Gifts from the Past

The art of poetry is as old as humankind. Each poetry form can trace its path from ancestral sources, and Australian bush poetry is no exception, having grown out of the odes and ballads brought to us by the first settlers from Britain.

There are many different poetry forms that have come to us from long ago. Some are still popular, while others have largely passed into disuse. During 2020 I challenged myself to write short original poems using some of these old forms, some of which are quite strict in their criteria. These poems were featured through 2021 in eLines, my monthly electronic newsletter (published 2013 to 2023).

Rispetto - Tuscany - 14th Century

Definition: A poem consisting of two 4-line verses. Written in iambic tetrameter (4 pairs of syllables per line, with the stress falling on the second syllable of each pair). Each line must contain exactly 8 syllables, and the rhyme must be ABAB CCDD. The Italian word means "respect" – originally about a woman, but now it can be respect for a man or a woman – not necessarily romantic in content.

One Man's Endeavour © Shelley Hansen 2020

Where outback distances are vast,
one man;s endeavour was achieved.
A fledgling flight in days long past
began the service he'd conceived.

One hundred years have passed us by
yet still, across the empty sky
the doctors fly assistance in.
A tribute to their founder – Flynn.

Rondeau – France – 13th Century

Definition: A 15-line poem divided into 3 stanzas of 5 lines, 4 lines and 6 lines respectively. Contains only 2 rhymes plus a repeated refrain which consists of the first half of the first line. The rhyme scheme is as follows (where R is the repeated refrain) AABBA AABR AABBAR. Lines are traditionally 8 or 10 syllables long (apart from the shorter refrain).

Where Colours Shout © Shelley Hansen 2020

Where colours shout to cloudless skies,
the soaring wedge-tailed eagle flies
against the sun whose warm embrace
caresses my uplifted face
and closes my unshaded eyes.

And when the day in splendour dies
and night steps forth to claim the prize,
she scatters starlight on the space
where colours shout.

So when my world is filled with sighs
I seek my sense of sweet surprise
and marvel at the timeless grace
untouched by man's relentless pace.
The earth and heavens harmonize
where colours shout.

Ghazal – Persia – 7th Century

Definition: A poem ranging from 5 to 12 couplets in length. Each couplet must be able to stand alone, as well as contributing to the bigger picture (like individual pearls in a necklace). Its structure is complex. Both lines of the first couplet must finish with the same word, and the second last word of each of these lines must rhyme. Thereafter the last line of each couplet repeats the finishing word, and its second-last word rhymes with the second-last word of the first couplet. The first line of each subsequent couplet, while the same metric length, doesn;t rhyme with any other line. So the pattern is AR AR / B AR / C AR and so on (where A is the rhyming word and R is the repeated word). The poem should capture thoughts of the moment through personal observation and introspection.

Time © Shelley Hansen 2020

A child approached and asked me to explain time
as if he thought my wisdom could unchain time.

I pondered on my life;s eventful journey
and saw each passing moment framed in plain time.

The annals of our human past are littered
with mankind's futile efforts to constrain time.

We take our refuge in procrastination
and foolishly believe that we may gain time.

This world;s momentous pace is fast increasing
no matter how we wish we might sustain time.

How small we are, parading on life;s stages!
We have no right to curse or to profane time.

The Universe, unceasing and eternal,
perpetuates its mission to ordain time.

Heroic Sestet – Sicily – Middle Ages

Definition: A poem of any length with verses of 6 lines each, written in iambic pentameter (5 pairs of syllables per line with the stress falling on the second syllable of each pair). The first 4 lines rhyme alternately and the last two lines are a rhyming couplet, like this: ABABCC DEDEFF etc. This form became very popular with English poets and is also called "Venus and Adonis" because of Shakespeare's use of it in his epic poem of the same name.

Seasons © Shelley Hansen 2020

The Springtime carpet covers plains once dry;
orchestral grasses sway in symphony,
conducted by the breeze which passes by
unfettered – always restless, always free.
Sweet music soothes the sighing soul with peace
and heals the troubled heart with sweet release.

The march of Summer moves with drumming beat,
proclaiming martial rule with tyrant hand.
The air ignites in trumpet blasts of heat
and thunder's crashing cymbals shake the land.
The gusting gales wage warfare with the rain
as fire and flood wreak vengeance on the plain.

The Autumn days are elegant and crisp.
They echo songs of Summer, lightly played
at lower volume, woven with a wisp
of wily wind cavorting through the glade.
The sunset draws its curtain to display
an audience of stars – the Milky Way.

The dawning Winter day disturbs a dream
as pale moon fades before its blushing glow.
A breath of fluted ripples on the stream
creates a lilting lullaby to slow
the heartbeat of the hibernating Earth,
that she might rest until the Springtime's birth.

Pantoum – Malaysia/Indonesia – 15th Century

Definition: A repetitive poem with a minimum of 12 lines of any length, made up of at least 3 verses, each having 4 lines (quatrains). It can be rhymed or unrhymed. Lines 2 and 4 of the first verse become Lines 1 and 3 of the second verse. Lines 2 and 4 of the second verse become Lines 1 and 3 of the third verse – and so on in a repeating pattern. When the last verse is reached, Line 3 of the first verse becomes Line 2 of the last verse, and Line 1 of the first verse becomes Line 4 of the last verse. The challenge is to have these repeated lines make sense each time they recur in new surroundings.

A Small Crushed Shell © Shelley Hansen 2020

I stooped to lift a small crushed shell.
It lay upon the golden sand.
I wondered how its shellfish fell –
with age or by a human hand?

It lay upon the golden sand.
No life within the washing wave.
With age or by a human hand
entombed forever in its grave.

No life within the washing wave,
yet once it graced the ocean floor.
Entombed forever in its grave –
a fleeting sadness touched my core.

Yet once it graced the ocean floor.
I wondered how its shellfish fell.
A fleeting sadness touched my core –
I stooped to lift a small crushed shell.

Ode – Greece – around 500 BCE

Definition: A lyric poem, usually in praise of a particular person or thing. The ancient Greek form contained three stanzas and was performed by a chorus of singers who chanted as they walked beside an orchestra. The ode became a favourite of Roman poets, and during the Renaissance it found its way into Italian, French and English poetry. It usually rhymes, but rhyme pattern, and length of lines and verses may vary.

Ode to Tea © Shelley Hansen 2020

Some people speak of coffee with a dreamy sort of gaze –
flat white, short black – they blithely lap it up.
But me, I am a tea girl, and I punctuate my days
with milestones marked by each delicious cup

For breakfast it is Dilmah, brewed the good old-fashioned way
with leaves infused for flavour in a pot,
and then mid-morning, nothing's so uplifting as Earl Grey
with just the right amount of bergamot.

Mid-afternoon demands a slightly lighter-flavoured brew
to cool, refresh, re-energise the mind.
Then after dinner, Fuji Mountain White will see me through
with elegance that's soothing and refined.

So join me at the teapot – now is just the perfect time –
and if adventure's what you'd like to see,
perhaps we'll sail a ship or find a mountaintop to climb!
The challenge waits! But first, let's have our tea.

Elegy – Greece – 3rd Century BCE

Definition: A poem of lament, grief and loss, often ending in consolation. It can be specific, about the death of a person or a passion, or broader, about the loss of a creed or a way of life. Its format is variable but structured and rhymed.

Elegy on the Death of Common Sense © Shelley Hansen 2020

The crimson sun of Common Sense was sinking in the west –
a creepy sort of feeling had arisen in my breast
to think we might be losing this essential quality –
and all our kids may never know the way things used to be.

I don't remember when it was we buried Common Sense –
when Courtesy walked out the door, replaced by Self-Defence.
"It's not my fault – it's yours!" resounds the soundtrack of our Age,
when anger is an anthem and resentment turns to rage.

Come, join me in lamenting the demise of Common Sense.
Remember when the use of wisdom wasn't a pretence –
and if you're not afraid to take a pause to think things through,
perhaps the star of Common Sense may rise again – with you!

Villanelle – Italy – 16th Century

Definition: A 19 line poem of 6 verses consisting of only 2 rhymes that repeat throughout the poem as follows– ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA. In addition, the first and third lines of the first verse are repeated in alternating order throughout the poem, and then appear together in the last two lines. The form originated from Italian peasant dance songs. As with other repetitive forms, the challenge is to ensure the repeated lines make sense in each context.

Pied Butcherbird © Shelley Hansen 2020

Pied butcherbird, your wondrous song
when I am weary of the din
resounds above the noisy throng.

It lifts and carries me along
and tingles cool against my skin –
pied butcherbird, your wondrous song.

I marvel at your sound, so strong –
as each duet with kith and kin
resounds above the noisy throng.

And when my busy day goes wrong,
what stirs belief that I will win?
Pied butcherbird, your wondrous song!

Beyond the clanging ding and dong
of life – your voice, like violin,
resounds above the noisy throng.

You take me back where I belong
as laughter bubbles deep within.
Pied butcherbird, your wondrous song
resounds above the noisy throng.

Terza Rima Sonnet – Italy – 14th Century

Definition: A poem of 14 lines. The first 12 lines are divided into 4 verses of 3 lines each, with interlocking rhyme ABA BCB CDC DED. The sonnet finishes with a two-line rhyming couplet EE. It is written in iambic pentameter (5 pairs of syllables per line with the stress falling on the second syllable of each pair). Italian poet Dante and English poet Chaucer both specialised in the terza rima format, which can also be employed in longer poems.

Liberation © Shelley Hansen 2020

The curlew's cry resounds, forlorn and loud,
while underfoot the leafy ground is dry
and from each step awakes a dust-filled cloud.

Grey ashy soot obliterates the sky
as far away, across the gasping plain
there comes the scent of burning from on high.

No river blocks its path. No hint of rain
to quench the sparks that dance on hilltop crest.
The plague of death advances like a stain.

Then swiftly on the mountains in the west
a jagged bolt illuminates the gloom!
The stormy army marches on its quest.

The thunder drums of liberation boom –
the land is rescued from the threat of doom.

Kyrielle Sonnet – France – 12th Century

Definition: A poem of 14 lines, divided into three verses of 4 lines each (quatrains) and finishing with a 2 line couplet. The poem's rhyme scheme is ABAB CBCB DBDB AB. In addition, the final line of the first verse repeats as the final line of each subsequent verse and the first line of the first verse repeats as the first line of the last verse. Each line must contain 8 syllables.

A Child at Heart © Shelley Hansen 2020

They say I must be growing old
as years, like fleeting moments, dart.
Grey hair retains no trace of gold,
yet I am still a child at heart.

My looking glass declines to lie
as shapeliness and strength depart.
The bloom of youth has passed me by
yet I am still a child at heart.

I take my pen - once more to be
immersed in poetry's sweet art
with songs of joy, adversity -
yet I am still a child at heart.

They say I must be growing old
yet I am still a child at heart.

Shakespearean Sonnet – England – 16th Century

Definition: A single verse poem of 14 lines. The first 12 lines are in sets of 4 (quatrains), rhymed alternately ABAB CDCD EFEF and the sonnet finishes with a two-line rhyming couplet GG. It is written in iambic pentameter (5 pairs of syllables per line with the stress falling on the second syllable of each pair). Shakespeare adapted the already existing sonnet forms, becoming so identified with this particular structure that it bears his name. The theme builds gradually and the final two lines are a summation of the subject – in effect, a clincher. It remains a popular poetry form for writers today.

Books © Shelley Hansen 2020

I was an only child. No sister's laughter
or brother's teasing livened up my day.
The fairy tales of "happy ever after'
became my friends at times of quiet play.
As I grew older in my quest for learning,
before my eyes great literature unfurled
and lit within my heart a fire of yearning
to seek the hidden treasures of the world.
Immersed, I've travelled earth's far-off dominions
and sat within the palaces of kings,
considered great philosophers' opinions
and turned my gaze on secret, precious things.
I would not trade, for money or for looks,
my rich, rewarding hours with my books.

Spenserian Sonnet – England – 16th Century

Definition: A single verse poem of 14 lines, consisting of 3 sets of 4 lines (quatrains) which are interlocked by their rhyme scheme, and finishing with a two-line rhyming couplet. Thus the rhyme pattern is ABAB BCBC CDCD EE, but the poem is displayed without breaks between the lines. It is written in iambic pentameter (5 pairs of syllables per line with the stress falling on the second syllable of each pair). Each quatrain develops a metaphor, conflict, idea or question. Traditionally, a shift in thought (known as a volta) occurs with the ninth line of the sonnet. This can be reinforcing the initial idea, or presenting a counter-argument. The final two lines provide a summation and clinch the subject. This sonnet form was made popular by Shakespeare's contemporary Edmund Spenser and is named for him.

Retirement © Shelley Hansen 2020

The prospect of retirement loomed ahead –
I searched conflicting feelings in my heart
to know if I should celebrate or dread
the change of circumstance about to start.
Then doubt crept in – a tiny poison dart
which told me that my usefulness was past,
suggesting I might struggle with the art
of populating days that flow too fast.
But reason's voice replied, "The die is cast!
The promise of this day has seen you through
the worst of stressful times. It's here at last!
Embrace it with the things you've longed to do!"
So now, content, with heart and mind set free
I spend my days in creativity.

Petrarchan Sonnet – Italy – 14th Century

Definition: A single verse poem of 14 lines. The first 8 lines (octave) is rhymed ABBAABBA and the remaining 6 lines (sestet) contains the rhymes CDECDE – but the rhymes of these 6 lines can be placed in any order. It is written in iambic pentameter (5 pairs of syllables per line with the stress falling on the second syllable of each pair). This is where the sonnet form began, and it is named after the Italian poet Petrarch, its greatest exponent. The first 8 lines establish a theme, and a turn of thought (known as a volta) occurs for the remaining 6 lines, providing either a counter-argument or clarification of the first thoughts presented.

A Poet's Voice © Shelley Hansen 2020

They ask me why I write. Perhaps they think
I strive for immortality or fame –
to have an epithet against my name
or teeter on the edge of fashion's brink.
They do not stop to understand the link
between the mind and heart's relentless game.
They do not see the spark that lights a flame
or moments captured in an eyelid's blink.
There's poetry in sounds that strike my ears
which teaches me to know myself to well
that I, compelled, must write. I have no choice
as life dictates the stories I should tell ...
and so I gather with a poet's voice
collections of my laughter and my tears.

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