Formal Poetry Against Free Verse

“Modern poetry  modern verse  contemporary poetry  contemporary
verse modern poem contemporary poem Plato in “inventing some
extraordinarily powerful images of his own” came up with “notably
the poet as Corybant.”  —Penelope Murray, Plato on Poetry, 9

If poets are like Corybantes in
Ecstatic dance, then armor is a part
Of their identity.  A guarded shin
And thigh and breastplate (that protects the heart)
Are crucial to their rituals.  They move
As warrior men and give protection to
The greatest of divinity.  They prove
The highest god must be protected.  True
To him they dance as if in magic made
Of metal.  They protect him in a cave
Where they stamp round the mouth with shield and blade
That clash together as they step in rave
And neatness of their rhythmic patterns.  Loose
Bacchantes are not good enough for Zeus.



The Creed

“One mustn’t accuse Virgil or Ovid of originality, of
wilfully making fictions of such importance.  By the
time of the Roman poets, everything was done upon
established authority, and what was original was the
way the derived pieces were assembled.”
—Michael Schmidt, The First Poets, 25

Eternal truths cannot be honed and changed.
The thinkers and the poets can at best
Make beauties of a truth rise rearranged
In thought and taste.  The royal bursar’s chest
Holds everything perfection has to give,
Yet when the coffer opens we must find
Its contents, not attempt to add or sieve.
They wait to guide us, lead, not to bind,
No more than compasses or charts would force
A seaman to sublimest shores.  The choice
Is his.  Like Eden’s fourfold rivers’ source,
Truths flow for drinking, if we would rejoice.
..Philosophers and poets find that truth
….Is ever changeless in immortal youth.



Phillip Whidden is an American living in England who has been published in America, England, Scotland (and elsewhere) in book form, online, and in journals.  

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3 Responses

  1. Joshua C. Frank

    I’d love to be able to do sonnets that well; mine always fall flat. Also, I feel as you do about the subject.


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