By Clinton Van Inman

Editors who reject classical styles of poetry in submissions usually respond with, “I hate meter, rhythm and rhyme.” It is no secret that free verse dictates the modern world with little room for classical styles that are considered as antiquated as grandmother’s dollies. There are a few here among us who still believe that poetry without meter, structure, and especially end rhyme is not poetry but prose. Robert Frost when confronted with the question why he wrote poems with end rhyme stated bluntly “writing poetry without end rhyme would be like playing tennis without a net.”

One of the earliest poems we all remember from childhood is Clement C. Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” which most of us can recite from memory. Here is the first stanza:

‘Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse.

Few words are needed to show the almost magical impact this has upon us. But let us examine how this would be written in modern verse:

It was Christmas Eve in our house
Everywhere was silent nothing stirring

The difference between the two is easily apparent. Poetry moves us and jogs us towards memory. This is why the first poems, like the Iliad were not written but were recited through memory. This is essential in our education. Since time immemorial, third and fourth grade students had to memorize a poem. I did almost reluctantly, but I still remember Longfellow’s poem about an arrow shot into the air (“The Arrow and the Song”). My children do as well. But today Longfellow is scratched from the curriculum along with other essential, spirited things like hand prints in clay in kindergarten classes; they’re replaced by standardized rapid reading exercises and math drills.

So let’s stand up for classical forms in poetry and keep poetry from being on the outskirts of academics. Keep classical poetry alive! Submit your classical style of poetry to the Society of Classical Poets and other poetry journals.  Don’t give up the cause!


Clinton Van Inman was born at Walton-on-Thames, England in 1945 and graduated with a BA from San Diego State University in 1977. Currently, he is teaching high school in Tampa Bay where he lives with his wife, Elba.



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4 Responses

  1. Jim Scott

    Clinton. Agree 100%. I read my classical styled stuff at various places in Toronto and it’s environs and often joke that I’m the ethnic minority at such events as I am without fail the only one who adopts that idiom. That said, I am often asked back and receive very supporting commentaries from those present. I believe part of the problem is that because the study of classical form poetry has long since diminished into insignificance in school life, those that do make the attempt from scratch find it harder than they thought and either give up or accept a standard that is not a particularly good representation of the art.

    It behooves those of us, therefore, that practice the art to a degree that is enjoyed by folks who would normally only consider prosetry, to share our work, our encouragement, our mentoring with as many interested parties as we can. We cannot hope, at least until a critical mass of new interest is gained, upon the support of the publishing industry, so it is up to us enthusiasts to bear the flag and lead the charge.

    I encourage and support any of my metric poetical compatriots to punch as many holes in that bushel beneath which their light is hid and let it radiate as far and as forcefully as possible. The world will be a more impoverished place without classical poetry …… some might argue it is already in need of sustenance in that regard.

  2. Fred McIlmoyle

    Exactly my sentiments- I feel the same about modern translations of the bible.
    All the poetry and rhythm has been dissipated and replaced with mundane, everyday language with little sense of `reverence`.
    Perhaps the argument is that this is clearer. However most things of value require some effort to achieve and to be appreciated.

    The following satirical poem in which I am being advised by a `Modern` poet
    reflects my view of much current poetry


    So – you’ve written a poem you say, after reading mine,
    Not so easy – is it?
    – oh! You’ve written yours in rhyme.
    Um! that forms considered just a bit old fashioned now
    Ah!- you’ve let your feelings enter in – oh no! –
    Here- let me show you how.
    You choose an obscure, abstract theme,
    one few out there will understand:
    say the philosophy of Kant
    or a few lines from the Koran.
    Never set a rhythmic flow,
    make sure the words collide.
    Avoid the telling metaphor
    or anything personified,
    That’s much much too clear – they might understand.
    You have to be original you know,
    more intellectual and abstruse
    Toss in a foreign phrases or two
    that usually cooks their goose.
    Try to split the meter up
    – alter the length of lines
    shape your poem like a pyramid,
    or some other symbolic sign.
    Never tell them what it means!
    There’s sure to be a Judas goat
    who must always to appear intelligent
    Remember the Emperor’s invisible coat!

    Fred McIlmoyle

  3. Lee Ubis Cardew

    For Santa Claus
    in memory of Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)

    We put giantic cookies out for Santa Claus,
    anticipating his arrival in the night,
    in hopes that he would have a little chance to pause,
    partake himself in the excitement and delight.
    He works so very hard; he too deserved a gift.
    And when he came, we were so thrilled at such a sight.
    He dropped his heavy load, and took one long, deep whiff;
    then brought the cookies happily up to his nose.
    In all the madness of his toil, he got a lift;
    and started munching. He was hungry, I suppose,
    because he ate them ravenously. And I saw,
    I thought, a twinkle in his eyes, spring in his toes,
    when off he went.

  4. Cynthia

    I totally agree with Mr. Inman. Education has lost so much over the last couple decades in the area of classic literature including rhyming poetry! I grew up in rural Nebraska and attended a one-room country school with one teacher for all the grades. I received a top-notch education there sand did not even know it until later. It was comparable to private school really because it was so small. We were required to memorize, research, write, present and do art about the poems we were studying. Every Christmas we all had to memorize a Christmas poem and recite it to our parents in our annual program. I think it was because of my meager education and the influences of this setting that inspired me to write poetry. I have written a few poems with no rhyming, but nearly always there would enviably be some kind of cadence or rhythm. I think it is natural for poetry to read like lyrics to a song or have some kind of rhyme and meter to it. I liked what Mr. Inman said about how it invokes memory. Absolutely. I loved Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith.” Whenever I start a poem when inspiration begins, almost immediately, I start tapping with my fingers to check the meter and rhythm. I honestly do not think in all these ages, the poets of the world have spent out the language of all the possible rhymes and ideas and songs that beat from our hearts. It lives and breathes always in those of us who know; though we know not from where it comes.


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