In an earlier post I suggested that some forms of verse are more suited to fun than to serious poetry, and illustrated this point primarily in terms of the limerick. In fact, there are many of these forms, which may have complex rhyme schemes, rhythms, syllabic counts, rules involving repeated lines, themes or words, and so on. The limerick is one such form, as are the clerihew, and numerous so-called French Forms, such as the rondeau, the rondel, the villanelle, the triolet and the ballade. All of these verse forms have in common the fact that most versifiers saw them as too restrictive to use for serious poetry, but used them for poetic play and competition.
Oddly, there are some equally restrictive forms that have been used for serious poetry. Thus, no-one would suggest that Shakespeare’s sonnets were not serious poetry; neither would many doubt the poetic depth of the haiku of Kobayashi Issa.
I have long felt that verse-forms that have, in recent history, been confined to frivolous use are being underused, and have been trying very hard to write verses that actually say something, using forms that are usually only used to impart jokes (often lewd). What they say is often not very profound, but some make important philosophical points,and I have even used them in lectures.
I was inspired by a limerick written by W. S. Gilbert, in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera “Ruddigore” (1887):-
If you wish in this world to advance,
Your merits you’re bound to enhance.
You must stir it and stump it,
And blow your own trumpet,
Or, trust me, you haven’t a chance.
Here’s a rather less optimistic one:-
II you hope to grow gracefully old,
You should not be capricious or bold.
To do your own thing
May make your heart sing,
But it’s safer to do as you’re told.
Though anchorites weep as they pray,
And great sages may voice their dismay
At not knowing what’s up,
Yet the veriest pup
Knows the purpose of living is play.
Here is a different form:-
The joys of having a canine pal are almost endless.
But some puppies tend to render themselves temporarily friendless,
By not seeing distinctions that, to us, seem clear as day,
Such as those between demolition, aggravated assault, and play
Daniel Dennett is a philosopher with whose views I seldom agree, but who writes so beautifully that I cannot resist reading him. One of his views I disagree with very heartily, and I wrote the following verse to get across to my students why. :-
Daniel Dennett thinks mentalistic talk can only generate confusion,
Since consciousness and its supposed causal effects are nothing but illusion.
He argues this whenever there’s an opportunity to be had,
Because seeing people all mixed up makes him feel so very bad.
Here’s another one that deals with a popular postmodern view, which I think it totally demolishes. :-
There are people who claim truth is through,
Hors de combat, kaput, up the flue.
There’s no need to take fright,
Because if they are right,
What they’re saying just cannot be true.
Finally—-you may be relieved to know—–here’s one I didn’t share with my students:-
When, after a life that was nasty, brutish and, no doubt, all too short,
I inevitably find myself arraigned before a higher court,
I intend, though it may seem outrageous insubordination,
To bring counter suit against the Lord for malcreation.