3: alexandrine

Alexandrine: In English, a 12-syllable iambic line adapted from French heroic verse. – Poetry Foundation

Spenserian stanza: The unit of Edmund Spenser’s long poem The Faerie Queene, consisting of eight iambic pentameter lines and a final alexandrine, with a rhyme scheme of ABABBCBCC. – Poetry Foundation


A change in orbit and we are weightless,
But humanity was not meant to float:
Osteoclasts would eat my bones porous,
I’d break like ice under the hunter’s foot,
And my heart would waste autumnal without
The embrace of earth to fight. I circle
You, instead, like the planet you are, doubt
Burnt out. I do not have the will to kill
You again and again: let me rest, at last still.

Somehow familiar to be weightless,
Here where everything is new except you. You float,
Defy your heavy flesh, but I am porous –
Your solidity runs through me.  I woke barefoot,
Scared and ashamed because I am nothing without
You – a mirror has no face. The small bruised circle
Of my original’s death is the seed of a doubt
That burns me. Though I have the will to kill
Myself again, again, let me rest, at last still.

Metric verse isn’t something I’ve never really done a lot of. Mostly because it’s hard and it’s a skillset that you can easily get by without. Not that you necessarily should get by without it, but it’s possible. I decided to go with a Spenserian stanza as a way to try out alexandrines, since they seem – at least in English – to be used mostly as a light seasoning line in with the bread-and-butter of iambic pentameter. This also prompted me to actually read some of The Faerie Queen, which is awesomely violent and weird (at least as far as I’ve read) and not all the dull discourse on virtue that Spenser makes it out to be in his introduction.

I was reading up on alexandrines and thinking about appropriate subject matter. There’s aslowness to the alexandrine, a pausing (especially with the caesura). It’s also, through Racine in French and Milton and Shakespeare in English, associated with tragedy. I settled on writing about Tarkovsky’s Solaris, particularly the zero gravity scene in the library. I’ve always found that scene very moving, very tragic in ways I’ve found difficult to articulate, so the poem here is my effort to work some of that into words. The scene itself is, like, the alexandrine, a slowing and a pausing within the film itself – a space that exists, quite literally, without the pressures of Earth. The character of Hari also works well with the Spenserian stanza, given all of the characters who magically take on the appearance of others.

A bit of weird mishmash of stuff going on here, then, but it was fun to play around with and it’s always good to have a reason to rewatch Solaris.


4 thoughts on “3: alexandrine

  1. Lovely to use the alexandrine to write about weight and weightlessness, exactly what the alexandrine plays against!
    I borrowed the idea from you of finding a stanza form with the alexandrine used intermittently in play against another metre, and turned to Shelley’s “To a Sky-lark” which uses a trochaic trimeter to set up the pouring out of the alexandrine at the end of each verse. But I also borrowed the idea of playing off gravity and levity, with an ode to the solidity of hens reversing some of the values of the Sky-lark poem. I love my hens.

    To my hen-flock

    Blithe they are, but spirits?
    Birds they hardly are,
    calling not in lyrics,
    but with prosaic care
    to put on record every moment’s find or fear,

    grounded through-out, perching
    awkwardly at evening
    on their roosts, and lurching
    squawking, wings wild-beating,
    as soon as morning breaks, back to the earth’s receiving.

    Far from here, the sky is
    no threat, not forbidding
    but no temptation either;
    like the softest wing
    of a mother hen it holds itself above them, brooding,

    keeping all below it
    close. Not for my birds
    the rapture of a poet
    by the sublime stirred
    to reach beyond the mundane to put into words

    thoughts beyond his thoughts,
    song beyond his song;
    sweetly from their throats
    my hens cluck all day long
    about the smaller pleasures that to them belong.

    Should the world not listen
    nothing would be lost,
    still the earthworm glistens,
    still flies by the moth,
    and to the hen beside her each hen murmurs as they roost;

    should the world not listen
    I will still be soothed,
    learning some small lesson
    to render into prose –
    for beauty’s not the only thing that counts as truth.

  2. I know, it never goes away does it? I had a pet hen and then when I grew up I found myself increasingly walking routes that would take me past other people’s hens, till finally I got my own. Now people who miss having hens can walk past mine…

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