There are a multitude of poetic forms that gave been used through the ages from a Shakespearian Sonnet to a Haiku to my favorite a Sestina. Definitions provided here adapted from poetryfoundation.org website. Here are a few of the ones I employ on a regular basis:
Ballad – A popular narrative song passed down orally. In the English tradition, it usually follows a form of rhymed (abcb) quatrains alternating four-stress and three-stress lines. Folk (or traditional) ballads are anonymous and recount tragic, comic, or heroic stories with emphasis on a central dramatic event; examples include “Barbara Allen” and “John Henry.” Beginning in the Renaissance, poets have adapted the conventions of the folk ballad for their own original compositions. Examples of this “literary” ballad form include John Keats’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” Thomas Hardy’s “During Wind and Rain,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.”
Ballade – An Old French verse form that usually consists of three eight-line stanzas and a four-line envoy, with a rhyme scheme of ababbcbc bcbc. The last line of the first stanza is repeated at the end of subsequent stanzas and the envoy. An example is Hilaire Belloc’s “Ballade of Modest Confession”.
Free Verse – Nonmetrical, nonrhyming lines that closely follow the natural rhythms of speech. A regular pattern of sound or rhythm may emerge in free-verse lines, but the poet does not adhere to a metrical plan in their composition. Matthew Arnold and Walt Whitman explored the possibilities of nonmetrical poetry in the 19th century. Since the early 20th century, the majority of published lyric poetry has been written in free verse. Examples include the work of William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and H.D.
Haiku – A Japanese verse form of three unrhyming lines in five, seven, and five syllables. It creates a single, memorable image. The Imagist poets of the early 20th century, including Ezra Pound and H.D., showed appreciation for the form’s linguistic and sensory economy; Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” embodies the spirit of haiku.
Limerick – A fixed light-verse form of five generally anapestic lines rhyming AABBA. Edward Lear, who popularized the form, fused the third and fourth lines into a single line with internal rhyme. Limericks are traditionally bawdy or just irreveren. Examples include “A Young Lady of Lynn” or Lear’s “There was an Old Man with a Beard.”
Sestina – A complex French verse form, usually unrhymed, consisting of six stanzas of six lines each and a three-line envoy. The end words of the first stanza are repeated in a different order as end words in each of the subsequent five stanzas; the closing envoy contains all six words, two per line, placed in the middle and at the end of the three lines. The patterns of word repetition are as follows, with each number representing the final word of a line, and each row of numbers representing a stanza:
1 2 3 4 5 6
6 1 5 2 4 3
3 6 4 1 2 5
5 3 2 6 1 4
4 5 1 3 6 2
2 4 6 5 3 1
(6 2) (1 4) (5 3)
Sonnet – A 14-line poem with a variable rhyme scheme originating in Italy and brought to England by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey in the 16th century. Literally a “little song,” the sonnet traditionally reflects upon a single sentiment, with a clarification or “turn” of thought in its concluding lines.
Petrarchan sonnet, perfected by the Italian poet Petrarch, divides the 14 lines into two sections: an eight-line stanza (octave) rhyming ABBAABBA, and a six-line stanza (sestet) rhyming CDCDCD or CDEEDE. John Milton’s “When I Consider How my Light Is Spent” and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” employ this form.
Italian sonnet is an English variation on the traditional Petrarchan version. The octave’s rhyme scheme is preserved, but the sestet rhymes CDDCEE. Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt, I Know Where Is an Hind” and John Donne’s “If Poisonous Minerals, and If That Tree.”
English (or Shakespearean) sonnet, which condenses the 14 lines into one stanza of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, with a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG (though poets have frequently varied this scheme) George Herbert’s “Love (II),” Claude McKay’s “America,” and Molly Peacock’s “Altruism” are English sonnets.
Spenserian sonnet is a 14-line poem developed by Edmund Spenser in his Amoretti, that varies the English form by interlocking the three quatrains (ABAB BCBC CDCD EE).
Villanelle – A French verse form consisting of five three-line stanzas and a final quatrain, with the first and third lines of the first stanza repeating alternately in the following stanzas. These two refrain lines form the final couplet in the quatrain. Example “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” and Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “The House on the Hill.”
Egyptian Gods & Goddesses Of The Great Ennead
The Ennead or Great Ennead was a group of nine deities in Egyptian mythology worshiped at Heliopolis: the sun god Atum; his children Shu and Tefnut; their children Geb and Nut; and their children Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys.
According to the creation story of the Heliopolitan priests, the world originally consisted of the primordial waters of precreation personified as Nun. From it arose a mound on the First Occasion. Upon the mound sat the self-begotten god Atum, who was equated with the sun god Ra. Atum evolved from Nun through self-creation. Atum either spat or masturbated, producing air personified as Shu and moisture personified as Tefnut. The siblings Shu and Tefnut mated to produce the earth personified as Geb and the nighttime sky personified as Nut.
Geb and Nut were the parents of Osiris and Isis and of Set and Nephthys, who became respective couples in turn. Osiris and Isis represent fertility and order, while Set and Nephthys represent chaos to balance out Osiris and Isis. Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, is often included in this creation tradition.
• Atum —> Atum was the oldest of the creations gods worshipped by the Egyptians and they thought he existed before anything else. He created Nun, the celestial waters, and everything else through his thoughts. Thoth was Atum’s intelligence and put his creative thoughts into words to bring them to life. In the Book of the Dead, Atum was the setting sun and his images show him as a human wearing the double crown of Egypt.
• Shu —> was the husband of Tefnut and the father of Nut and Geb. He and his wife were the first gods created by Atum. Shu was the god of the air and sunlight or, more precisely, dry air and his wife represented moisture. He was normally depicted as a man wearing a headdress in the form of a plume, which is also the hieroglyph for his name. Shu’s function was to hold up the body of the goddess Nun and separate the sky from the earth. He was not a solar deity but his role in providing sunlight connected him to Ra. Indeed, he was one of the few gods who escaped persecution under the heretic king Akhenaten.
• Tefnut —> Tefnut was the wife of Shu and mother of Nut and Geb. She and her husband were the first gods created by Atum. She was the goddess of moisture or damp, corrosive air, and was depicted either as a lioness or as a woman with a lioness’s head.
• Geb —> was the father of Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys, and was a god without a cult. As an Earth god he was associated with fertility and it was believed that earthquakes were the laughter of Geb. He is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts as imprisoning the buried dead within his body.
• Nut —> was the mother of Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys, Nut is usually shown in human form; her elongated body symbolizing the sky. Each limb represents a cardinal point as her body stretches over the earth. Nut swallowed the setting sun (Ra) each evening and gave birth to him each morning. She is often depicted on the ceilings of tombs, on the inside lid of coffins, and on the ceilings of temples.
• Osiris —> Osiris was originally a vegetation god linked with the growth of crops. He was the mythological first king of Egypt and one of the most important of the gods. It was thought that he brought civilization to the race of mankind. He was murdered by his brother Seth, brought back to life by his wife Isis, and went on to become the ruler of the underworld and judge of the dead.
• Isis —> A very important figure in the ancient world, Isis was the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. She was associated with funeral rites and said to have made the first mummy from the dismembered parts of Osiris. As the enchantress who resurrected Osiris and gave birth to Horus, she was also the giver of life, a healer and protector of kings.
• Set —> Also known as Seth, Setekh, Suty and Sutekh. Set was the son of Geb and Nut, and the evil brother of Osiris. He was the god of darkness, chaos, and confusion, and is represented as a man with an unknown animal head, often described as a Typhonian by the Greeks who associated him with the god Typhon. He is sometimes depicted as a hippopotamus, a pig, or a donkey. Seth murdered his brother and usurped the throne of Egypt and most of the other gods despised him.
• Nephthys —> Daughter of Geb and Nut, sister of Isis, wife of Seth and mother of Anubis, Nephthys is depicted as a woman with the hieroglyphs for a palace and ‘Neb’ (a basket) on her head. She is thus known as “Lady of the Mansions” or “Palace.” Nephthys was disgusted by Seth’s murder of Osiris and helped her sister, Isis, against her husband, Seth. Together with Isis she was a protector of the dead, and they are often shown together on coffin cases, with winged arms. She seems to have had no temple or cult center of her own.
Marguerite Porete (?-1310)
Marguerite Porete was a French mystic and the author of “The Mirror of Simple Souls.” It is a Christian Spiritual work concerning divine love. When she refused to remove her book form circulation and recant her views she was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1310. Little is known of her life except through her trial for heresy and it is certainly biased and incomplete. She has been a rather obscure figure until recent years as until 1946 her work had been published anonymously since her death.
Porete was officially warned by the Church that her works were heretical and they were publically burned by the Bishop of Cambrai. She had written her book in Old French as opposed to Latin and was ordered not to circulate her ideas ever again. She was eventually arrested by the local inquisitor. Twenty-one theologians scoured her book for evidence of heresy. In the end three bishops passed final judgment on her. After a year and a half in prison in Paris her trial began. She refused to recant her ideas or cooperate with the authorities. Because she did not recant she was found guilty and burnt at the stake. As she died the crowd is said to have been moved to tears by her calmness.
“The Mirror of Simple Souls,” is an allegorical conversation between Love, Reason, Soul, and Truth. It deals with Porete’s belief that when the soul is full of God’s love it is united with God and in a union which transcends the contradictions of the world. In this state one cannot sin because the soul is united with God’s will and incapable of such. A few quotes:
“O Truth, says this Soul, for god’s sake, do not say
That of myself I might ever say something of Him,
save through Him;
And this is true, do not doubt it,
And if it pleases you to know whose I am,
I will say it through pure courtesy:
Love holds me so completely in her domain,
That I have neither sense, nor will,
Nor reason to do anything,
Except through her, as you know.”
“Theologians and other clerks,
You won’t understand this book,
— However bright your wits —
If you do not meet it humbly,
And in this way, Love and Faith
Make you surmount Reason, for
They are the protectors of Reason’s house. ”
“God has nowhere to put his goodness, if not in me no place to put himself entire, if not in me. And by this means I am the exemplar of salvation, and what is more, I am the salvation itself of every creature, and the glory of God.”
~ Marguerite Porete
Hildegard of Bingen (circa 1098-1179)
Hildegard of Bingen was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary and polymath (a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. An example of another famous polymath would be Leonardo da Vinci). She wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, poems, a morality play, also supervising over miniature illuminated manuscripts. Her morality play is the oldest surviving example of its form. In 1136 she was elected a magistra (teacher) by her fellow nuns. In 1150 she founded the monastery of Rupertsberg and in 1165 Eibingen.
It is believed she was born about 1098, but the exact date of her birth is unknown. She was the tenth child of a family of free nobles and was sickly from birth. From a very young age Hildegard experienced visions. Perhaps due to her visions her parents offered her as a tithe to the church. Her enclosure date is cloudy and there is no written record of the next twenty-four years of her life in the convent. She was enclosed with another girl Jutta who also had visions and attracted many visitors. Jutta taught her to read and write, but not how to interpret biblical meaning. The two of them likely prayed, meditated, read scripture and did some type of handwork together. It is also believed it was at this time she learned to play the ten string psaltery. Upon Jutta’s death in 1136 Hildegard was unanimously elected magistra of her community by her fellow nuns. She wanted more independence and requested Abbot Kuno to be able to move the convent to Rupertsberg. This was to be a move towards poverty. She was denied. Hildegard in return went over his head and was granted permission from the archbishop. In 1150 Hildegard and twenty nuns made the move and were granted their own monastery.
At age 43 she received a vision from God to write down all that she had seen. Her first book the “Scivias” (Know the Ways) was the result. In it she described her struggles from within:
“But I, though I saw and heard these things, refused to write for a long time through doubt and bad opinion and the diversity of human words, not with stubbornness but in the exercise of humility, until, laid low by the scourge of God, I fell upon a bed of sickness; then, compelled at last by many illnesses, and by the witness of a certain noble maiden of good conduct [the nun Richardis von Stade] and of that man whom I had secretly sought and found, as mentioned above, I set my hand to the writing. While I was doing it, I sensed, as I mentioned before, the deep profundity of scriptural exposition; and, raising myself from illness by the strength I received, I brought this work to a close – though just barely – in ten years. […] And I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God I heard and received them in the heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, ‘Cry out therefore, and write thus!”
In addition to her writing she composed sixty-nine musical compositions including the oldest surviving morality play “Ordo Virtutum.” This is one of the largest outputs among all medieval composers. She also wrote over 400 letters to people ranging from Popes, Emperors, abbots, and abbesses. In addition she wrote two volumes on natural medicines and cures, an invented language called, “Lingua ignota,” a gospel commentary, two works of hagiography (writings about holy people such as saints), and finally three volumes of visionary theology : the “Scivias (Know the Ways)”, “Liber vitae meritorum (Book of Life’s Merits)” and “Liber divinorum operum (Book of Divine Works)”. In each of these texts she first describes the vision and then interprets them throughout the Bible. The books were celebrated in the Middle Ages in part because of the approval given by Pope Eugenius III. She also wrote “Physica” and “Causae at Curae”. Well known for her healing ability in these texts she describes the natural world including the cosmos, animals, plants, stones and minerals. She particularly focused on the healing abilities of plants, animals and stones. She also created her own alphabet with abridged words of a form of Latin. It is believed she used this alphabet to increase solidarity among her nuns.
Her belief was man and woman had complimentary roles and wrote,
“Man and woman are in this way so involved with each other that one of them is the work of the other. Without woman, man could not be called man; without man, woman could not be named woman. Thus woman is the work of man, while man is a sight full of consolation for woman. Neither of them could henceforth live without the other. Man is in this connection an indication of the Godhead while woman is an indication of the humanity of God’s Son”
~ Hildegard of Bingen
Christine de Pizan (1363-circa 1430)
Christine de Pizan (or Pisan) was a Venetian born late medieval woman poet. She was highly regarded in her own day and during her thirty year career as Europe’s first professional woman writer completing forty-one works. She tirelessly challenged misogyny and the stereotypes of the late medieval period. She was widowed by age twenty-four and much of her motivation for her writing came from her need to earn a living for not only herself but her children. Her early poetry was of the courtly genre and marked by her knowledge of aristocratic custom and fashion of the day involving women and the practice of chivalry. In recent decades her works have once again returned to prominence through the scholarly efforts of those such as Simone de Beauvoir among others. There is some argument among scholars as whether to see her as an early feminist or that her beliefs were not progressive enough.
In 1390 with the death of her husband she was faced with the prospect of being left to support her mother, a niece and her two children. She began writing love ballads which garnered the attention of several patrons within the court who commissioned her to compose texts of their romantic exploits as they were intrigued by the novelty of having a woman writer. It is estimated that between 1393 and 1412 she was quite prolific having composed over three-hundred ballads and shorter poems. In 1401-1402 she engaged in a debate over Jean de Meun’s portrayal of women as nothing much more than seducers in his work “Romance of the Rose.” The result of the debate was more profound for her than the actual conclusions as it established her reputation as a female intellectual in a male dominated realm.
By 1405 she had completed her most successful literary works, “The Book of the City of Ladies,” and “The Treasure of the City of Ladies.” In these two works she argued and showed the importance of women’s past contributions to society and then attempted to illustrate and teach women how to cultivate qualities to counteract the growth of misogyny. She argues that women must recognize and promote their ability to make peace between their husband and his subjects. She believed that slanderous speech destroys the sisterly bond among women, “skill in discourse should be a part of every woman’s moral repertoire.” The works give a fascinating portrait of women in the 1400’s offering advice for women’s lives from the lady in the castle to the servant, peasant and even the prostitute. Through all of this she asserts than woman’s influence is realized when her speech unifies value to chastity, virtue and restraint.
Simone de Beauvoir in 1949 described her as, “the first time we see a woman take up her pen in defense of her sex.” Perhaps this makes her the western world’s first feminist.
A few quotes :
“Just as women’s bodies are softer than men’s, so their understanding is sharper.”
“I say it to thee again, and doubt never the contrary, that if it were the custom to put the little maidens to the school, and they were made to learn the sciences as they do to the men-children, that they should learn as perfectly, and they should be”
“Ah, child and youth, if you knew the bliss which resides in the taste of knowledge, and the evil and ugliness that lies in ignorance, how well you are advised to not complain of the pain and labor of learning.”
“Not all men (and especially the wisest) share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated. But it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it displeased them that women knew more than they did.”
~ Christine de Pizan
Marie de France (12th Century)
Very little is actually known of Marie de France as both her given name and where she lived is only known through her manuscripts. She was a medieval poet who probably was born in France and lived in England in the late 12th century. She lived and wrote at an unknown or undisclosed court, but was at least known of in the royal court of King Henry II of England. Some have suggested that she was perhaps a half-sister of Henry II.
She wrote a form of Anglo-Norman French and was proficient in Latin and English as well. She translated “Aesop’s Fables” into Anglo-Norman French from Middle English, and the “Legend of the Purgatory of St. Patrick” from Latin. She is best known as the writer of “The Lais Of Marie de France” which are still quite widely read and were a great influence on the romance genre (heroic literature) such as Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”
“The Lais of Marie de France” are a series of twelve short (a few hundred lines each) Breton Lais. They are rhymed stanzas of 6-16 lines with 4-8 syllables per line which focus on glorifying the concept of courtly love through the adventure of the main character. The series of lais presents a contrast of the positive and negative actions that can result from love through magical situations, themes and imagery. Romantic themes include lovers in a hostile world, oppressive marriages and dichotomy social conventions, conflicts between love, chivalry and marriage, freedom of desire, love as an escape, and the psychological issues of love manifested in treachery and selfishness. They are also considered to have an ambiguous moral message especially for the time.
“Love is an invisible wound within the body, and, since it has its source in nature, it is a long-lasting ill.”
“Anyone who intends to present a new story must approach the problem in a new way and speak so persuasively that the tale brings pleasure to people.”
“It would be less dangerous for a man to court every lady in an entire land than for a lady to remove a single besotted lover from her skirts, for he will immediately attempt to strike back.”
~ Marie de France