But no. It became quite obvious as I was preparing a printout to take to my crit group, that it was going to need at least one more stanza, as the ending does pretty much leap out and smack you. I need to give it a couple of breaths more before the final twist. Which sucketh most mightily, as I am no longer in love with it. Trust me when I tell you that it isn’t just the sedge that has withered from this particular lake.
Part of the trouble is that it is extremely narrative. Possibly excessively so. It currently stands at a whopping 29 stanzas long, and I am absolutely dreading the work of editing it. But I’ve invested so much time and effort into it already that I can’t afford not to do everything I can to get it truly finished. (Which is presumably why I’m writing this post, rather than working on the poem!) What on earth I will do with it, when and if I get it completed, is anybody’s guess.
One of the things that may cause me issues in editing is the form. Ketas used the classic ballad structure for his version – four stanzas of eight, eight, eight and four syllables respectively, rhyming ABCB. For reasons that I hope made sense at the time, I’ve modernised the structure as well as the subject matter, and so have quatrain stanzas of ten, ten, ten and four (or five, or three) syllables respectively, and no regular rhyme. The trouble is that I really don’t write comfortably in pentameter, iambic or otherwise. I guess it’s partly why that ten syllable line does function so well as a neutral length – just too long to swing, but too short to quite ramble. So I’m going to have to decide how much I want to keep my pattern going. The easiest option would be to decide to treat it as scaffolding, and to let the poem now break where it wants to, rather than where the pattern dictates. But … I do like the idea of retaining that link with the original. So maybe I go the other way, and cut the lines back to tetrameter? That alone should help to tighten things up. But … again, I like having that little nod to modernity. And it would certainly be a good exercise in poetic discipline to make myself work in a rhythm I don’t naturally use. Which leaves me with the third option (shades of Thomas the Rhymer … see lines 41 to 52): work on it, sticking to the pattern.
Some stanzas work quite nicely in pattern:
I listened to the plinking as it cooled,
the rain in fretful handfuls on the roof.
I heard her sigh, and drew a ragged breath
and closed my eyes
although it mainly does so because of the end-stoping. This one is less end-stopped (to the point of being thoroughly enjambed), but does still work as pentameter:
Now, she said, it’s time. Her voice was gentle
and so soft I half expected that her
lips would brush my ear, her breath my cheek. Back
to the city.
But then I have stanzas that just spill outwards and are going to need some serious massaging to get them to fit:
I drove. Across the sleeping city, streets
with the names of fallen saints, dissolved to
rivers in the rain, flowing south between
the solemness of trees.
Yes, I know, the last line is too long. And that I’m allowed to have more than ten syllables on some lines, if they are still part of one of the five feet. I can see another week /month /year spent working stanza by stanza through this damn thing, teasing the syntax to make this line stretch and that one contract. (And part of me is relishing the challenge. But the other parts would just like to get their life back, thank you.) I can read the whole thing and make it sound reasonably musical, but only because I know where the stresses are going to have to go. When I got another person to try reading it out loud, the result was both comic and painful. Sigh!
But first, I still have to get the [insert preferred level five invective] thing finished properly.
(Sound of forehead hitting the desk, accompanied by diminishing wails of “why me? why, god, whyyyyyyyy? etc.)