Exploring Classical Poetry Series
by Dusty Grein, ACP

Part 1 — The Basics
Part 2 — The Sonnet
Part 3 — The Ravenelle
Part 4 — The Villanelle
Part 5 — The Sestina
Part 6 — The Terza-Rima
Part 7 — The Limerick
Part 8The Kyrielle

The Ravenelle

The narrative poem can take many forms, but I would like to explore a very unique pattern, which I have used to create a new poetic form I call the ravenelle, in honor of the eerie poem whose structure it is based on.

The basic format is trochaic, and while it may seem to be done in octameter lines, it is actually written by combining eleven tetrameter lines into six written lines of poetry in each stanza.

Term Review

Before we dig into our examination and exercise, let’s review some poetry terms. If these are confusing, please feel free to read my first installment in this series, The Basics.

iamb – 2 syllable poetic foot, with a soft-HARD pattern (dee-DUM). Used to create iambic meter.

trochee – 2 syllable poetic foot with a HARD-soft pattern (DUM-dee). Used to create trochaic meter.

tetrametermetered line built from 4 (tetra) poetic feet.

octameter metered line built from 8 (octa) poetic feet.

catalectic style of emphasis, where a single syllable is removed from the beginning or ending of a metered line.

The Raven

Edgar Allan Poe was a skilled craftsman of the English language. His mastery of difficult poetry is evident, and in my opinion, The Raven is one of his greatest works. I would like to examine this masterpiece, and demonstrate how to create a narrative poem using his poetic framework.

Unlike the sonnet, which was examined and explained in the previous installment, The Raven was created in trochaic syllable pairs, instead of iambic ones, and each stanza, or verse, is comprised of eleven tetrameters, combined into five octameter lines, and a sixth single tetrameter line.

He also used the subtle trick of omitting the final syllable on lines two, four, five and six, which all rhyme. This method is called CATALEXIS; these lines are catalectic and become emphasized by having their final syllable stand alone.

Finally, the poem was built using a very strict rhyming pattern as follows:

(x is a trochaic tetrameter line, which may end in any trochee, regardless of rhyme)

To clarify, let’s look at the structure of the poem:

(a a) Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
(x b) Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore
(c c) While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
(c b) As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
(x b) “ ‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door
(b)     Only this and nothing more.”

Yes, I know the word “visiter” is spelled wrong, but it wasn’t at the time the poem was written. As in the exploration of the sonnet, if you read just the underlined words—the fourth trochee in each tertrameter half-line—you will see the inherent flow of the piece.

The Pattern of the Ravenelle

Following this pattern presents us with some challenges. First let’s break down the number of rhyming words.

“A” words We need at least two of these rhyming words, that must end with a trochee (two syllables, with the first one stressed). I myself like the challenge of finding three of these words that rhyme, and using the third one in line #2, in place of the “x” word, treating it like the “C” words in lines #3 and  #4.

“C” words We need three of these. Like the “A” words, these three rhyming words must end in a trochee, and are easiest to do with two syllable words.

“B” words Here is the true challenge. We need four rhyming words, of a single stressed syllable. These will replace the eighth trochee at the end of lines #2, #4, #5 and the fourth at the end of line #6.

“x” words Here, for use in line #5 (and #2 if you desire) is our connecting trochee, as the fourth of eight in the line. This trochee does not have to rhyme, although I like to make the one in line #2 an “A” rhyme. Poe sometimes does this, and other times does not.

What To Write About

I find it easiest to start with a theme, and often look to an image for my inspiration. Here is where you decide the “flavor” of your poem, and this is the inspiration I chose for this exercise.

The ravenelle, with its heavy trochaic beat, lends itself quite well to horror, although it could express emotions in any genre. I have decided, in honor of The Raven, to create a mysterious, haunting story – with a horror twist.

For the purposes of this exercise, I will use 3 “A” words, 3”C” words, and 4”B” words. I will use a single “x” tie in trochee for line #5.

Rhyming Words

Here then are the words I will use for the first stanza (selected for rhyme, and mood):

3 “A” words –  seeking, weeping, keeping  *(Note that these are all trochees)
3 “C” words –  shadows, gallows, follows  *(Again, all trochees)
4 “B” words –  sight, light, night, white  *(These are all single hard syllables)

Using the pattern, we will now write out the framework of our piece, using # for the hard syllables, and – for the soft ones, separating the trochees with vertical bars  | and inserting our selected words at the end of the lines

# – | # – | # – | seeking | # – | # – | # – | weeping
# – | # – | # – | keeping | # – | # – | # – | sight
# – | # – | # – | shadows | # – | # – | # – | gallows
# – | # – | # – | follows | # – | # – | # – | light
# – | # – | # – | # –  | # – | # – | # – | night
#- | # – | # – | white

The Challenge

This is where your creativity and imagination as an author and poet will express themselves. Keeping the meter in mind, you build your lines by inserting three trochees in front of each previously selected word, and a single tie-in trochee in line #5.

Here then, is my first stanza, built on this framework:

Soft by torchlight I roam, seeking through the dark’ning woods of weeping
willows, her lithe figure keeping just beyond the edge of sight.
By the flick’ring flame the shadows dance like felons ‘pon the gallows,
still the mystery woman follows her path by mere lantern’s light.
Subtle glimpses of her fleeting form I chase into the night,
mystery maiden, dressed in white.

There you go. The creation of a single stanza of a Ravenelle (a narrative poem, written in structured catalectic trochaic octameter). Sounds more complicated than it really is.

Below, you will find my finished poem, of four stanzas. The poem has, since I created this essay, been published in both the Quarterday Review, and Anthology Askew.

Note: Edgar Allan wrote his terrifying epic using 18 stanzas – but then he WAS a true master.

Dressed In White
by Dusty Grein

Soft by torchlight I roam, seeking through the dark’ning woods of weeping
willows, her lithe figure keeping just beyond the edge of sight.
By the flick’ring flame the shadows dance like felons ‘pon the gallows,
still the mystery woman follows her path by mere lantern’s light.
Subtle glimpses of her fleeting form I chase into the night,
mystery maiden, dressed in white.

Suddenly I find her, standing in the moonlight, eyes demanding
my surrender. She’s commanding me to proceed without fright.
There, beneath raven hair flowing, I can see her skin is glowing;
and my fear, which should be growing deep inside, has taken flight.
Pale blue firelight now dancing in her hands; a spectral sight,
this pale beauty, dressed in white.

Forward my feet slowly moving toward this creature, as if proving
heavy debts my soul’s accruing, and I lose my will to fight.
With intent I step up closer, craving, needing just to know her;
days of free will are quite over, as I’m wrapped in chains of light.
Eldritch witch-fire soon engulfs me, eating my soul, burning bright
while she watches, dressed in white.

Closer, she leans in to kiss me. As our lips meet, I grow dizzy
then she smiles and whispers softly, “Love, come close and hold me tight.”
In my embrace she is clinging, while the angels commence singing
I ignore the painful stinging, as my neck she gives a bite.
With a grin she sends me hither, seeking victims in the night –
my new mistress, dressed in white.

© 2015- dustygrein

Here, in its original published format, is the masterpiece by Poe, in my opinion one of the finest pieces ever penned by him.

The Raven
by Edgar Allen Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“ ’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Join me next time, as we explore The Villanelle. Until then, Write On!

Dusty Grein is the Director of Production and Design and a Managing Editor for RhetAskew Publishing. He is also a novelist, ACP accredited poet, and regular writer for the Society of Classical Poets website. Some of his favorite messages can also be found on his personal blog, From Grandpa’s Heart…

7 thoughts on “Exploring Classical Poetry — Part 3

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