In my view a good poem is one in which the form of the verse and the joining of its parts seems light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed.
Of all the poetic forms I have come across in my time, the ‘Chaunt Royale’ should be seen as the Queen of them all. Her heyday was in Northern France during the 15th century, with a revival of interest in late Victorian Britain. The form consists of 5 eleven-line staves (mini stanzas), & an ‘envoi’ of five lines to close – a total of 60 lines. I looked at the Chaunt Royale about a decade ago, & found the 11 lines a little too complex for the English artistic temperament; so dropp’d a line from the staves & made them into those wondrous ten-lined staves of Keats’ Odes. The results were pleasant, a terrifically usable form with with lots of possibilities for rhyming patterns within the 10-lines, including blank verse.
I also noticed that with the poem being divided into 5 main parts, a Chaunt Royale could be used as a mini-play, & so I began to pour the dramatic muse into its mould. I would wager a good ninety-nine percent of the world’s poets would not have heard of the Chaunt Royale, which is a shame as it allows the poet to become Shakespeare for a moment – fifty-five lines of dialogue are much easier to pull off than, let’s say, composing a Hamlet. My only work thus far with my readacted, refashion’d form was an 8-part Chaunt Royale Grande (my title) which told the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie & the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46. Here is Scene 6 set on Drummossie Moor on that desperate rainy morning. The British cannon are in the process of pounding the Jacobite lines.
Come see the Pretender in the distance,
His rascally & ragged rebel bands,
The Irish… & there look! the flag of France,
At last those fools are fed into our hands!
From Lancaster, Carlisle & Falkirk Moor
He slipped my net, I thought him rather shrewd,
But this, a broken field of boggy moor,
All credence lacks, his choice seems rather crude,
& should, methinks, have shut up in the town…
We princes, now, contest the British crown!
Most noble Duke, as I surveyed the moor,
Close to those blasted pipes of shrieking skirl,
Above me passed the first shots of the war…
& as you hear our answer is aswirl;
Their lines harangued by wind & hail & sleet,
With cannonballs theirs is a sorry lot,
& hastening th’onset of their defeat,
We rain upon them thick shards of grape shot…
But wait! what is that roar? at last they charge!
Our guns shall seek the measure of their targe!
Sir, now your men in mortal combat meet,
All is confusion, noise, concern & heat,
On the left the thickest of the fighting,
Barrel’s brave boys on their broadswords biting,
But of this day the king will never fret,
Those heathen fall beneath infernal fire,
Or spitted on an English bayonet,
While on the right their charge shows no desire,
Strict discipline & guts rip thro’ that shield,
This godless place becomes their killing field.
Orpheus to my ears! The fleeing shout
& come to a decision the matter,
Tis strange to see the nation’s bravest rout,
Those boasted broadswords not as they flatter,
Not since Lord Noll had they such a thrashing,
Let Lord Ancram pursue them with the horse,
Hold no quarter, slaughter, sabres slashing,
& extirpate that race as fighting force,
Destroy clannism, burn their homes & grain,
Wretches like these shall never rise again!
Great tidings sir, when London hears the news,
The oldest wines shall happily be drunk,
The Bonnie Prince & all his bonnet blues
Into the freezing Moray Firth hath sunk,
The flower of the highlander lies strewn,
Upon this ghastly field & down the roads,
Shall ride many a merciless dragoon
All to the weeping streets of Inverness,
So far we have counted a thousand swords,
Now raise a cry for Britain & God bless!
The crucial battle has been fought,
The tartan torn & strewn,
The fleeing rats so easy caught,
VENGEANCE shall cut the Celtic throat
Beneath a weeping moon!
In the past century or so, poetry has detached itself from a tradition going back thousands of years, beyond the Egyptians & even the Sumerians. Is it not now the right time to, if not banish completely, at least demote Free Verse from its domination of the page, recognizing the form only as a mere medium through which we can translate some of the time’s mimesi. Let us instead enrich the poetical sensibilities of both ourselves & that of the entire zeitgeist. Any old fool can chuck a few words down on a piece of paper in slap-dash fashion, but if you can pull off a half-decent Chaunt Royale, you will have obtained clearer view of the art form as a fully composite & universal being. You may still write better in Free Verse, but the fact you have a Chaunt Royale in the armoury means prospectively wider horizons.
April 24, 2015