I'm writing a poem for a class, my upper-level college written comp class, and we weren't told what structure to use but that we needed to use an established poetic structure employing verse as opposed to writing in free verse or our own invented verse or structure.

This assignment's actually worth a lot of points and the prof said "where much is given, much is expected," pounding home the point that he's not putting up with anything that looks like it was "scribbled down in 10 minutes." He told us to "dig deep," and while he made no requirement of length, he requires we use at the very least eight literary devices, which I have.

Anyway, I've written two versions. This is the first:

When does wind the wind of fate,

Fate’ll wend the fatal date,

The date to die? The date today—

So mothers pray for reaper’s prey,

That Father loves so love’s not late.

This is the one I far prefer, but you'll notice the last line of the quintain doesn't match the first two lines. Rather than being trochaic, it's iambic, and rather than being seven syllables, it's eight.

This is a second version I've come up with to try and solve the problem:

When does wind the wind of fate,

Fate’ll wend the fatal date,

The date to die? The date today—

So mothers pray for, day to day,

Reaper’s prey so love’s not late.

I don't like this one as well. First, it eliminates God (i.e., Father), whom the mothers are praying to. Second, it eliminates the internal homophones of "pray" and "prey" in the third line. Third, it eliminates the parallel structure of the third line that I liked. Fourth, and most importantly to me, I'm feeling like the language is stilted, like "day to day" is just sort of shoehorned in by appearing between the preposition "for" and its object "Reaper's prey."

What it does do, though, is make the fifth line like lines one and two: trochaic with 7 syllables. But I feel I'm paying a heavy price, the four aforementioned items, just to make the structure match.

I've looked and looked, but I can't find an established poetic structure for quintains that employs an AABBA scheme where all the lines of the same letter don't match in verse, meaning they don't just rhyme but also match in meter. Actually, I couldn't find that even in structures that weren't quintains.

So here are my questions:

  1. Is there an established poetic structure that I can point to that would allow me to use version one? If so, what is it? (This is the principle question)
  2. If not, do you agree that the version two's language is stilted? That "day to day" is just bad there? With the other drawbacks, sacrifices, is the second one just unacceptable (i.e., not worthy of an A, unimpressive to an English prof)? If so, any recommendations would be awesome because I've worked it until I can't see straight, until words have completely stopped making sense to me.

Maybe someone has an idea for a way to make the first one work. I don't know. If so, please feel free to chime in. I'm completely open to suggestions.

Thank you for taking the time to read down this far and consider my question and my problem.

P.S. By the way, does it come across that "Father" being capitalized means "God" and that "love" after "so" is a term of endearment for the mother's child and that the definition of "late" being used is "dead"? If not, maybe I just need to scrap the whole thing and start over. I ask because my boyfriend didn't get it. I think it's super clear, but having written it, maybe I've got blinders on.

  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about the English language but poetry metrics. – user121863 Apr 1 '19 at 19:27
  • Can’t you just remove that and add a colon after prey? (And not capitalise all lines, if you want to keep the capitalisation of Father clear.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 1 '19 at 21:32
  • Are you composing... limericks? – Mitch Apr 1 '19 at 23:21

The rhyme scheme of a poem is generally independent of the meter (except in more specified kinds of poetry like limericks, sonnets, Spencerian stanzas, etc.).

Will your professor take points off for not having a completely consistent meter? You would have to ask him. But for an example of what you want, look at To Helen by Edgar Allen Poe. Quintains, with the last line of two of the stanzas having a different meter.

The last stanza (of three) of To Helen, by Edgar Allen Poe, is:

Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy-Land!

And if this class is teaching you that you should choose a version of a poem that you like less just to make it conform with a given poetic structure, it is teaching you entirely the wrong lesson.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you, @PeterShor. That's a fantastic example. I mean, it's not exactly like mine, but lacking a quintain with an AABBA scheme like mine, it does give me grounds for a non conforming last line in an iambic quintain that's ABBAB. That's pretty damn close. Not allowing it seems like it'd be splitting hairs. He's not like that. So I'm feeling more confident now. – Benjamin Harman Apr 1 '19 at 20:49
  • By the way, in reference to "if this class is teaching you that you should choose a version of a poem that you like less just to make it conform with a given poetic structure, it is teaching you entirely the wrong lesson," it's not. I didn't model this after a poem I liked. That's not the assignment. The assignment is to pick a structure, like Shakespearean sonnet, sestina, villanelle, etc., and then work within that structure. I did that, but then I inadvertently wrote the last line wrong by following what I was doing in the two preceding lines instead of the first two lines. – Benjamin Harman Apr 1 '19 at 20:53
  • Hey, do you think the problematic "that" can be eliminated. My friend Tracy mentioned "that" can be omitted a lot of times and that's one of those times. I see that, and that definitely would fix the problem. So simple! Why didn't I see that?! I guess I'm bleary-eyed. But now I'm not sure that it still makes sense without "that," certainly doesn't make clear that "Father" is God by bumping "father" to the first word and thus capitalizing it for that reason. Hmm. – Benjamin Harman Apr 1 '19 at 20:56
  • The three stanzas of To Helen all have different rhyme schemes, although none is AABBA. But not allowing it when Poe uses three other quintain rhyme schemes would definitely be splitting hairs. Poe undoubtedly would have used AABBA if he had needed to. – Peter Shor Apr 1 '19 at 21:13

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.