A reading of a classic short Whitman poem
Anglophone poets discovered free verse twice. The second, more famous time occurred in around 1908, when the Staffordshire-born poet T. E. Hulme began writing short poems modelled on the French vers libre form, without regular rhyme or formal metre. Others, such as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, would follow his lead. But in fact free verse had already arrived in English poetry – or, at least, poetry written in English, if not by the English. The pioneer in this first verse revolution was Walt Whitman.
‘I Hear America Singing’ offers a chance to observe and analysis Whitmanian free verse in microcosm. In eleven lines, Whitman offers a hymn of praise to the many different people in his nation and the various songs they sing.
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands, Read the rest of this entry
A reading of Poe’s short horror story
‘The Black Cat’ was first published in August 1843 in the Saturday Evening Post. It’s one of Poe’s shorter stories and one of his most disturbing, focusing on cruelty towards animals, murder, and guilt, and told by an unreliable narrator who’s rather difficult to like. You can read ‘The Black Cat’ here. Below we’ve offered some notes towards an analysis of this troubling but powerful tale.
First, a brief summary of the plot of ‘The Black Cat’. The narrator explains how from a young age he was noted for his tenderness and humanity, as well as his fondness for animals. When he married, he and his wife acquired a number of pets, including a black cat, named Pluto. But as the years wore on, the narrator became more irritable and prone to snap. One night, under the influence of alcohol, he sensed the black cat was avoiding him and so chased him and picked up the animal. The animal bit him slightly on the hand, and the narrator – possessed by a sudden rage – took a pen-knife from his pocket and gouged out one of the cat’s eyes. Although the cat seems to recover from this, the narrator finds himself growing more irritated, until eventually he takes the poor cat out into the garden and hangs it from a tree. Later that night, the narrator wakes to find his house on fire, and he, his wife, and his servant, barely escape alive. All of the narrator’s wealth is lost in the flames. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a short modern poem
The American poet Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) is not much remembered now, but she left one mini poetic legacy: a new form she called the cinquain. ‘Cinquain’ had existed as a word before her miniature verse innovation, but Crapsey co-opted it to describe the five-line unrhymed form which she used in her finest poetry. ‘Amaze’, which is reproduced below, is an example of Crapsey’s cinquains – and perhaps her most famous poem.
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Although this looks like free verse – the vers libre that T. E. Hulme and Ezra Pound, over in London, were beginning to experiment with at around the same time – Crapsey’s cinquains do actually follow a strict pattern. The first line must contain one beat, the second two beats, the third three, the fourth four – with the fifth and final line reverting to a single beat. The cinquain thus offers a steady progression, followed by a sudden retreat. Read the rest of this entry