Poetry’s Most Basic Principle

Why do we write poetry instead of prose?

Because spoken rhythm opens the listener’s imagination much like music can.

Well then, spoken rhythm must send signals to a listener’s imagination, universal to all humans.

Yes, rhythm’s signals can tell our imagination this: .. Which of the story’s words are important, and which less important; Thus guiding a listener’s consciousness toward grasping the story overall.

So the most basic trick in poetizing is this:
You make a rhythm, then break that rhythm; .. Syllables that break the rhythm are more important to the story; .. Those that created the rhythm are less important.

Example One:
“Mary had a little lamb” …

First beat has 3 syllables: “Mary had
Next beat has 3 syllables: “a little
Then a beat with 1 syllable: “lamb
Thus a line can awake us to expect a story about a lamb.

Example Two:
(Note 1: The word “score” here means “twenty”; thus “four score” means “eighty”.)
(Note 2: Here i introduce a different kind of syllable, one spoken in a momentary, slightly hushed, intake of air.)

(Note 3: This begins the Gettysburg Address, by the great orator Lincoln, a great war leader and lover of Shakespeare’s plays.)
“Four score and seven years ago” …

First beat has 2 exhaled syllables “Four score
Next beat has 2 exhaled preceded by 1 inhaled: “and seven
Then a beat with 3 exhaled syllables: “years ago
And what does this signal suggest to human imagination?

Reviewers of the mighty Gettysburg Address praise the vast expansion of imagination listeners experience from its very start.

To me this feeling is like what i experience when watching sleight of hand neatly done: The artist appears to conjure a ball out of nothing, and suddenly i feel the world is larger than i’d thought.

Then from there, in just 271 words, a modern Shakespeare could bring his speculation on the mind of God into the choice of a war strategy, and do it convincingly and realistically enough to win the war.

Note 4: But i must make a note on the great variety in human languages:

Here i’ve discussed only two kinds of syllables which i called exhaled or inhaled. But of course your rhythm might count syllables that rhyme or don’t rhyme, syllables long or short, or loud or soft, or slurred or distinct, or guttural or sweet, or low or high in musical pitch, etc. or etc., any distinction offered by the language you are speaking.

Note 5: Further: Such qualities of whole lines may be counted in an overarching rhythm.

Note 6: And further: Some distinct set of these possibilities can become the accepted practice of some set of practitioners and fans.

Note 7: Finally i must make a note about Modern Poetry, which i practice:

In modern life we’re used to a world much fuller of noise than humans heard in other ages. Thus we’ve become more adept at picking rhythms out of the aural background. Much of the peculiarity in Modern Poetry, as in Modern Music, can be attributed to this.

(-Here is the end of this essay.-)

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