A Dance with Words


Dancing is the poetry of the foot.  ~John Dryden

Hello, friends.  This isn’t about dance.  It’s about poetry, but I do believe the two are related.  See the obvious quote above.  One of my professors said that there is a palpable tension in poetry.  It exists between the rhythm and the grammar.  For me, the “grammar” of dance is the technique, all those little movements I repeat seemingly ad infinitum.  The rhythm of the dance goes beyond the musical beat.  It extends to individual, artistic expression.  What can be hard for the dancer is finding the balance between looking correct (technique) and dancing with life (rhythm).  The same is true for poetry.

Thus, I come to the assignment due tomorrow for my Performing Arts class.  Don’t worry.  I spent all of my Sunday completing it.  The task was to write a soliloquy.  The speaker and subject were up to students, but we had two rules: 1) It had to be a perspective that wasn’t my own.  2) The length needed to be two paragraphs in prose or twenty lines in verse. I chose to write in verse because I wanted a challenge, and almost all my writing is done in prose.  For the record, I do write poetry, but my inspirational moments are few and far between.  When I do compose, the pieces are only six lines at the most.  Twenty lines seemed like a monster, but that wasn’t all.

I wanted to improve my skills, so I decided to try writing in iambic pentameter.  This rhythm, or meter in poetical terms, is extremely common in English poetry.  William Shakespeare is the best example of a renowned poet that used iambic pentameter.  Most of my Sunday was spent making sure it all fit within the meter while not taking too many liberties with the English language.  Yeah, I definitely felt the tension as I was composing.  It was worth it because I feel as if I danced with my words.  Hmm, if dancing is the poetry of the foot, then perhaps poetry is the dance of words.

The inspiration was Dante’s Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy), my favorite epic poem.  It takes place in Canto I of Inferno.  In the middle of his life, aged thirty-five, Dante the Pilgrim (as opposed to Dante the Poet, who is recalling his journey), finds himself lost in a Dark Wood, which represents his current spiritual state.  He spies a small hill, the Mount of Joy, and rushes for it.  Unfortunately, he is blocked by three beasts: a leopard, a lion, and a female wolf.  (Dante probably got these animals from Jeremiah 5:6, meant to symbolize the consequences of continued sin after God’s multiple rebukes.)  Eventually, the shade of Virgil appears before Dante, telling him he must journey through Hell and Purgatory before reaching Heaven.  Dante follows Virgil.  My soliloquy tries to express his feelings of despair and fear as he realizes his spiritual condition and encounters the three beasts.  It ends when Dante spies the shade of Virgil and pleads with him for help.  So, gentle reader, I present to you “The Soliloquy in the Dark Wood”.  Gee, Alaina, it’s only your favorite poet, who happened to write an epic known throughout the world.  No pressure at all.

Dante the Pilgrim: How shall I say how I arrived here now?

I’ve wandered astray from His Light of Truth.

How drear this Dark Wood weighs upon my soul!

The mist and murk oppress my weary eyes.

Leopard with gaudy pelt prevents my steps.

I must progress to Mount of Joy afar.

It stalks and watches every move I make.

It tricks all trav’lers from the Narrow Gate.

Lo, Lion-fierce now joins the Leopard there.

His body writhes and twists in steady rage.

He stands before me now eyes blazing fire.

I can’t advance with these fell beasts on me.

Behold!  A She-Wolf now enters my sight.

Her gaunt frame shakes with endless appetite.

A flow of slaver drips from open jaws.

She pushes me back toward that murky Wood.

Shall I be lost within this dark for good?

Oh, Lord!  Have mercy on your errant slave!

But, soft!  What figure in this Wood resides?

I plead with you for aid, dead or alive!

photo by David Bergin Photography (flickr)

photo by David Bergin Photography (flickr)

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