Poetic Forms: Lament
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-rayOr test (while you read novels two a day)Already with a kind of clumsy stealthDistanced 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 mishapWithout import. But then the spinal tap.It brought a hard headache, and when night cameI heard you wake up from the same bad dreamEvery half-hour with the same short cryOf mild outrage, before immediatelySlipping into the nightmare once againEmpty 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 downTo the Emergency Room. That frown, that frown:I’d never seen such rage in you beforeAs when they wheeled you through the swinging door.For you knew, rightly, they conveyed you fromThose normal pleasures of the sun’s kingdomThe hedonistic body basks withinAnd takes for granted—summer on the skin,Sleep without break, the moderate taste of teaIn a dry mouth. You had gone on from meAs if your body sought out martyrdomIn the far Canada of a hospital room.Once there, you entered fully the distressAnd long pale rigours of the wilderness.A gust of morphine hid you. Back in sightYou 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 cheekOne day, appeared the true shape of your boneNo longer padded. Still your mind, alone,Explored this emptying intermediateState for what holds and rests were hidden in it.You wrote us messages on a pad, amusedAt one time that you had your nurse confusedWho, seeing you reconciled after four yearsWith 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 songTo wake me in the morning … It is longAnd very pretty.’ Grabbing at detailTo 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 lifeThick with the complicating circumstanceYour thoughts might fasten on. It had been chanceAlways till now that had filled up the momentWith live specifics your hilarious commentDiscovered 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 nightWe talked between our sleeping bags, belowA molten field of stars five years ago:I was so tickled by your mind’s light touchI couldn’t sleep, you made me laugh too much,Though I was tired and begged you to leave off.
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!
** Image owned by Enokson at Flickr.