Line Breaks, Syllables, Organization

Careful use of line breaks can alter a poem’s rhythm, tone, and meaning.  The poem below is full of imagery that can be grouped and broken to change the entire feel of the poem.  You might have to pull out the old dictionary to find the meaning of some of the words.  As you read the poem, think about how you would change the line breaks or reorganize the words.  Read the original below and then my “rewrite” is after the jump.

“Silent Poem” by Robert Francis

backroad leafmold stonewall chipmunk
underbrush grapevine woodchuck shadblow

woodsmoke cowbarn honeysuckle woodpile
sawhorse bucksaw outhouse wellsweep

backdoor flagstone bulkhead buttermilk
candlestick ragrug firedog brownbread

hilltop outcrop cowbell buttercup
whetstone thunderstorm pitchfork steeplebush

gristmill millstone cornmeal waterwheel
watercress buckwheat firefly jewelweed

gravestone groundpine windbreak bedrock
weathercock snowfall starlight cockcrow

My Version of “Silent Poem”

Backroad leafmold
stonewall

chipmunk underbrush
grapevine woodchuck
shadblow

woodsmoke cowbarn
honeysuckle

woodpile sawhorse bucksaw
outhouse wellsweep backdoor
flagstone bulkhead

buttermilk
candlestick
ragrug
firedog
brownbread

hilltop outcrop
cowbell
buttercup

whetstone thunderstorm pitchfork
steeplebush
gristmill millstone cornmeal waterwheel
watercress buckwheat

firefly jewelweed
gravestone groundpine
windbreak bedrock

weathercock
snowfall
starlight

cockcrow

In my reinvention, I intentionally looked at the items with a wide lense and then brought in the focus to certain elements by imaging the scene.  For instance, with the lines

buttermilk
candlestick
ragrug
firedog
brownbread

I imagined someone carrying a pitcher of buttermilk, passing by the candle light to sit on the ragrug in front of the fireplace (firedog: the metal supports for logs in a fireplace) and enjoy a snack of bread and milk.  The original author oriented it differently, painting the picture differently through his line breaks and organization.  At the end of the poem, I specifically utilized white space (the literal white, empty space around the poem), line breaks, and line spacing to reverse my wide to narrow focus and introduce the fading of starlight and dawning of a new day (cockrow: the time when cocks first crow, or early morning).  There are so many ways to “play” with this poem and each of them is unique and interesting.

As evidenced by this exercise, one of the beautiful aspects of poetry is its flexibility.  You can change the entire meaning and tone of a poem through use of line breaks, organization, and white space.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Poetry gives you the freedom to throw normal sentence conventions out the window and create something all your own.  Take advantage of it!

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