It’s been a week… but despite the erratic nature of human nature, the seasons tick on; seedtime and harvest, summer and winter. And today we celebrate the steady metronome of the natural world with… hymn meter.
Isaac Watts, the mad rhymer, pretty much invented it, and Emily D perfected it. Not to be confused with the meter of hymn music, this deals with text, and is a fairly simple form. There are three categories of hymn meter: common, which is alternating lines of iambic tetrameter with iambic trimeter; long, which is iambic tetrameter the entire stanza; and short meter, which is two lines of iambic trimeter followed by a single line of iambic tetrameter, and finally returns to iambic trimeter for the fourth line. It’s actually more complicated to explain than to compose.
Because hymn meter was well loved by Emily Dickinson whose 236th poem, “Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church” has ever been used by earnest poets to get out of leaving the house at the weekend, I thought I’d dash off a quick nod to her. Of course, this effort isn’t true short meter, because the third line is not short by any means, and to make it even more hymn-like, I added a distinct refrain. This was me not trying to quite go with the rules just yet:
Keeping Emily’s Sabbath
cathedral light abounds
through old growth canopy
as crows produce a raucous sound, as fog’s damp surges all around
and we breathe autumn’s ease, in redwood panoply.(no sermon, no sexton. birdsong, from every direction
the quail’s quiet sageness is truth for the ages, and never is service too long)
leaf-fall means death. Rejoice
in every dying tree
for autumn leads to winter’s choice. Then, ending, winter gives spring voice
and brings the honeybee, renewal’s guarantee.(no chalice, no cantor: listen to the blue jay’s banter
the woodpecker’s rapping, its beats overlapping, and never is service too long)
scythe down, like autumn’s weeds
what binds you to the pew
no dome nor chorister a need, that “all are loved,” be that the creed
which Sabbath-hearts pursue; may Light be found in you.No vestments, no hymn book. Take to the woods. Change your outlook.
Your body will thank you – the dogma will keep – and the sermon won’t put you to sleep.
Somewhere, my mother is perhaps despairing of my church attendance. *cough*
The next two poems I tried a little harder to both keep to the theme (why, oh, why is it that the minute someone mentions theme, poems spring forth from the forehead of Zeus on thoroughly different topics? I have the most contrary brain) and to the rules of form. This one in common meter goes out to the people who I annoyed on Twitter when I told them not to talk to me about pumpkin spiced anything until November… when I’m spicing pumpkins for pie:
There’s More To Life (Than Pumpkin Spice)
(There’s more to life than pumpkin spice
In autumn’s short-lived hoard,
Than cutesy “hygge” merchandise
You really can’t afford.)
Crabapples, crisp, without a doubt
When kissed by nighttime’s rime
Are twice as sweet, and Brussels sprouts
when roasted, are divine.
Bright hops, persimmons, leafy kale
Meld autumn’s rustic hues
Gold cannot stay, and fog’s exhale
Bronze streaks the sunset’s blue.
There’s more to life. Though pumpkin’s nice
Sing autumn’s fullest song —
Praise for short days in paradise
Laud nights, knife-crisp and long.
Hops really are gorgeous – Click if you’ve never seen them. There was a hop farm up near where we used to live, and though we don’t brew beer, it was A Big Deal to the many who do. Apparently the in-thing for decoration this fall is not hops, but… cotton bolls. Meh, I’ll pass. Give me that glorious hoppy green.
Finally, this is long meter, and while it’s definitely less… sparkly and dance-y than the rest, it likely lends itself to four-part voices and pipe organ beautifully.
Contrails streak skylines, white on blue,
Crossing guards heed the avenue,
Breath makes its halo misty cloud,
Fog folds the land within its shroud.
Schoolyards burst forth with raucous noise
Squirrels scold unheeding girls and boys
Bees labor long on winter’s hoard
Markets display their festive gourds
Landscape takes shades of orange and gold
Ocher and azure, tawny, bold
This serves as notice: time runs on
In this seasonal marathon.
Bright as a coin, the harvest moon
Draws down the drapes of afternoon
Last gasp of summer’s bright caprice
Leaves pass out autumn’s press release
This has been kind of a fun meter to play with! Enjoy more autumn-flavored selections from: Tricia, a this-girl-ain’t-growing-old ode from Liz; Sara brings the beauty to the dying season and Laura’s adorable tribute to Jack made me smile. Now, here’s Kelly‘s take on the form, and hugs to Andi; we’ll catch up with her later.
Even MORE autumnal poetry is found in Violet Nesdoly’s pumpkin patch!