A Life Of Fiction CXLVI

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Steampunk poetry: Recently, on the website Steampunk Empire, there was a poem posted on the site – and a very good poem it was (details at the end of this post). It got me thinking about whether there could be such a thing as steampunk poetry (or gas-lamp fantasy poetry, for that matter).

I think that you could have two different forms of poetry. There is verse which you could write about a steampunk world. I have tried composing such verse, but always abandoned it as I didn’t think that it was good enough.

The other form of verse would be the sort of poetry which you might find in a Neo-Victorian or steampunk world. That poetry would not necessarily be concerned with cogs and levers. Poets are rarely inventors or machinists. There is the distinct possibility that in a steampunk world the poets would react against an overly mechanical world, and produce a lot more verse about Nature and the natural world. Poets, in a truly steampunk world, might be reactionary, and almost Luddite.

One of the most popular poets of the later Victorian world was Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). I have his complete works, and I can’t really recall poems about great hulking machines with steam coming out of them. The poems for which he is best remembered are ones like Morte d’Arthur and the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Steampunk poems, whether about machines, or whether set in such a time period, should probably use the verse forms familiar to the late Nineteenth century. Blank verse doesn’t quite seem to fit.

Pindaric odes were used throughout the nineteenth century. One of the most famous examples is probably Ode to Autumn by John Keats.

Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set the budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think that warm days will never cease,

For Summer has o’erbrimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen the oft amid they store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while they hook

Spares the next swathe and all its twinèd flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner dost thou keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cider-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too –

While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue:

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Another form which was used in Victorian times was the villanelle. That had died out, having been introduced in the sixteenth century, but was reintroduced by the Victorians. The most famous villanelle – although not from that period – is probably Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, by Dylan Thomas.

Here’s one I made earlier (as the Dylan Thomas one is still under copyright).

The Bridge (Villanelle)

Under the ancient bridge the water flows:

The muddy stream, swelled high with summer rain;

One day you’ll find out where the river goes

You caress the old stone, where the moss grows,

Its Braille roughness, how long will it remain?

Under the ancient bridge the water flows.

How many others have stood there – who knows?

Gazing down at the kinetic terrain;

One day you’ll find out where the river goes.

How many have pondered life’s highs, and lows;

Wondering if their life’s gone down the drain.

Under the ancient bridge the water flows.

You could follow this stream, leave all your woes,

Track it down to some estuary plain:

One day you’ll find out where the river goes.

Here, your emotion overflows;

Something strange, which you can never explain.

Under the ancient bridge the water flows:

One day you’ll find out where the river goes.

As you can see, the structure is a little repetitive. The rhyming structure is A1, B, A2; A, B, A1; A, B, A2; A, B, A1; A, B, A2; A, B, A1, A2.

A1 and C1 refer to the fact that the entire lines are repeated (in this case Under the ancient bridge the water flows and One day you’ll find out where the river goes.

Sonnets were still in use by the Victorians. A sonnet is a fourteen line poem. There are various different rhyming schemes, depending on the type of sonnet. A Petrarchan sonnet has the rhyme scheme A, B, B, A, A, B, B, A, C, D, E, C, D, E. A Spenserian sonnet has the rhyme A, B, A, B, B, C, B, C, C, D, C, D, E, E. A Shakespearean sonnet has the rhyme scheme A, B, A, B, C, D, C, D, E, F, E, F, G, G. It is possible to create more forms by tweaking the rhyme schemes listed.

Anyway, here is a sonnet from the late eighteenth century / early nineteenth century poet, William Wordsworth.

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not – Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckling in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Well, that is enough examples of the forms which poetry in a steampunk world might take. at some time I might try to use these forms to write my own steampunk verse, either praising technology, or being a Luddite against it.

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