Ray's Introduction to Literature, Fall, 1998 Kate's

Poetic Form
Dylan Thomas
T. Hardy
W. Whitman


   Online Discussion

-- Ray's Class; Kate's Class
 Poetic Form:
        Stanza, Closed Forms (e.g. Sonnet & Villanelle), and Free Verse
To talk about form in a poem is to discuss the pattern or design of the poem as a whole. 
STANZA -- One of the first patterns that you are likely to notice is the length of the stanzas.  Some poems, like Gwendolyn Brooks' "We Real Cool," are written in two-line stanzas called couplets (¹ï¥y); other poems, like Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain,"  are written in three-line stanzas called tercets¡]¤T¦æ¸Ö¡^; still other poems, like Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz," are written in four-line stanzas called quatrains¡]¥|¦æ¸Ö¡^; and so on.  These stanzaic patterns are part of the form of a poem.

  OTHER PATTERNS -- Some poems also follow other patterns, such as a set rhyme scheme, meter, number of lines, and/or other distinctive features. 

CLOSED FORMS -- Poems that follow a pre-existent design are called formal poems or closed form poems. There are many different patterns that a closed form poem can follow. Right now we will discuss two traditional poetic forms.

1) The most common closed form poem is the sonnet. There are two types of sonnet: the English sonnet (also known as the Shakespearean sonnet) and the Italian sonnet (sometimes called the Petrarchan sonnet). Both types of sonnet have fourteen lines, are written in iambic pentameter (which means there are five iambs per line), and follow a set rhyme scheme. 

The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet is divided into two parts (8 + 6), the first eight lines (called the octave) and the final six lines (called the sestet). Often the octave will set up a problem or unresolved situation, which the sestet will then try to solve. The octave usually follows an abbaabba rhyme scheme, while the sestet can rhyme cdcdcd or cdecde, or some other variation (but usually without the last two lines rhyming). William Wordsworth's poem "The World is Too Much with Us" is a good example of a Petrarchan sonnet. 
The English or Shakespearean sonnet usually has three quatrains plus a final couplet (4+4+4+2). It also has a set rhyme scheme ababcdcdefefgg. Sometimes a Shakespearean sonnet will present one situation, idea, or problem in the first twelve lines and then offer a response or solution in the final couplet. But the response, solution, or change of thought can also happen after the first or second quatrain. Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 ("That time of year thou mayst in me behold") (page 650 in our textbook) is a Shakespearean sonnet.
2) Another traditional poetic form is the villanelle (¤Q¤E¦æ¤GÃý¸Ö).  A villanelle is a medieval verse form that continues to be written today. It consists of nineteen lines (five tercets and a quatrain; 5x3 + 4), and it is built on two rhyming sounds.  It has a rhyme scheme of aba aba aba aba aba abaa. But notice that it is not only the rhyming sounds that repeat: whole lines recur throughout the poem. The first line is also repeated as line six, line twelve, and line eighteen. Line three appears again as line nine, line fifteen, and line nineteen. Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" and Elizabeth Bishop's poem "One Art" are good examples of recent villanelles.
The beauty of villanelle --
". . . the form [of villanelle] has remarkable unity of structure.  The echoing and reechoing of the refrains give the villanelle a plaintive, delicate beauty that some poets find irresistible."
Difficulties of villanelle --
"Since it has only two rhymed endings, the poem can easily become monotonous.  The risks of monotony is increased by the incessant appearance of the refrains that constitute eight of the poems' nineteen lines -- nearly half of the poem.  This skilled author of the villanelle, thus, is careful to achieve the maximum tonal range and to fit the refrains lines as naturally as possible into the logic of the poem" (The Heath Guide to Literature 637)  How do the two poems we read use the form of villanelle to enrich their meanings and avoid monotony?

OPEN FORM (FREE VERSE) -- Not all poetry, though, is closed form or written in traditional poetic forms.  Poems written in an open form (sometimes called free verse) do not follow established patterns and are free to establish their own designs. They offer a new, fresh arrangement of words and lines.  Li-young Lee's "I Ask my Mother to Sing" is an open form poem that does not follow a traditional rhyme scheme, stanza pattern, or meter. It would be wrong to assume, however, that open form poems do not follow a pattern at all because if you look at Walt Whitman's "When I Heard the learn'd Astronomer"  or "A Noiseless Patient Spider" ¡X both open form poems¡Xyou can see that Whitman creates his own patterns in these poems.  How would you describe those patterns?   To find out about the patterns, pay attention to the arrangement of line length and repetition. 

Walt Whiman

Dylan Thomas (1914-53)
Guiding questions for 
 "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night"


    image source:       Dylan Thomas site
  1. Who is the speaker of this poem?  Who is he speaking to?  How are the speaker and listener related?  How would you describe this listener? What is his situation?
  2. This poem uses a number of puns.  Try to find out the meanings of the three puns in the poem: that "good night," "the last wave" (7) and "grave man."  What are the connotations for "night,""close of day," and "the dying of the light"?  What do these terms from the first stanza suggest about the listener?
  3. The second stanza discusses how "wise men" respond to their approaching death. The following stanzas discuss "good men," "wild men," and "grave men."   Why are "wise men" associated with words, "good men" with deeds,  "wild men" with singing and "grave men" with blindness?  What does death mean to each of them?  And why do they rage against death?
  4. How, then, in the final stanza does the speaker suggest his father confront death?  Why does the speaker, at the end, ask his father to "curse" and "bless" him?
  5. How do the repetitions of the first and third lines support the content and major ideas in this villanelle? Do the repeated lines take on more meaning as the poem progresses?
Relevant Links for Further Studies

Thomas Hardy
Leading Questions for
"The Convergence of the Twain" (E-Text)
  1. In this poem about the sinking of the luxury ship the Titanic on April 24, 1912, what examples can you find to suggest that Hardy is critical of the pride and exorbitant splendor of the ship and its passengers? What word choices point to the luxuriousness¡Xand strangeness¡Xof the furnishings onboard?

  3. This poem, unlike the move Titanic, does not focus on the personal loss and suffering surrounding the ship's sinking.  (Nor is it an elegy, though Hardy lost two acquaintances in the wreck.)  Instead, this is a poem of ideas that presents a philosophical argument.  How would you describe this argument?  Why is "Immanent Will" punishing people?

  5. Among the figures of speech in this poem is the personification of Fate. How is she personified? Why does Hardy personify her? Also, the poem presents the metaphor of a marriage ("intimate welding"; "consummation") between the ship and the iceberg.  Why does Hardy use this metaphor?

  7. Describe the form of this poem, including its rhyme scheme and stanzaic pattern.  How does this form support the meaning of the poem?

William Wordsworth
"The World is Too Much with Us"
 General Questions about the poem