A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Friday, 5 October 2012

Terza Rima

Terza rima ('third rhyme' in Italian) is a three-line rhyme scheme first used by Dante in The Divine Comedy. The form of it goes like this: A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, D-E-D etc., ending with a single line or couplet repeating the rhyme of the middle line of the final tercet, i.e. E-F-E, F or E-F-E, FF. The first English poet to write in terza rima was Geoffrey Chaucer, and other poets who later employed the form include Milton, Byron, Shelley, Hardy, Auden, William Carlos Williams, TS Eliot, Derek Walcott, Robert Frost and Philip Larkin.

I've just attempted a poem written in terza rima and it's reproduced below. Whether or not it's anything more than an academic exercise, I'll leave it to you to judge. However, I think my lines of loose iambic pentameter (most terza rima uses iambic pentameter) suit the walking nature of the poem, and perhaps the constriction of the rhyme scheme helps focus and distil the liberating, quasi-mystical experience which the poem walks towards. The poem is based on a real experience in a real place and in a real time.

Woolacombe, Summer 1966

I stood tip-toe upon a little hill, 
The air was cooling, and so very still…
John Keats

Mum, dad, my sister: deckchairs on the sand,
dozing and dreaming, deep into paperbacks.
I sidle off into a hinterland

of huddled pubs and chip shops. Tarmac tracks
take me past pool rooms, penny arcades,
beach balls, bikinis and bathing shacks,

ice cream emporia, cheap colonnades
of empty restaurants, forlorn cafés,
sea-life aquaria, and stunted glades

of palm trees pining for hotter days.
Then, on a greener path, I leave the town,
follow the bay’s curve through a grey-green haze

of spiky marram grass, a shifting brown
massif of dunes, make for the modest height
of Potter’s Hill, where I fling myself down

on the cropped turf, in the sun’s sinking light:
feel burning solace, like the release of art,
find airy freedom in the seagull’s flight;

and something captive in my twelve-year heart
breaks out of childhood — now an age apart.

Read the first issue of my new poetry magazine, The Passionate Transitoryhere.


George said...

This is terrific, Robert, especially in the way it rises (like yourself in the poem) to a beautiful culmination in the last two lines.

Alistair said...

That's a great description, thanks and a lovely wee poem. I'm working my way through 'The Ode Less Travelled' and haven't reached tercet yet so it's nice to see it in action. Inspired to put pen to paper, cheers!

Rubye Jack said...

From the very ordinary to the extra-ordinary -- nice!
Poetry is like classical music to me. I have a hard time hearing both for some reason.

Ruth said...

Truly wonderful and beautiful! Your word choice throughout, and the rhyme scheme, plus the metrics, make this so fitting for a boy the age of the poet then. I love it!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting poem Robert. There is a rhythm that I find interesting - agree with George about that. There is also a sadness in it which I find quite moving - but then that may be because I know that you are the only one left.

Dominic Rivron said...

Like it - especially the "loose" iambic pentameter. There must be a term for a line of iambic pentameter that doesn't really have 5 stresses but would if one stressed the words differently - it makes for good poetry and it creates a satisfying, contrapuntal effect. (eg, one doesn't stress KIN in bikinis).

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, George, Alistair, Rubye and Ruth — I'm pleased you enjoyed it.

One left, and still standing, Pat... though only just after seven hours digging and weeding yesterday...

Yes, Dominic, there are five stresses in each line of my poem, but they all come in different places. In fact, poets have always done this — vary the stresses of the iambic pentameter to create interest and meaning rather than stick to a monotonous da-DUM, da-DUM, da -DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM. The pentameter is there, but it's not always iambic! As you hint, the metrics I use here is the ghostly framework against which and with which what is actually said/written plays (in my poem here, the tone is quite conversational, but it's a a tone 'heightened' by the loose iambic pentameter structure. The rhyme scheme also gives a similar effect.) Yes, a kind of counterpoint, if you like.