In a town by the sea, where the salt air’s free,
Lived a widower and his daughter.
She was known as Claire-Kate; or by title First Mate
On those days when their boat sailed the water.

And it happened to be that they put to sea
As the sun slowly sank to stern;
And the waves, although rough, gave them reason enough
To delight at each bank and turn.

As the evening grew late, the sea-loving first mate
Made her way to the portside bow,
Where she pondered the flow of the torrent below—
At which moment a wave struck her brow.

Thus she fell to the deep in the downward sweep,
While her father, unknowing, slept;
Where he dreamt of the day, and the backward spray
Of the waters the bow had swept.

Coral sand made a bed for her pretty head:
Strands of kelp formed a band for her hair.
Schools of fish powder-blue swam in close for a view
As she lay near a stingray’s lair.

When her father awoke, though he loudly spoke,
Not a hint of reply came through,
And a search of the deck found not even a fleck
Of the mischievous smile he knew.

As the truth became known that he stood there alone
Midst the swell of the sea and his tears,
He declared: “Let my girl— my most precious pearl,
Find a life free of mortal fears!”

Now when fishermen meet at the inn on Wharf Street,
There is told of a mermaid blue;
With a band in her hair, and a smile light and rare
As a lingering coastal dew.

 

 

David Watt is a writer from Canberra, the “Bush Capital” of Australia. He has contributed regularly to Collections of Poetry and Prose by Robin Barratt. When not working for IP (Intellectual Property) Australia, he finds time to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of traditional rhyming poetry.


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14 Responses

  1. T.M.

    David:

    Your verse shows how poetry can remind us that, even when the subject is tragedy or loss, there is beauty to discover, peace to be known, and hope to express. Your poem also reminds me of the power of internal rhyme. Thanks for this verse.

    Reply
  2. Peter Hartley

    A good and simple story, well told and presenting us with a very powerful image of tragedy (as, incidentally, do the brilliantly painted dioramas in your ANZAC Memorial).

    Reply
  3. Anna J. Arredondo

    Compelling. I particularly like “As the truth became known that he stood there alone
    Midst the swell of the sea and his tears”.

    Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    David Watt,

    Don’t get too excited by the praises lavished on you by the previous commenters, because they, for the most part, do not know whereof they write. I think I understand what it w as you were trying to do: write an anapestic poem with double rhymes in the A-lines. Well, you fell short of the mark in many places. In the very first line:

    In a town by the sea, where the salt air is free

    Would have preserved the anapestic meter.

    Likewise, in the second line,

    Lived a widower and his fair daughter.

    would have done the same.

    If you are trying to write in anapestic meter, then you MUST learn to count syllables and stresses.

    The same problem infects this poem line after line, but

    Where she pondered the flow of the torrent below —

    is executed perfectly, and it is well within your means to have done so in every line. One more example of where the meter could have been cleaned up is this:

    You wrote, “He declared: Let my girl, my most precious pearl,”
    but better had you written: “Let my girl, my most valuable pearl” and then the meter would have been true. By Jesus, David, all you have to do is learn to count, and I’m pretty sure that counting is done the same way in Australia as it is done in the US and in the UK. Unfortunately, these technical comments have prevented me from delving into the thematic or rhetorical aspects of your poem, due to a lack of time and energy on my part.

    Reply
  5. Mark F. Stone

    David, Three quick comments. First, when I read the poem, I had the same observation that C.B. expressed. Second, the poem reminds me of Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe. Third, the poem is wonderful; it has an engaging story; it shows strong craftmanship overall, and I like it a lot. Mark

    Reply
    • David Watt

      Hello Mark,

      Thank you for your kind comments. I figure that if both yourself and C.B. find that the deviations from meter are overdone, then this is the case.
      I will try to stick more closely to meter in future pieces.
      I am glad you enjoyed the story. The comparison to Annabel Lee is most generous.

      Reply
  6. David Watt

    Hello C.B. I appreciate your comments as always.

    My intention in writing this poem was to write in predominantly anapestic meter. I may well be wrong in my understanding that in formal poetry there can be deviations from the predominant meter; particularly in the case of this piece, at the conclusion of lines. Yes, this deviation from meter does occur frequently, but not for want of counting. I respect your opinion that the effect, or deviation from meter, is overdone in this instance, and to the detriment of the poem.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Substitutions and deviations in formal poetry are allowable, but only when they are not so dominant in a poem that they upset the reader’s metrical expectations.

      Keep this in mind as a general rule: When you are writing in iambic meter, there is a certain leeway in composition, as long as you maintain the number of required stresses. That’s why Robert Frost spoke of “loose” and “tight” iambic pentameter. But when you are writing in any kind of triple meter (such as anapests or dactyls), a much stricter regularity is required.

      Consider the limerick. It is essentially a dactylic form. Vary the dactylic meter in a limerick and the entire thing is ruined, because IT’S NOT WHAT THE READER WANTS OR EXPECTS. You don’t have “freedom” in a limerick. It’s a straitjacket, and is meant to be so.

      In your poem, you are basically writing in a ballad meter, where the same stricture applies. Kip Anderson’s suggestions are quite pertinent, because the changes that he suggests will tighten up the poem’s expected structure.

      Poetry isn’t about freedom. Poetry is about constraint.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        I thank you once again, Joseph, for coming to my rescue on these pages. Your point about the demands of “exotic” metrical feet was quite on point, and I hope David Watt will take it to heart. Loose iambic is part of the general tradition, but loose anapestic means nothing at all. That’s all, folks.

      • David Watt

        Thank you Joseph for your clear explanation of the different requirements for iambic and triple meter. I am gratified that you have taken the time to elaborate on the valid suggestions made by C.B.

        The general rule you have stated is one of the most practical pieces of poetic advice I have received to date.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Joseph,

        One more note about limericks: In practice, amphibrachs are often employed in limericks. We scarcely notice, because they tend to produce the same rollicking pace as anapests. Note, for instance:

        There was once a young man from New York (Purely anapestic)

        and

        A man who resided in Boston (purely amphibrachic)

        This variation from what we were taught about the nature of the limerick in high school English probably has less to do with freedom than with license.

  7. David Watt

    Thank you everyone for taking the time to read my poem, and for your comments.

    Evan’s choice of “The Helping Hand” by Emile Renouf to accompany the piece is ideal.

    Peter, the dioramas at the War Memorial in Canberra are indeed powerful depictions of tragedy. Thanks for the comparison.

    Reply
  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    Kip —

    Yes, the limerick is strictly speaking anapestic or amphibrachic. I only meant that phonetically, the listener tends to hear a dactyl as the dominant foot.

    A man who resided in Boston

    (da – DUM – da – da – DUM – da – da – DUM – da

    The two dactyls in the middle tend to carry the force of the line.

    Reply

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