Poetic Forms: Lament


Hello Everyone!

Welcome to week nine of poetic forms, where every week I introduce a different type of poem and invite you to give it a go! As an added incentive to take part, the best poem every week is featured on the Writing Gooder blog on Sunday afternoon, alongside a brief analysis by myself.

To enter a poem, make sure it’s written in this week’s style and then either post a link to it in a comment below, or post the full text of the poem.

This week’s challenge is a little like last week – next week I’ll give you a more concrete form, I promise! – in that there isn’t a set structure for this form of poetry. We’re going to take a look at the Lament. This is a form of poetry which many poets choose, though often without realising it. Let’s take a look at the example first, though it should be noted that this is an extract of Gunn’s Lament and not the full poem:


Thom Gunn (1929-2004)

Your dying was a difficult enterprise.
First, petty things took up your energies,
The small but clustering duties of the sick,
Irritant as the cough’s dry rhetoric.
Those hours of waiting for pills, shot, X-ray
Or test (while you read novels two a day)
Already with a kind of clumsy stealth
Distanced you from the habits of your health.
    In hope still, courteous still, but tired and thin,
You tried to stay the man that you had been,
Treating each symptom as a mere mishap
Without import. But then the spinal tap.
It brought a hard headache, and when night came
I heard you wake up from the same bad dream
Every half-hour with the same short cry
Of mild outrage, before immediately
Slipping into the nightmare once again
Empty of content but the drip of pain.
No respite followed: though the nightmare ceased,
Your cough grew thick and rich, its strength increased.
Four nights, and on the fifth we drove you down
To the Emergency Room. That frown, that frown:
I’d never seen such rage in you before
As when they wheeled you through the swinging door.
For you knew, rightly, they conveyed you from
Those normal pleasures of the sun’s kingdom
The hedonistic body basks within
And takes for granted—summer on the skin,
Sleep without break, the moderate taste of tea
In a dry mouth. You had gone on from me
As if your body sought out martyrdom
In the far Canada of a hospital room.
Once there, you entered fully the distress
And long pale rigours of the wilderness.
A gust of morphine hid you. Back in sight
You breathed through a segmented tube, fat, white,
Jammed down your throat so that you could not speak.
    How thin the distance made you. In your cheek
One day, appeared the true shape of your bone
No longer padded. Still your mind, alone,
Explored this emptying intermediate
State for what holds and rests were hidden in it.
    You wrote us messages on a pad, amused
At one time that you had your nurse confused
Who, seeing you reconciled after four years
With your grey father, both of you in tears,
Asked if this was at last your ‘special friend’
(The one you waited for until the end).
‘She sings,’ you wrote, ‘a Philippine folk song
To wake me in the morning … It is long
And very pretty.’ Grabbing at detail
To furnish this bare ledge toured by the gale,
On which you lay, bed restful as a knife,
You tried, tried hard, to make of it a life
Thick with the complicating circumstance
Your thoughts might fasten on. It had been chance
Always till now that had filled up the moment
With live specifics your hilarious comment
Discovered as it went along; and fed,
Laconic, quick, wherever it was led.
You improvised upon your own delight.
I think back to the scented summer night
We talked between our sleeping bags, below
A molten field of stars five years ago:
I was so tickled by your mind’s light touch
I couldn’t sleep, you made me laugh too much,
Though I was tired and begged you to leave off.
Full poem: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177921

The aim of the lament is to write a poem which expresses grief, often related to a death or a deep seated regret. If you want to make it a little more difficult, then you can mimic Gunn by writing in rhyming couplets. I also don’t mind if you decide to write a parody of the form; I’m very interested to see what everyone comes up with!

Good Luck!

** Image owned by Enokson at Flickr.


Heather, who goes by Rydia on YWS, has long been an aspiring author. In the early days of her life she attached herself to poetry and would curl up on the playground bench to scrawl down lines of forgotten virtue. Or, more likely, little virtue at all. At the very old age of 11, she joined The Young Writers Club and progressed into the realms of roleplay. Here she constructed characters to fight off dragons or rally to their allies' aid with healing spells; a joint love of gaming heavily influenced this fondness of adventure storybooks. A few more years went by before Heather became a serious novelist and she still considers poetry to be her favourite media for getting those thoughts down on paper. Outside of writing her loves include puzzle books, strategy/ fantasy games, movies, swimming, skiing (when she actually has money), crafty things, baking, food in general, fun pranks and anything involving snow.

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2 Responses

  1. Deanie says:

    I was meant to do one of these ever since they started! I’ve been adding them all on to my favourites to try later :3 Anyways, here is my lament. ~

    It’s funny how sickness seeps into the body.
    How it can sink lines deep into the hollow face
    To leave a shattered carcass of the beauty that once was.
    You were never healthy, never whole
    I suppose that’s what happens to those
    with a darker background than the night sky.
    But you were always smiling, like a guiding light
    That shot across that darkness. Not the moon, no,
    For a moon is steady, silent and secretive.
    You were a gliding star that did not light up my universe
    But taught me how to brighten my own.
    So now you can see how it’s hard
    when someone you’ve followed like a little lost lamb
    starts to crumble and fold into himself
    and then drift away on the wind,
    as charred burnt pieces of ash before your eyes.

    I wonder what you thought as you walked out of the building
    with its white painted walls and nose peeling smell
    of death and life and what you became.
    How your thoughts must have whirled when you knew
    That you could count the numbers of days left
    on the nails of your shriveled fingertips.

    I clung to your chest and refused to let go
    But the poison was stronger, and wrapped itself around your limbs
    until there was nothing you could do but absorb it.
    It turned your laughter to hacking coughs
    that splattered ink from your throat and into my crying heart.
    It turned the nights we’d curl up on the sofa together
    and use our warmth to shelter us from the dark and the monsters
    into me shivering in the pale moonlight
    leaving me wondering whether I was truly safe
    Or hugging the monster as I stretched my arms around you.
    I heard the retching in the bathroom that you tried to mute.
    And you would gag until you choked up your sanity, and your lungs,
    then your blood, and love, and life and everything you had
    until the tubes were what kept you awake
    and the touch of your lovers hand on yours.
    She cried as if her tears could wash it all away
    but no, hers didn’t. Mine didn’t. Nothing would.
    You were still eaten away.

    That drive down the roads as people removed their hats
    and they crossed their bodies as if we carried a curse.
    I don’t think broken hearts and a single body
    could cause so much attention. But it did.
    And I never saw your face again. I didn’t want to see it limp,
    lifeless and lost. I wanted to remember the sitting on your knee
    and the laughter, and the jokes and the memories,
    before the brewing storm of cancer came
    and took it all away.

    They put you in the cold ground, and sang and cried and sang again.
    It wasn’t that much different from when you were alive.
    I was tired of all the sadness and the pain and the condolences.
    Did anyone really understand?
    I still put those roses on your grave before they were buried under all the mud,
    so you would be forgotten and we could move on.
    You would move on too – from a memory to a body, from a body
    to dried bone.

    I still come and visit. I dig a little, and slide in all my letters
    that I wrote to you throughout the year. You should stay updated,
    no matter how long your body is past its sell by date.
    I leave a gift, or a kiss, or a laugh. And even though all those ago,
    I was tired of singing and crying and only seeing blotting black.
    But I softly sing, I softly sigh, and then I begin
    to cry.

    • Heather says:

      I love this so much! I would ramble on here about why I love it, but since you’re the only entry this week, I get to feature you, which is awesome!

      And it’s really great to hear that you’ve been favouriting the other entries!

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