Grades: 9-12 > College Level
Objective — The student will:
write a poem based on the
identification and utilization of words, relying on the use of
prosody. (see definition below)
select and use words that will control how the poem is read;
thus, making the poem more meaningful.
become aware of the importance of specific word placement and
the significance of word "sounds" when creating a poem.
Keep it simple. Suggest the poem topic be something familiar and one
that involves movement or sound. Remind students that the words they
use and how they are placed in the poem should control how the poem
is read. See
Example #1 Below...
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Sound & Sense
Write a poem which satisfies all of the following criteria:
Read and study
find the assignment following the definitions and examples.
"Prosody" can be defined as the rhythmical organization that
controls the construction and reading of a poem.
Prosody can rely on
line-breaks, rhyme, alliteration, rhythm, spacing, stanzas, line-length,
internal or end rhyme and repetition.
tasting the air
with its forked-tipped
tongue, a snake
Read the poem Snake.
What sensations do you experience when reading the poem? Do
specific words used in the poem help you "see" the snake?
Which words? Why are these words important in making the poem
successful? Are the words used by the poet controlling how a
person reads the poem? How? Do you believe that
"prosody" is important to the success of this poem?
I must tell you
this young tree
whose round and firm trunk
between the wet
pavement and the gutter
is trickling) rises
into the air with
thrust half its height--
dividing and waning
young branches on
hung with cocoons
till nothing is left of it
hornlike at the top.
Read the poem Young Sycamore two or three times.
Initially, you might think it's just a poem about a tree growing in
a gutter, and nothing else. But, on closer inspection, do you
notice "prosody" at work?
Read the poem again, but this time pay closer attention to the
choice of words, their placement, as well as their "sounds"
and how they provide a "rhythmical"
sense, feel, or movement
to the poem that, in this instance, mimics how the reader views the
Stanzas 1 and 2: the poem begins by describing the tree from its
base (its sturdy trunk) from the ground up; the words "round and
firm" help provide that first image. Then, after a brief
glimpse of water, the tree's source of life, trickling beside it,
the reader is presented a view, a sensation of words (rises bodily)
that allows us to move our gaze up the tree. This is prosody
at work...the choice of words, line breaks and use of stanzas,
already beginning to subtly create rhythmic "sound" of organization.
Stanzas 3 and 4: the
third stanza has the reader looking further up in the "air" while
using the words "undulant thrust" to seemingly push the reader's
gaze higher and higher into the tree -- Until, in stanza four, our
attention begins to focus on the smaller, "dividing and waning"
branches that make up the fuller upper body of the tree.
Again, the selection and placement of words, line and stanza breaks
not only control how the poem sounds but also what the reader is
Stanzas 3 and 4:
next, the reader's vision is guided to and beyond the seed pods
(defined as "cocoons") hanging in the tree, before finally focusing
on the very tiniest "twigs" that make up the tip top of the tree.
Read the last stanza again and listen for the sounds of letters in
the words that help create the sense, the prosody created image, of
small limbs and twigs.
The poem, through prosody, mimics the tree itself from bottom to
top, start to finish--strong, heavy words at the beginning, quick,
tight words at the end--controlling how poem is read and
A subtle example of a poem in which sound reinforces sense can be
observed in Example #2, in which the repeated "They couldn't stop"
echoes not only the sound of a machine on the shop floor--part of an
assembly line... but suggests the relentless continuation of a "machine"
(both literal and figurative) which grinds men up without hesitation.
The other examples, likewise, provide prosody that contributes to their
My father lies black and hushed
Beneath white hospital sheets
He collapsed at work
His iron left him
Slow and quiet he sank
Meeting the wet concrete floor on his way
The wheels were still turning-they couldn't stop.
Red and yellow lights flashing
Gloved hands twisting knobs--they couldn't stop
And as they carried him out
The whirling and buzzing and humming machines
Lapping up his dripping iron
They couldn't stop.
The Great Figure
Among the rain
I saw the figure five
on a red
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.
-- W.C. Williams
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive
he was a handsome man
and what I want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
I Know a Man
As I sd to my
friend, because I am always talking,--John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,
drive, he sd,
for christ's sake,
look out where yr going.
Using whatever prosodic resources that you need —
line-breaks, rhyme, alliteration, rhythm, spacing, stanzas,
line-length, internal or end rhyme, repetition
…write a poem in free verse whose prosody, as defined above,
conspicuously governs the reading of that poem.
In other words, the poem's “sound” should conspicuously echo its
sense, somehow. So, that if asked, you could convincingly
demonstrate how the poem's prosody functions.
The effects which you achieve must, ideally, be reasonably subtle
yet not so subtle that you alone can perceive them.
Again, "prosody" can be
defined as the rhythmical organization that controls the
construction and reading of a poem. Prosody can rely on line-breaks,
rhyme, alliteration, rhythm, spacing, stanzas, line-length, internal or
end rhyme and repetition. In a
rather pedestrian way, Alexander Pope illustrates the definition in the
following passage from his Essay On Criticism, where for "rhythmical
organization" he uses the term "sound" and for "reading" he uses the
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense:
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse rough verse should like the torrent roar;
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labours, and the words move slow;
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er the unbending com and skims along the main.