Thursday, 22 May 2008

Poetry In Motion

Richard and I have a love of the English language, both written and oral. We enjoy reading and have always delighted in the appropriate use of different words.

We have tried to pass this love onto our children, and are pleased that they spend a lot of their spare time reading.

Tonight we spent pre, post and pendant dinner discussing poetry.

As part of her French course, LeeLee and her fellow students are required to compile an anthology of their favourite poems.

LeeLee spoke to her teacher - and explained that her favourites were all English!

The teacher said - great, we would like to hear them!

So we have been discussing the vast number that she has to choose from. How about (to name but a few of her favourites):

Jaberwocky, by Lewis Carroll (try translating this one!)
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,And the mome raths outgrabe.'

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright, by William Blake
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

If, by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,

Macavity, by T S Elliot
Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw -
For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!

The Cateract Of Lodore, by Robert Southey
The cataract strong
Then plunges along,
Striking and raging
As if a war raging
Its caverns and rocks among;
Rising and leaping,
Sinking and creeping,
Swelling and sweeping,
Showering and springing,

The Owl And The Pussy Cat, by Edward Lear
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.

The girls, however, were instructing us on French poetry.

Nic mentioned how monotone and turgid French poems are in terms of their spoken rhythm. And both the girls explained that their French teachers get really het-up in class trying to get the students to 'read' poetry with expression and emphasis on different words and syllables. The teachers often get the English students (if there are any) to read to show the class how it should be done!!

LeeLee explained that when an author writes a French poem, he states the rhythm he wants it read with. Because the French language stresses each syllable the same, a reader of a poem needs to be told how the author wishes the rhythm of the poem to be, because it does not come naturally.

In the English language however, we stress syllables differently in a given word, and this determines the rhythm of a poem.

Consider: COMfortable (English) versus con-for-ta-ble (French).

In French poems, the rhythm is stated (eg Alexandrian or Romantic) and therefore whether, if there are 12 syllables per line for example, they are to be stressed:
4 by 4 by 4,
or 3 by 3 by 3 by 3,
or 6 by 6,

Richard and I found this an interesting discussion, not least because our two daughters were explaining it all to us in an articulate and clear way.

LeeLee then also mentioned something that she had learnt this week for the first time - a French poem is only said to rhyme properly if the rhyming words at the end of each line not only sound the same but are of the same gender!

We came to the conclusion that this must put a great restriction on an author. Only half the number of words to choose from.....

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