1. Chapter five has definitely been the most helpful to me so far. “The Sound (and look) of Sense” has provided for me some nice structure when it comes to organizing poetry. Changing a poem to better match its purpose is something that I had never thought about in depth or systematically, and is something that I could perceive to be very useful in the future. I usually just seem to throw poems together and edit it until it sounds good, but I like the way this chapter highlights what the different types of stanzas can do for a poem in such a textbook-like way. It has just really provided some structure for me.
I would really love to learn to use my stanzas to better create the feeling I wish to create in the poem. Using couplets for focus and contrast, tercets for “tension,” and quatrains for balance could be a great way to create the mood of a poem. Again, I usually just seem to slap a stanza together without much thought. I also tend to use “closed” stanzas most, if not all, of the time. I would like to use “open” stanzas more often, since it creates a different dynamic. In summary, I would just like to be more strategic about how I craft my stanzas.
2. My favorite example so far has been “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, which can be found in chapter 7 on pages 122-123.
We Wear the Mask
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh, the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask.
The first thing I noticed as I read this was the rhyme, and how it strings things along in the poem. For example, “We wear the mask that grins and lies, // It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes” is a couplet, which has a lot of strength and draws me in quickly. I also think the rhyming gives the poem a sort of eerie tone.
In addition, there’s a certain musicality and rhythm to the words. I believe the first four lines are in iambic pentameter, and the fifth deviates from that, creating an interesting contrast in rhythm. In the following stanza, lines six and seven seem to have their own rhythm, while eight and nine differ, again, creating contrast at the end of the stanza, and drawing attention to the line “We wear the mask”. In the final stanza, lines ten to thirteen seem to be in iambic pentameter, fourteen seems to follow the pattern of six and seven, and then fifteen differs significantly again. I’ve learned the use of rhythm and the music of the English language is powerful. In this particular example, it strings me along, and draws attention to the lines at the ends of the stanzas.
A final note I’d like to make, since the chapter this is in is on metaphor, is how this metaphor for the human condition better explains it than if it were put plainly into words. The metaphor of a mask shows that we all hide ourselves, from others, and we pretend to be perfect or “fine”, when in reality we’re not. But it sounds so much better when it’s put into metaphor. I suppose that sometimes it is just better to use a vehicle to explain the tenor than to just try to explain the tenor as is.