Meaning and Form
Blog Posted:7/10/2009 7:48:00 AM
Recently I have been writing Tetractys, a form created by Ray Stebbing. The Tetractys has 20 syllables distributed over five lines as follows: 1-2-3-4-10.
There is another 20 syllable form that has long held my interest. It is a quatrain form derived from Chinese poetry and consists of 4 lines, each line containing 5 syllables, for a total of 20 syllables. Some of the most famous poems in Chinese history are written in this form.
Both the Tetractys and the Chinese Quatrain, called Wujue in Chinese, have 20 syllables. What I find interesting is the difference in feeling that comes from their difference in form. With the Tetractys one starts with a single syllable/word, and the form gradually opens up, ending with a long, potentially lyrical, last line. This last line is half the length of the entire poem. With the Chinese Quatrain there is a steadiness of pace since each line is the same length. Since each line is the same length, meaning and interest tends to be distributed over the entire poem, so there is not so much a feeling of leading to a final statement. Many Chinese Quatrain poems of the Wujue variety are landscape poems and it seems to me that the form is ideal for landscape because each line is, in a sense, an image in itself. In the Tetractys the feeling is more like traveling than observing.
It is difficult to pin down exactly what a poetic form means. But the contrast between the Tetractys and the Chinese Quatrain form, both having the exact same number of syllables, gives us an opportunity to observe how form creates a certain kind of meaning all on its own.