the far mountains.
These are the Ur-lands of evening. And at last
A taste on the tongue of homely dust.

A Strange Country

From these jottings we flesh out a whole poem, quickly, just following where the thoughts lead:

This is a strange country, and you must be careful
Not to confuse how the sun flares out on the far
Mountains or exults on the rivers with past
Headdresses of feathers. Here are the trees, brilliant
But Pentecostal, have hoarse tongues to shout
Themselves into shadow, and always, if you watch,
Will unleaf before the Ur-lands of evening rise
With their incantations of quiet and smell of dust.

Nothing is quite as it seems, not even
The fashioning of old bridles, or lace for tourists.
The Church festivals are repetitive, purposely
Made so, expected that way, and in fact each
Town has its plaza de armas and perambulating
Children under the palm trees know the names
Of the warriors, the bronzed conquistadors
Reclining on their plinths, their fame in granite.

Walk round at evening. When the light drains away
You will stand on the earth and know how hard it is,
Feel stamped on the soul the recusant nights
When the Cross must go onward, with all to lose.

To the New World

Now we look carefully at the lines. Some work well: and perambulating / Children under the palm trees know the names / Of the warriors, the bronzed conquistadors / Reclining on their plinths, their fame in granite. Some are not saying much: The fashioning of old bridles, or lace for tourists. / The Church festivals are repetitive, purposely / Made so, expected that way. And some are plain absurd: or exults on the rivers with past / Headdresses of feathers.

We are writing a traditional poem, which means that the poem has to make sense, and to say something significant. We therefore rewrite the worst lines, pushing the speaker into the past:

Theirs was a strange country, and they were careful
not to compare how the sun flared out on the far
mountains or exulted on rivers with their glittering
covenants in gold on the convent walls.
Prayers creaked into armour or fell in the incense,
but only when the light shouted and was
encrypted to shadow in the Ur-lands of evening,
did they feel on their tongues the homely dust.

And knew that the first time would never come back
in their fashioning of settlements in the tree-thick plains,
with their make-piece haciendas and the quiet mines,
in towns emblazoned with a shield and a cathedral
and a plaza de armas where the perambulating
children under the palm trees would read the names
of the warriors, the bronzed conquistadors
reclining on their plinths, their fame in granite.

A long time ago: as the light drains away
they stand on the earth and know how hard it is:
over blood on the stone and the first few buildings
stood a Cross to go forward, with all to lose.

Checking the Sense

Now we ask: does the poem make sense? The themes are:

1. The strangeness of the country (line 1) which was theirs to conquer for the Church (line 20).

2. The natural wonders (lines 2 and 3) that shouldn't be compare with the ordained genealogies recorded on the walls of religious institutions (line 4).

3. A New World that would always be different, and never home to them (line 8).

4. The glory days of conquest were remembered because so strange: that strangeness combating the homesickness they felt (lines 9 to 16).

5. The inveterate hardness of the country, which called for unyielding resolve (lines 18 to 20).

Small corrections are called for:

A Strange Country

Theirs was a strange country, and they were careful
not to compare how the sun flared out on the far
mountains, or exulted on rivers with their glittering
covenants in gold on the convent walls.
Prayers creaked into armour or fell in the incense,
but only when the light shouted and was
encrypted to shadow in the Ur-lands of evening,
did they feel on their tongues the homely dust.

And know that the first time would never come back
in their fashioning of settlements in the tree-thick plains,
the make-piece haciendas, or the quiet mines,
the towns emblazoned with a shield and a cathedral
and a plaza de armas where the perambulating
children under the palm trees should read the names
of the legendary founders, the invincible explorers
who reclined on their plinths, their fame in granite.

A long time ago: as the light drained away
they stood on the earth and knew how hard it was:
how blood on the stone and the stockades of buildings
made a Cross to go forward, with all to lose.

Checking the Scansion

The verse is a very rugged iambic, with many inversions and transferred stresses:

Theirs was a strange country, and they were careful
not to confuse how the sun flared out on the far
mountains or exulted on rivers with their glittering
covenants in gold on the convent walls.
Prayers creaked into armour or fell in the incense,
but only when the light shouted and was
encrypted to shadow in the Ur-lands of evening,
did they feel on their tongues the homely dust.

And know that the first time would never come back
in their fashioning of settlements in the tree-thick plains,
the make-piece haciendas, or the quiet mines,
the towns emblazoned with a shield and a cathedral
and a plaza de armas where the perambulating
children under the palm trees should read the names
of the legendary founders, the invincible explorers
who reclined on their plinths, a fame in granite.

A long time ago: as the light drained away
they stood on the earth and knew how hard it was:
how blood on the stone and the stockades of buildings
made a Cross to go forward, with all to lose.

The above is a simple analysis, of course. Five stresses can generally recognized in each line:

how blood on the stone and stockades of buildings

Or six:

how blood on the stone and the stockades of buildings

But it's commonly four that make the urgent pattern:

how blood on the stone and the stockades of buildings

 

In Summary

The steps are:

  1. jot down lines or phrases of possible interest

  2. expand jottings to 20 lines of urgent blank verse

  3. analyze and rewrite sections as necessary

  4. check sense and scansion.


The completed poem is here.

A 568-page free pdf ebook on practical verse writing is available from Ocaso Press. Click here for the download page.

 

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