Friday, December 15, 2006

Let's go on a house tour.

Why the title? Allow me to explain:

A poem is frequently made up of stanzas.

The word "stanza" is Italian, and means "room."

Therefore, a poem is made up of rooms.

Conclusion? A poem is a form of house.


Thinking of a poem as a house to be toured is actually not a bad idea. When you enter a house for the first time, you get your first impression of the home. A lot of folks make sure that their foyer or living room or whatever it is that you see looks terrific. In the same way, the opening of the poem should grab your attention and give you a feel for the particular poem. If the poem is short, with only two stanzas, then the first stanza has to be more of a "great room," with sufficient content to really pull the buyer in. If it's one of four or more stanzas, then it can be the foyer -- a small room that clues the buyer in to the house she's entered, but doesn't show all that much.

An experienced realtor leading a tour will move a buyer through the house in such a way as to see everything, but will build the tour to an outstanding feature of the house so the buyer ends on a high note, and takes away the best possible impression of the house. In the same way, the poem will move you through its content. If it's a two-stanza poem, then everything will be more compact -- the tour will move more quickly, so to really "wow" the buyer, the rooms have to be impeccable. If it's got several stanzas, then the tour might be a bit more leisurely, but it doesn't mean that any of the rooms can be a mess. And the ending has to really make an impact on the buyer, or else they will resent walking through all those rooms just to end up looking at your unfinished firepit.

Let's have a look at this lovely "house" called Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare. It is not usually broken into separate stanzas in format, but I've done it here to echo the internal stanzaic form, and so that you can see that last "room" in all its glory, small though it may appear:

Sonnet 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.


See how he impresses with his first room, where he appears to insult the woman who is the subject (or is she the object?) of his poem. And then he tours you through a few more "rooms," each of which appears to view this woman unfavorably. It not only holds your attention, but it builds tension -- why this laying on of insults and slights? And then, he shows you that last room -- it's small, but it's spectacular: a rhymed couplet, where he notes that he loves her tremendously, and that she doesn't need false comparisons. Happy sigh.

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