Owly (talkingdonkey) wrote in poetryworkshop,
Owly
talkingdonkey
poetryworkshop

In Seine Reflected

A piece I wrote some months ago that has never felt finished. I feel too much like I'm talking in this piece. Any thoughts are appreciated. Thanks.

I often think of Paris
reflected in the Seine
and I see the color gray.
Clouds and architecture
swirl around boat propellers
in ancient swells
around Javert's bones.
Even the yellow
of the city's infamous lights
has been tainted,
and the grayness rises
from the river
taints the Sphinx's landmarks,
Quasimodo's bells
and even rolls
down the roads into the Hall
of Mirrors in Versailles
where it echoes sadly.
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The poem seems to focus around trimeter. Some lines go to four feet, and some are only two, but the first three lines are iambic trimeter, and the fourth is trochaic trimeter. What if you revise to make all the lines fit into trimeter?

This is a poem of place. As such, all that is necessary is to capture the place, which you have, and the mood, which is also present. The unfinished feel you get is probably from the mood you've evoked. It is sad, and longing. By the poem's end, one feels that the poem, too, is looking for something.

Looking for something is what the poem captures. I really don't think there's anything necessary to add.

There are a few words that are redundant, though. "Around" is repeated twice, once in line 5, and then again in line 7. One of these should go. "Boat propellers" doesn't need "boat," if you find a better word choice for the river than "swells" on the next line. Try some different ways of phrasing all the information in lines four to seven. The sentence's natural order seems to be something like, "Boat propellers swirl the clouds and architecture around Javert's bones."

I would also cut "sadly" from the last line. By then, it is absolutely unnecessary. You've already evoked a mood that is much more complex than simple sadness. Besides, "echoes" captures the theme of the poem and distills it into that one word. How could you hope to end better?

and the grayness rises

There's what appears to be a slight grammatical error here. Did you mean "risen"?

While we're near, "tainted" and "taints" made me pause. Half of me thinks the repetition is working well, to drive home the insistent quality of the grayness. The other half thinks it's just redundant. I think the length of the sentence that comprises the poem's bottom 2/3rds is right, but the list of "the Sphinx's landmarks, Quasimodo's bells" is disturbing the flow. As a reader, I expect to hear "and" in between them, but instead, "and" comes in an unexpected position, and this throws off what is otherwise a nice incantatory build towards the hall of Mirrors and the echoes. One can imagine history's echoes tolling in the same way. If these few kinks in the sentence get cleared up, then what you'll have is an extremely potent invocation.

Thank you for sharing!

Oreste
Thank you for the reply, Oreste. :)

As far as meter goes, anything that looks like it was done purposefully was not. I don't hear syllable stress very well and 99% of the time I don't write in meter; I just write what "feels" appropriate in that regard. I will attempt to rewrite the piece in trimeter though simply for the challenge of it and to see how it improves the piece.

Good catch on the grammatical error.

I'll take this back to my notepad and rework it with the other suggestions too. Thank you so much for your help. I really do appreciate it.
My pleasure. I didn't get the hang of meter for a really long time. Finally, something I read made the light bulb click on. I'll tell it to you in case it helps.

The first thing to know about meter is that it's 100% natural. What you said about "feel" was dead on. The only thing about feel, though, is that it can lose attention easily, and soon it gets sidetracked onto a different "feel." That happened here. If you ever want to impress people at a party, tell them that iambic pentameter is most commonly used in poetry, because it is most commonly used in speech. Then speak a sentence to them that is ten syllables long. It will fall into iambic 90% of the time. The other ten percent, the people you're talking to will try to look smart and act as if you'd just spoken in iambic pentameter anyway. (I did this once, and wound up with a sentence that was trochaic tetrameter. My parent's snobbish friend paused, acted like he was counting in his head, and then said, "very impressive.")

Meter in English, when you take off the frills and ruffles, is an all-purpose coat with two sides: iambic and trochaic. Even those are pretty much the same thing, depending on whether you start on the beat, or off the beat. The only complicated bit comes when you try to scan it, because real speech comes in more variety than stressed/unstressed. There's all kinds of degree. But the degree doesn't matter when you scan a line, and when you're starting off with meter, it's best to act as if it doesn't matter in the poem either. (Just realize that you'll get a bunch of garbage parctice verses. That's okay; that's right. It's just practice.)

Now for the part that turned the light on for me. I was running into all kinds of trouble trying to scan lines that switched back and forth between trochees and iambs (it seems hard to imagine), or had what appeared to me to be a bunch of unstressed words in a row (if and or but the cat). Then I came across a book that told me, out of every three syllables in English, they will never be the same three stresses in a row.

That gave me a simple way in. Suddenly, I could scan the easy parts of a line, and then come back to the hard parts and apply what I called "the rule of threes." If I was tempted to scan them all the same, I knew that at least one of them was going to be different. It's usually the middle one. In a sentence with "call down light," "down" gets demoted. In a sentence with "if and or," "and" gets promoted.

Listen to someone talk, and you'll notice that this isn't a made-up rule. English doesn't like to hear the same kind of stress right next to each other. When it does happen, it creates a natural pause, e.g. "hard dark wet rocks." Or with unstressed syllables, it ellides. That's why we have "that's" instead of "that is."

Then again, another way to approach it is to dance along, or just speak it out loud. Amazing how much easier it is to hear when you speak it out loud.
I apologize for not commenting sooner, I have read this many times since it was first posted and I am at a loss to make any helpful suggestions. I fully agree with Obelletto's comments and would like to see how the revised version sounds.

It is a very wistful, sad poem that really lingers.
No worries. I appreciate any comment at all. :)