Single Line Challenge: Elements of Eloquence Chapter 1, Alliteration

Lancelot Unseats the Knight

Although we’ve done an alliteration poetry challenge before, let’s use this re-visitation to dip our toes into the figures of rhetoric. The challenge here is not to write a whole poem using alliteration. Instead, let’s just try a few lines. Let’s compose them right in the comments section. We can make them silly or serious; dramatic or comedic; prosaic or poetic. Let’s just get writing!

If you haven’t read the chapter yet, it’s very short, easy, and entertaining. I promise! The book is Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth, available as an audiobook, ebook, and physical book.

If you want something more challenging to read or listen to, wishing to delve deeper into the traditional uses of alliteration in English poetry, I suggest listening to J. R. R. Tolkien’s poetry translation of the medieval poem “Gawain and the Green Knight.” Make sure to listen to his introduction. I got nothing from the poem in college, but after coming to it through Tolkien, I feel I know Sir Gawain personally. It’s also not very long. I listened to it on two consecutive car-rides (and then listened to it again.) Don’t worry; there’s no pseudo-academic jargon to wade through. Tolkien’s enjoyment of literature is always guileless, thoughtful, and expressible in plain English.

The audiobook is available on Audible for not too high a price. In the case of poetry like this, where the sound effects matter, I really do recommend listening to it rather than reading it; ear-learning is crucial for poets. However, it’s also available in other formats.

In a day or two, I’ll create a post for Chapter Two: Polyptoton.

Just as in the full-size challenges, this challenge remains open forever. Young people are also welcome to participate. Homeschool credit!

Full Challenge
Chapter 2


  1. I’ll get things started. One thing I noticed about doing this work is that, counter-intuitively, the necessity to conform to the form actually provokes creativity and ingenuity, rather than stifling it. It jump-starts the process of looking for unusual solutions – and that process is the beginning of originality.

    I also think it’s important to realize that we don’t need to feel, while composing, the way we want the reader to feel while reading.

    I’ve noticed something similar in singing. Whenever the singer gives in to the emotion she is trying to convey, it weakens her voice and makes us feel we’re witnessing something amateurish.

    Here’s an example on YouTube. I actually love this setting of Tolkien’s short riddle poem, and I think the singer, who is also the composer, sings very well over all. Notice at 2:45 however, the music rises in intensity, and the singer is caught in the web of her own magic. Her voice breaks; we notice the artifact of her experience more than the thought which affects her; the effect which she feels more intensely, we then feel less so.

    On the other hand, often when listening to very skillful singers, we are deeply affected when they imitate this very experience! They allow their voice to break or waver in an artistic manner, and we are quite affected.

    I believe this conundrum has to do with Aristotle’s insight about the nature of art as imitation. We are entirely uninspired by “artistic installations” in which the “artist” merely moves her bedroom, down to the last dirty sock, into a museum. On the other hand, in a movie about a person struggling with poverty or despair, or a funny painting about a messy distracted person, an artistic imitation of just such a bedroom could be quite affecting.

    To bring it back round to poetry, I think it is important to remain above the poem while writing it. It is important to have felt something and understood something before writing, and we dip into that store of experience whenever we write. But we remain in an imitative frame of mind. The poem is for our reader’s delight; not for our own. Our task is contained by both the authority and prerogative of the author, and the self-denying other-serving bent of the leader who takes responsibility for others.

    Here are a few attempts of mine.

    Wilted ladies, languid wistful fans,
    dampening gowns and coats as if the dew beforehand fell;
    heat lay heavily upon our gathered hearts
    in that late yellow day, before Adora died.

    Let us go forth to finish our delight,
    in this our day of birth, laid on the bank to dry
    from mother’s waters, from waters flowing down from Eden.
    Lying in warm air, laughing; let us lean upon our arms.
    Not cast back as fishes small or sick or foul,
    let us finish our delight, and turn and stand and toddle;
    let us finish our delight! And run, and let us race beyond
    the meadow of delight to daring mountain ways.
    Rising from water to race beneath the sun.
    Let us be men! Let us finish our delight,
    let us finish our day,
    let us finish our death.

    Where are other waters?
    Where shall we rise from waters again?
    Where shall we come again beyond the mountains
    again born, again gasping upon the bank in other meadows of delight?


  2. 3…
    A false and fallow mind, a thought unfree

    Broken crockery, and cracked brains

    Dark and mindless matter mere

    Gone, she gasped, then spoke no more.

    A waspish trackless train sped past an endless rack of buildings, dire and gray and lean.


  3. I very much enjoy reading this book. “…if you say, ‘Full fathom five thy father lives,’ you will be considered the greatest poet who ever lived. Express precisely the same thought any other way–e.g. ‘your father’s corpse is 9.144 metres below sea level’–and you’re just a coastguard with some bad news.” I laughed out loud. (There’s some alliteration for you!)

    Wailing, weeping, still she wandered
    where her lover went before.

    Remember how we ran, forever free?

    Living life, and loving til the end.

    Liked by 1 person

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