When I set my current contest, I asked for ‘good rhythm’. Well, that was a bit of a subjective term to use wasn’t it! I imagine our perceptions of what makes ‘good rhythm’ all differ. So, with the help of everyone’s favourite sinister little blighter, the raven, I wrote the same rhyming poem in some different rhythmical styles to show what I think is the good - and bad - in each style. All of which is entirely my opinion and open for (civilised) debate!
1. Good old-fashioned iambic metre
I started by writing the poem with fairly strict iambic metre, which alternates stressed and unstressed syllables, so each line sounds like “tee TUM tee TUM tee TUM tee TUM.”
The raven sits with parted beak,
a silent nudge to those who seek
to clothe their lives in permanence.
He does not hide, nor don disguise,
he only stares with shadowed eyes
that mock our blithe impertinence.
I love a good tee tum tee tum, it’s most pleasing, although sometimes relentlessly strict metre, especially in a long poem, can get just a little bit... dull?
2. Well-behaved metre but a wee bit broken
Here I kept the four stressed syllables (the TUMS) but in a couple of lines 2 and 5 - I broke the rhythm up a bit (with some missing tees!)
The raven sits. His parted beak
a bleak nudge to those who seek
to clothe their lives in permanence.
He does not hide or don disguise.
Instead, with old, shadowed eyes
he mocks our blithe impertinence.
This is one of my favourites. While I can feel the rhythm throughout, there’s also a bit of interest to wake the reader up a bit and emphasise certain words - in this case ‘bleak’ and ‘old’ - ah what lovely words to choose...
3. Triple rhythm
There are three different words for rhythm with two unstressed syllables between each stressed syllable. There’s no hope for me remembering which is which, so I think of it as triple rhythm - something like “tee TUM tee tee TUM tee tee TUM tee tee TUM.”
The raven sits motionless, parting his beak,
a silent reminder to those who may seek
to paint their existence in permanent hues.
His face has no mask and his wings no disguise,
he waits as he gazes with old, shadowed eyes
deriding the fables and fancies we choose.
Poems with triple rhythms are often either jolly or lyrical - usually the sort of thing I love - but, to be honest, I find this rhythm a bit TOO jolly for this particular poem!
4. Even syllables but no metre
This version has no particular metre but I’ve stuck to a strict nine syllables per line.
He sits, the raven, with parted beak,
silently rebuking those who seek
to clothe their small lives with permanence.
He does not hide, nor is he disguised.
But with the cold stare of shadowed eyes
he mocks our wayward impertinence.
I’m kinda coming round to this style, much as I hate syllable counters, and I do find it works best if in each line I stick to the exact syllable count. I think these work quite well with odd numbers of syllables too - like the nine here. Feels like you’ve got a spare syllable to play with. This style’s still not my personal favourite thing though.
5. Spoken word type rhythm
This has no metre as such, but does have rhythm. It’s just that the rhythm is a lot closer to natural speech rhythm than most poetry. To match the freedom of the rhythm, the rhyme scheme is freer too.
I see the raven.
Black, sleek with parted beak,
a silent reminder to those who seek
to clothe their mortal bones with permanence.
He does not hide,
nor does he don disguise,
but as he stares through black-shadowed eyes
with head cocked -
we are mocked
for all our blithe impertinence.
I love this style if done well (I’d rate this one as a mediocre!) With this style, I think you can get away with some uneven line lengths and have real fun with things like internal rhymes and some assonance - like the ‘A’s in ‘black-shadowed eyes’.
This is the one I can’t get on with. Although it’s arranged as a formal poem and there are rhymes (couplets in this case) the lines are all different lengths. My brain can’t process it! This is where it gets really subjective. Why would I like the previous one but not this one? I think because the previous one knows it’s free, but this one feels like it’s trying to be formal, but at the same time trying not to be!
The raven sits with parted beak.
He is a reminder for the weak.
He doesn’t hide or wear a disguise
but stares at me with cold, shadowed eyes.
And if I try to clothe my life with permanence
I will find him laughing out loud at my impertinence.
So, what I’d love to know is... which do you like best?