The Four Elements

In my previous lecture, I chose a certain poem of Sir Walter Scott’s to show how occurred a period in his prodigal career when he managed to elevate his voice to the lofty heights of the Calliopean muse. Just as a poem’s form can be divided into MEASURE & MOULD, so a poet’s voice is divided into two composite halves; the MOOD & the MUSIC. The Mood can be defined as a trance which envelops the poet as they compose their piece. The Music is the pure artifice of linguistic creation as the poets translate their Mood into words. Understanding such a pretext, the order of poetical creation is as this;

Mood (then) Music (then) Measure (then) Mould

The process of poetical composition is thus. Once the words have appeared, ballooning out of the poet’s Mood, they will possess certain sounds & harmonies, which are the Music. These must then be arranged in as pleasing an orde as possible, for just as notes played by an instrument are best heard in uniform parcels of time, so poetical words traditionally settle in a line marked by its Measure. Each of these lines will then be organised into a poem or a stanza, i.e. the Mould, finally presenting us with the poet’s aesthetically pleasing & sense-stirring dreamscape. The four individual parts of a poem neatly correspond to the four elements. The Mould would be the very-solid Earth, the beautiful brick-work which furnishes a poem with its infrastructure. The Measure would be Water; like the Mould it too is of a physical nature, but more pliable, more fluid, & as we follow a line of poetry, the boats that are the psyche’s mental recievers flow along the course. The remaining two elements are of the metaphysical kind; the poet’s Mood is Fire, which gives the poem its spark of creation & keeps the mind cooking throughout composition. The Music of a poet’s words is like Air, filled with the heavenly wind & instrumental breath of a poet’s voice. Let us now analyze a poem of my own;


Wool white wilderness
Pendle to Chelsea garden
Mist lock’d frost & snow

Beams of warm amber
Penetrate the morning mists
Snowdrops drink the thaw

O trees! Such budding!
Thy delicate bursts of green
Nervous turtleheads

Amidst the celadon buds
The burgeoning woods promise
Their blossoming hues

Pinks & pastel whites
Lend the tender blossoming
Hints of sensual scent

Year’s first warm morning
Lone bee stalks the wilderness
Birds breeze on the wing

Sol gestures higher
Colors surprises the eyes
Spring! She smiles at last

‘Spring’ is something of an ode I decided to write in order to record the various sights & sensations which the year’s first sensation convoked throughout its three month-course. It was composed in the spirt of youthful awakening.

With this particular season full of life & promise, I chose my language accordingly, as in ‘first warm morning,’ & ‘burgeoning woods.’ The poem also contains many pastoral moments to help invoke a natural scene, such as when a, ‘Lone bee stalks the wilderness,’ & ‘Beams of warm amber Penetrate the morning mists.’

Although having a preference for syllabic metres, I appreciate the sheer energy & vitality that vers libre has given the Poetic animal. Indeed, it was like an adrenalin injection between the breast-plate into the very heart of the Art. It has won for itself a place at the high table of metre, but as I have already lectured, it is not the boss, only a meter among equals. As for traditional metre, I shall leave it to Robert Graves, who in a letter to Wilfred Owen during World War One wrote;

Owen, you have seen things; you are a poet; but you’re a very careless one at present. One can’t put in too many syllables into a line & say ‘Oh, it’s all right. That’s my way of writing poetry’. One has to follow the rules of the meter one adopts. Make new meters by all means, but one must observe the rules where they are laid down by a custom of centuries. A painter or musician has no greater task in mastering his colours or his musical modes & harmonies, than a poet.

In my poem, ‘Spring,’ the measure is the Japanese, which alternates 5-7 syllabic patterns throughout its stanzas.
Beams of warm am-ber
1 2 3 4 5
Pen-e-trate the morn-ing mists
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Continuing with the Japanese theme, the form I chose was the tri-lined Haiku, the most favoured home of the 5-7 metre. The nature of this highly traditional, highly ritualized form has always been to record nature & to note, especially, the changing of seasons. Its photographic snapshots & often pensive third line contain an incredible potentiality for recording the natural world.

As I understand it, the art of Poetry is stricken with a certain poverty in these these our modern days. Many poets have lost not only their sense of form, but also the invidivual focus to fully balance & utilise the four poetic elements when creating their poetry. Moods often become confused with the electric static of modern society, leaving us with rather chaotic ramblings that appear to the reader as something of a surrealist painting. T1ke the following published poems for example.

Mhari & Annika

A lot of people listening to it

Have these stripes that belong to different parts of the country then we have twodays dancing festivals & some traditonal festivals & probably since I was five I have gone

My mother was a dancer it was great

It’s probably awful ya

Annika’s English is awful

But it’s poem

He’s going to make a poem out of it?
“How Finnish & Estonian are speaking English” oh my god
I had so much wine

William Letford (Bevel, 2012)

Interesting musings yes, but is this really poetry, or ‘poem’ as Mr Letford inquires? It is definitely not Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

The difference between the modern poem – & Shelley’s is that our long-dead Romantic maintains a keen focus throughout the composition. Ozymandias has come down to us as a piece of wonder, & should continue through the paths of appreciation well into the future. When we examine the hundreds & thousands of post-war poems published across the planet, however, heaven knows what the hell we are supposed to preserve for posterity. There are a few classics out there, I must admit, Ginsburg’s ‘America,’ for example, but in general, the saturation of vers libre has diluted the Parnassian waters to such an extent, that almost anything can be petrified on the page & sold as poetry, such as;
There is No X on this Map in Any of Its Usual guises

We are marks on this map.
Its vellum was cut
from the finest part
of the last unicorn’s dorsal skin.

No: The horn was broken up
and sold by the carat
when the beast was a foal.

No: The arrow is purely for decoration.

Wait: Lift your left palm.
Under it (a little moist)
is the design of a tattoo
your next lover will acquire
in the first weeks of your courtship
to amuse the man she will leave for you.

Now you see
that it would be prudent
not to mention this map
to those who come after. Or at all.

Judy Brown (Loudness, 2011)

The two modern poems I have included in this lecture are quite symptomatic of the general malaise which has struck poetry in recent decades. These, & multitudes of others, are lacking in body; their mould & measure simply crumbling to dust as we read them. They are genetically defective organisms which would be better left in pickling jars in some research laboratory in the Arizona desert rather than be offered to the public on silver platters. David Sneddon, in his ‘The Trouble With Modern Poetry – a Personal View’ (Sonnetto Poesia, v.9 2010), writes;

I have a love-hate relationship with modern poetry. I don’t speak from ignorance. I have studied it widely. I find the best really very good, but I also find some poets celebrated by the poetry establishment either very patchy or truly awful. Much of what is praised today is the Emperor’s New Clothes, & I wonder if it’s not simply just from the affection & weak-mindedness that some commentators seem to state a love for the dullest of it. And yet, it is considered almost blasphemy to speak out against them. It seems that, in poetry terms, being PC means being Politically Correct, & that means liking excessively intellectualised poetry & felling superior about it.

In this age of mutual backscratching, poets write for each other & not for the public, resulting in Poetry becoming detached from the pulic consciousness. As I write this essay, the taste of the public which remains endeared to poetry has been battered into submission by modernism, actually prefering these Pollock-splashes of verbose paint. The universal poet should learn to appeal to such minds by blending modern tones with the mechanics & music of this ancient art. It is absolutely vital that poets should raise their game, live life, go home, study their craft & write poetry to be remembered.
May 7th

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s