Sunday, April 19, 2009

Listen, Listen, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp!

From Julia Goddard's "Lenore":

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It's not the sort of thing that would usually bear up in poetry, but I like the

But listen, listen, tramp, tramp, tramp!

and the

And hark, the wicket bell doth ring,
So lightly, softly, kling, kling, kling;

in this context. The figure of speech, here, which is known as epizeuxis, is very difficult to do well. A sign that Shakespeare knows what he is doing (if you needed one) is that he is a master of it; some of his are famous, like Hamlet's "Words, words, words," or Macduff's "O horror, horror, horror" in Macbeth, and he takes it to a fine art in Lear, with

Howl, howl, howl, howl!


Thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!

But it's hard to write. We do it in speaking all the time, but in speaking you can pause. In writing you could never do more than designate a pause, and you don't even have that many resources for doing so; and people will, regardless of what you do, just read the words rapidly, one after another, without care for timing. And onomatopoeic epizeuxis (say that three times fast!) is often laughable. But the balance here between the two instances of epizeuxis, in a stanza that marks a sharp and emotional turn in the action, is reasonably well done. Goddard's "Lenore" suffers from excessive repetition, which she uses too often as an emotional indicator. But this stanza does quite nicely, I think; as you will find if you don't merely read it but say it aloud as if you were telling a suspenseful story (which every version of Burger's "Lenore" is).

The most recent draft of my own version of "Lenore" is here.


  1. Paul Trueman7:31 AM

    Your child is my child; I have seen you through Her eyes in the day and in the night; in the sunlight and in the darkness.


  2. Paul Trueman7:32 AM

    Another child of your could be Me, a new Me. One I could raise. These dreams be real. My body is wearing out. It is battle scarred and defiled by Man.


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