Today's topic: MOOD
As in ambiance, or the overall "feeling" of your poem.
Which is, of course, created by the "feeling" of the individual words that make up your poem.
It is your job as the poet to choose words carefully so as to create a particular mood. One of the ways you can affect "mood" is through the use of particular combinations of vowel and consonant sounds. "Soft" consonants and "long" vowels comined together are more soothing to the ear, and flow easily. Here's the start of Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening:
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
Almost sing-songy, right?
Contrast that with something full of "hard" consonants and "short" vowels. It tends to move more quickly on the ear in a somewhat staccato effect that can be regarded as playful when done correctly. Here's the first part of T.S. Eliot's The Hippopotamus. Be sure to read it aloud to hear the full effect:
The broad-backed hippopotamus
Rests on his belly in the mud;
Although he seems so firm to us
He is merely flesh and blood.
Almost the rat-a-tat of a typewriter key hitting the page, particularly if you clearly enunciate the syllables.
The Frost poem creates a swoony feeling of welcoming warmth (note the long vowels and soft consonants in the description) and the Eliot makes the listener detach a bit because of its terse terms (short vowels, hard consonants).
It is nearly impossible, of course, to use only one or the other, and many poets mix things up. However, the soft consonant/long vowel combos tend to slow the reader down a bit and can create a dolorous effect if overused. The hard consonant/short vowel combos can rocket the reader along, but can also make it sound as if the reader is one of the Martian invaders from "Mars Attacks," (a terrible, yet entertaining, B-movie featuring cameo performances by TOM JONES!) where the aliens run around saying "Ack. Ack ack." (In fairness, they later use a translator device to say "Don't run. We are your friends." Although they're using death rays as they go.)
Remember this beauty from early reader days: "The fat cat sat on the mat"? You (usually) don't want to go there as a poet (ack. ack ack.) Nor would you want so many "round tones" as to make your poem soporific. So by all means, mix it up. But if there's a particular mood you wish to convey, make sure that most of the weighted syllables and/or words use the proper consonant & vowel combos to convey what you're on about. Most readers won't sit and pick your work apart to see how you created the mood, but they will nonetheless succumb to it.
If you're interested in reading something newer from me, I hope you'll check out My Interview with Matt Phelan, author/illustrator of The Storm in the Barn, the marvelous graphic novel coming from Candlewick in a mere month or so.
And I hope you'll all be back tomorrow when we get started with August at the Abbey. As you may recall from one of my earlier posts - say, this one from Sunday, I'll be covering Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey a chapter a day during the month of August. Which starts TOMORROW! You can find the full text of the novel online at the wonderful website Molland's, which is run by a friend of mine from the Jane Austen Society of North America. You can likely find it online for free elsewhere as well. You can find it in pretty much any public library and (inexpensively, even) at pretty much any bookstore. I really hope you'll read along. Particularly since I'm hoping for a bit of conversation this month!