Saturday, March 25, 2017

Poem Modeling on Blake's "The Lamb"

I'm sorting through a journal I just finished writing in (started writing in a new journal at Hillman on Thursday). Sorting through a completed journal is, for me, a interesting exercise, partly because I'm looking at old to-do lists to see if there are things on those lists I still need to do, as inevitably there are, and partly because I'm looking through things like poem drafts and story snippets to see if I want to rework any of the creative things. And inevitably I do!

One of the things I saw this morning was an exercise I did a while back which I meant to share here on the blog. It was an exercise in poem modeling: that is, looking at an already written (sometimes classic) poem, and modeling my own poem off it. I don't do these kinds of creative riffs often enough. While they don't always lead to the most fluid of poems for me, I still find the exercises mentally and creatively helpful. And sometimes they do lead to fun results.

In this case, I decided to riff on William Blake's famous poem "The Lamb." Here is the well-known gem, in case you haven't read it in a while...

Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
    Little lamb, who made thee?
    Dost thou know who made thee?
    Little lamb, I’ll tell thee;
    Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
    Little lamb, God bless thee!
    Little lamb, God bless thee!

-- William Blake (1789)

And here's my modeling off of it. The trickiest part of this exercise may have been choosing what my central theme would be: it had to be a creature or part of creation that would lend itself easily to a comparison with Jesus and with humanity. I chose a rose.

I also chose to change the "thee" to "you," both to show that I am writing in a different century than Blake, and also just to vary the sounds of the poem (note that in conjunction with "thee" he uses words like "feed" and "mead" and "meek" that draw on the long "e" sound). Whereas I took the "oo" sound in "you" and played off it with words like "bloom" and "room" and "too" and "new." 

Lovely rose, who made you?

Do you know who made you,

Made you bud, brought you to bloom

Into a vibrant silken room;

Gave you colors warm and bright,

Some dark velvet, others light;

Gave you such a sweet, fresh scent,

That wafts up to the firmament?

       Lovely rose, who made you?

       Do you know who made you?

Lovely rose, I’ll tell you;

Lovely rose, I’ll tell you;

He himself was once a bloom,

Sheltered in a tiny room,

Brought to fruitful, flowering birth,

Here upon the barren earth.

I’m a flower, like you too,

Born to bloom and become new.

       Lovely rose, God love you!

       Lovely rose, God love you! 

(EMP, 2017)

Modeling exercises really are fun. Choose a poem you love that is written by someone else (well-known or not) and hold it up like a diamond, admiring all its facets. Then try to carve your own gemstone in words. It's a good creative challenge! 

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