Lines Composed a Few Hours Before Class, November 25, 2003,
Giving the Assignment for the Second Exercise in Nature Writing
For this assignment you must take the prose
You wrote in witness to some natural scene
On Emory’s campus–some surviving nook
Which master builders have not overbuilt–
And turn it into five and twenty lines
(Or so) of verse, into blank verse, to be
Precise, the meter and the medium
Favored by Shakespeare, Milton and the bards
Of the Romantic era, whose keen ears
Heard the correspondent breeze as it blew
Across the strings of tree-hung harps within,
Plucking the true-born English metric line:
Unstress then stress, syllabic pairs times five,
Without the sing-song of the couplet’s rhyme,
Occasional substitute feet allowed.
It’s not that I expect a major poem
To flow from ev’ry pen (or each key board),
Mighty lines to drown out Wordsworth’s song
Or push proud Manfred off his Alpine perch.
Rather I hope to foster a respect
In you for the craft of making verses
Out of the “stubborn basement of English,”
As it was called by Blake–who was immune
For the most part to iambic pentameter, preferring seven-stress lines
And damn the unstressed syllable count, taken from the silly Greeks.
If you can hear what happened in these last
Two lines, you’re ready to take on your task,
The task that must be done and handed in
On Tuesday next, December’s second day.
Listen to Cricketsor birds while you work.