Terrouge E-zine Archives
Spreading Rose-Tipped Wings of Verse
Brian Jacques' countless poems, songs, and stories in verse illuminate the pages and add a special flavor to his stories; inspired fans carry on the tradition. The plenteous submissions that I have received in the Vulpine Imperium remind me that poetry is a thriving art in the ROC (Redwall Online Community). In response to this enthusiasm, on behalf of Terrouge and its affiliate, the Vulpine Imperium, I present you with a guide to writing Redwall-related poetry. As it is best to begin with the beginning, I will relate firstly the basic rules of poetry and how they apply to Redwall. After that, I will give some advice on how to artistically breathe life into the framework of technicalities to produce a work of art (my favorite part! It's worth the wait. It's all part of the process).
I have received many excellent poems written in a variety of poetic writing styles, among them the haiku, the limerick, the couplet, and the traditional four-line stanza. The talented authors of these poems have excelled in using these forms of verse to express the themes of Redwall and the Vulpine Imperium. However, if you wish to be more conservative, the original Redwall poetry predominantly consists of ballad-style poems with four-line stanzas, which I will elaborate on later. For those who wonder, a stanza is to poetry what a verse is to a song. In truth, they are often the same.
Redwall Rhyming Scheme
In an instance where the alternating pairs of lines rhyme, we encounter the abab rhyming pattern. The following is an example of the abab rhyming scheme:
"Across the lea, beneath the leaves, A
When countrylands wake up to spring, B
Hurrah here comes the Prince of Thieves, A
Hear every small bird sing." B
(Part of one of Gonff's ditties from Mossflower)
"A" universally represents the last word or syllable at the end of the first line: the first word that is introduced for rhyming. If the last word in the second line does not rhyme with the first, then "b" is used to represent the second rhyming word that is introduced, in this example "spring/sing." Other letters such as "c" and "d" are used in the study of rhyme.
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Another rhyming pattern that is used in the Redwall books is the couplet. It is so named because it consists of a "couple" of rhyming lines. An example of this is the inscription on the Joseph Bell.
"I will ring for wedding times, when two hearts unite.
I will toll the hours out, all daytime and through the night.
I will wake good creatures up, from their beds each morning
Or toll when they're in danger, a clear and brazen warning."
(From the inscription on the Joseph Bell, in Mariel of Redwall)
Alexander Pope, a famous poet who ranks with Shakespeare in quotability, made the couplet especially famous. I mention him now because a particular couplet of his seems to be appropriate advice.
"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~An example of some of the aforementioned liberties that the ballad-style verse can take is evident in this little ditty.
"O it's hard and dry when the sun is high,
And dust is in your throat,
When the rain pours down, near fit to drown,
It soaks right through your coat."
(First four lines of the Long Patrollers' song)
The first and third lines may or may not rhyme, but the second and fourth usually will rhyme. This is one of the most common forms of poems used in the Redwall books, along with the abab scheme. In a ballad-style poem, the meter can be loosened a little bit, like lyrics to a song.
. . . And What is Meter?
Meter is the systematic rhythm of a poem. Meter consists of basic units called "feet." There are many different kinds of metrical feet, some of the most common being the iamb and the trochee. An iamb is a foot that has emphasis like the word "ho-tel". Every other syllable is emphasized. "In legend could the truth be told." (This line has four feet!) In trochee feet, the emphasis is placed on the first syllable, like in "peo-ple". "Double, double, toil and trouble…" (This one is a Shakespearian quote that also has four feet). However, since meter is used very loosely in Redwall, feel free to express yourself. About the loose meter of a ballad poem…try singing the first lines of the Long Patrollers' song to the tune of "The Ballad of Gilligan" (as in Gilligan's Island). You'll see what I mean. ;-)
Building Upon the Bones: Painting Pictures with Words
Now that we have trudged through the great forest of poetic science, we come to the telling climax: the art of Redwall poetry. Firstly, a truly great poem is judged by how much it causes the reader to grasp your subject. Your painting with words might depict a blissful riverside frolic with otters. Moist, sweet, loamy-scented earth makes a padding sound beneath your paws; the sounds of boisterous laughter echo over the waters, and you feel a thrill of joy in your heart and soul as your hear them call you to join them. It might depict a sumptuous banquet of the most thrilling and luscious fare your eyes have ever beheld: steaming savory pies that bear the pungency of freshly-plucked herbs, well-aged tangy hard cheeses with crumb-flaked knives lying nearby, and soft, honey-sweet cakes with puffy texture and flaky toppings that crumble beneath the fateful blow of a slicer.
"How in the world did she just do that?" you may be asking. "How did she paint these pictures that she saw in her mind's eye?" I tried to reach into the sounds, sights, smells, feelings, and tastes appropriate to the scenes, and I used special nuances- "brush-strokes", if you will- of language to create the effects I wanted to use. The very sound or advanced nature of a word might create an artistic effect. For example, the word "luscious" sounds almost as moist and delicious in and of itself as the subject. The "L" and "S" sounds are very fluid to pronounce, hence suggesting things like plump fruits and melting pie fillings.
How does one find images such as these for poetry? I have heard it described as "poetic knowledge." Poetic knowledge is the subject matter of quality poetry which comes from life-experience, whether it is your own, or something your have experienced vicariously (through another person). The tingle of drying saltwater on your feet as you trek away from the waves is poetic knowledge. The exhilarating feeling of a breath of cold air gusting into your face is also poetic knowledge. The thud of disappointment and the thrill of expectation are poetic knowledge, too. With Redwall poetry, the author has probably never actually been on a riverside frolic with otters or been frightened witless by a badger Lord in Bloodwrath, but we probably have experienced something similar to such events in some way or another. Music can also be a very good source of inspiration, being a sister art, and often being wedded with poetry. I have found much Celtic and Medieval music to be particularly conducive to the Redwall theme.
In ideal definition, a poem is meant to be an orderly composition in verse that uses vivid language to describe lofty themes. I for one believe that a ballad-style poem written in molespeech describing the joys and sorrows of tunnel-digging can be lofty, as well as an Abbess' musings over a warm cup of mint tea by the fireplace of a winter evening. The last advice I have to give you this month is for you to make your poetry as enjoyable, honorable, and worthy as the highest ideals of Redwallers, even if you are describing the scummiest of vermin. It is possible, and I look forward to seeing what treasures you have to offer.
A Partial Bibliography
- A life full of poetic knowledge
- The Redwall series, by Brian Jacques
- Poetic Handbook by Babette Deutsh