BBAW 2010 Forgotten Treasures

Forgotten treasures abound throughout literature from classics to unknown contemporary novels, but as expected, I want to talk about poetry and the forms of poetry that are not often used or attempted anymore.

A majority of poetry these days is in free verse, though there are some contemporary poets who do dabble in sonnet, which is considered a restrictive form.

Sonnets come in two styles:  Shakespearean and Petrarchan.  Shakespearean sonnets are those most taught in school and consist of 14 lines  in iambic pentameter, which could be thought of a normal speaking rhythm, and contain ten syllables in each line.  These sonnet also typically have the following rhyme scheme:  a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g — with the final lines rhyming one another.  Petrarchan sonnets, on the other hand, have an octave and sestet that offers a resolution at the end of the poem, while the ninth line offers a change in tone or mood.  The typical rhyme scheme begins with a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a, while the remainder of the rhyme scheme offers one of two choice:  c-d-e-c-d-e or c-d-c-c-d-c.

Check out the example from Shakespeare:

Sonnet 20

A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion:
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

Check out the example of a Petrarchan Sonnet by Petrarch:

Sonnet 131

I’d sing of Love in such a novel fashion
that from her cruel side I would draw by force
a thousand sighs a day, kindling again
in her cold mind a thousand high desires;

I’d see her lovely face transform quite often
her eyes grow wet and more compassionate,
like one who feels regret, when it’s too late,
for causing someone’s suffering by mistake;

And I’d see scarlet roses in the snows,
tossed by the breeze, discover ivory
that turns to marble those who see it near them;

All this I’d do because I do not mind
my discontentment in this one short life,
but glory rather in my later fame.

Villanelle is another style that has disappeared from contemporary literature and contains not only rhyme, but a refrain using either trimeter or tetrameter.  Trimeter is three metric feet per line, while tetrameter is four metrical feet.  The poem has 19 lines.  These poems only have two rhyme sounds and the first and third line of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the final line of each successive stanza before forming a rhyming couplet at the end of the poem.

Here’s an example from Dylan Thomas:

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Sestina has six six-line stanzas with a tercet for a total of 39 lines.  The same six words end the lines of the six-line stanzas, but in alternating order:  123456, 615243, 364125, 532614, 451362, and finally 246531.  “These six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line usually containing 6 and 2, its second 1 and 4, and its third 5 and 3,” according to Wikipedia.

Here’s an example from Ezra Pound:

Sestina:  Altaforte

Loquitur: En Bertrans de Born.
Dante Alighieri put this man in hell for that he was a
stirrer-up of strife.
Judge ye!
Have I dug him up again?
The scene in at his castle, Altaforte. “Papiols” is his jongleur.
“The Leopard,” the device of Richard (Cúur de Lion).


Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let’s to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.


In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth’s foul peace,
And the lightnings from black heav’n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God’s swords clash.


Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
Better one hour’s stour than a year’s peace
With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
Bah! there’s no wine like the blood’s crimson!


And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And pries wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might ‘gainst all darkness opposing.


The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth’s won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.


Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There’s no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle’s rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges ‘gainst “The Leopard’s” rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”


And let the music of the swords make them crimson!
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
Hell blot black for always the thought “Peace!”

Cinquain is another often forgotten form that has two styles Crapsey and Didactic, but each has a five-line pattern.  Crapsey cinquains have a syllable count of 2, 4, 6, 8, 2, with a fixed number of stressed syllables in this pattern:  1, 2, 3, 4, 1, using iamb.  Didactic cinquains generally begin with a one-word title, followed by a pair of adjectives describing the title/subject of the poem.  The third line is a three-word phrase that provides more information about the title, and the fourth line has four words to describe feelings related to the subject.  In the fifth line is a single-word synonym or another reference to the title/subject.

Crapsey Cinquain example:

November Night

Listen. . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

These forms do take quite a bit of patience and diligence to craft, and I applaud any contemporary poet that takes them on.  I’ve always loved sestinas and villanelles, but I can’t seem to write them well.  It’s something that will take a lot of practice.

For the GLOBAL giveaway:

Tell me which of these forms you would find hardest to write and why.


Provide an example of one of your favorite poems in one of these forms.

Deadline is Sept. 19, 2010, at 11:59PM EST

Books up for Grabs:

1.  A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

2.  The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes


  1. Sestinas are my favorite to read but def seem the hardest to write to me. Good luck to poets who make it seem so EASY and beautiful!!

  2. Here is a Shakespearean poem I wrote. It is one of my favorites only because I worked hard writing it. I have other “professional” favorite poems but I’ll stick with mine even if I dont win. It is both literal and a metaphor for overcoming hardships in life.

    The sky is grey and cloudy forming rain,
    And wind is moving swiftly through the night.
    For darkness grows and thunder causes pain,
    To ears of people scared and struck with fright.
    The sky begins to rain and coldness grows,
    The rustling leaves are making scary sounds.
    In time the windy weather slowly goes,
    And thunder heard all night no longer pounds.
    Clouds begin to clear and the sky turns blue.
    The morning air arrives all fresh and clean.
    Now many lawns are greatly filled with dew.
    The sun that shines so bright is also seen.
    A pretty day arose from angry skies,
    For ugly weather gradually dies.

    Thanks, Elise
    caliblue7 at gmail dot com

  3. I’ll be honest I have a hard time writing all of them. I love to read them but when it comes to writing them I suck. One of my favorite Petrarchan is by Edna St. Vincent Millay

    What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
    I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
    Under my head till morning; but the rain
    Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
    Upon the glass and listen for reply,
    And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
    For unremembered lads that not again
    Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
    Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
    Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
    Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
    I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
    I only know that summer sang in me
    A little while, that in me sings no more.

  4. As much as I hate to admit it, and worse because I adore reading poetry, is the fact that I do not have a knack for writing or even recognizing the nuances of these particular styles of poetry. I will say that the Dylan Thomas poem has always been a favorite.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  5. Thanks for the post Serena! Like the saying goes, we learn something new everyday. I always liked the Dylan Thomas poem.

  6. Congratulations on the best poetry blog award. Let’s hope next year there’s lots more competition in the category!

  7. I’d find sestina hard to write, as I don’t do well with exact syllable/line/etc.
    As a poet I’m more the free verse type more than anything else, though I have tried haiku and other forms too sometimes.

  8. I have never even heard of a Cinquain…. I have a difficult time even reading poetry.

  9. I know next to nothing about poetry, so thank you for this post!

  10. Just popping by to let you know this is posted at win a book.


  11. What a fantstic post, Serena. It brings me back to my college days and some wonderful classes I took on Shakespeare where I learned about and read some sonnets and Dylan Thomas as well as Poetry in general which included many sonnets. I have been terribly remiss about reading poetry sonnets and poetry since I graduated although a few years ago I started reading poetry again. I have no excuse for not reading it anymore since I really enjoy all kinds of poetry and sonnets and not haing the time doesn’t cut it! It is certainly worth making the time for and thenk you for reminding me of that.

    ~ Amy

  12. I find villanelles hardest to write; the rhymes are so obsessive! My favorite is Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art.

  13. I love villanelles, but I haven’t studied poetry in ages so hadn’t given them much thought. My bad! I think the sestinas would be the most difficult to write…just looking at those numbers makes me dizzy. 😉 No need to enter me.

  14. I like sonnets. And have written a few too. Becos I am poet first and then anything else…

    Here is my BBAW: Forgotten Treasures post!

    BTW, click on my name to read my poetry!!

  15. I find Shakespearean sonnets most difficult to write because it takes so much work to get the rhythm of the iambic pentameter right! I can work with odd rhyming schemes and even syllable counts, but when I have to figure out where the stress emphasis lies in every single word I use, it takes forever and drives me crazy in the process.


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