Quatrain: “Xenophon’s Anabasis”

Bought William Baer’s Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms for $6 at Half-Price Books. It’s not that I want to write terribly metrical poetry. Right now, just want the haiku to be stronger. Have a more refined ear, more command of language, more compelling and thoughtful imagery. I want something to get me writing regularly.

A long time ago I was asked to do metrical commentary on poems. It is true some poets have considerations relevant to theme or even hidden jokes in the meter. I don’t think I’ll be writing on meter much anytime soon. It can be important, but thinking through words and images should always be the primary focus unless there is compelling reason to believe otherwise. Too-formal criticism runs the risk of commenting only on craft and not working hard enough to appreciate or question.

Baer’s first assignment was to write a quatrain in the style of Stephen Vincent Benét’s “Daniel Boone:”

When Daniel Boone goes by, at night,
The phantom deer arise
And all lost, wild America
Is burning in their eyes.

The quatrain should have the same rhyme scheme (abcb), use iambs (4 metrical feet the first and third lines, 3 the second and fourth), have a metrical substitution that is relevant. Baer says to make the poem about a historical personage. I wrote a quatrain entitled “Xenophon’s Anabasis:”

Encamped in Persia searching for
the city Plato made.
Armed glory, Spartan friends, regret:
The loss of homeland gained.

I’m happy with this for now. The metrical substitution might be weak. “Searching for,” as I read it, is a dactyl. I wanted that falling, unaccented sound because “for what?” is the central issue to me.

In terms of subject matter, this is a brief recap of Xenophon’s Anabasis. Xenophon left Athens against Socrates’ advice to travel with an army to overthrow the Persian Emperor. That army lost its leadership and its very reason for being in Persia. Xenophon led it back to Greece. Two things of especial relevance: Xenophon’s friend who invited him on the expedition was an ambitious gentleman who was too gentle. He could not command base types. Xenophon himself was not afraid to get his hands dirty. Still, Xenophon believed in his army so much at one point that he wanted to found his own city with it. He was not able to found a city; the army left his command, despite getting back to Greece; he was exiled from Athens as he aided an Athenian enemy. The end of the Anabasis has Xenophon ambushing Persians in order to steal money for his estate in exile.

More poems to come soon. I’m going to try to do an exercise a day for the next week or so.

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