The Muse Unchained: How Rhetorical Figures Aid Poetry

Apollo and The Muses by John Singer Sargeant
Apollo and The Muses by John Singer Sargent

I’ve been enjoying the works of poet Michael R. Burch. I found him at The Chained Muse, which publishes poems of classical bent that are usually true in temper, but often uneven in quality. Burch publishes his own journal called HyperText. I think he’s among the better poets at Chained Muse.

Here’s the list of his poems published at The Chained Muse.

And here’s the one written best, called Pan.

And here’s HyperText.

But even such an accomplished poet can improve. To demonstrate it, I propose to re-write the least of his Chained Muse poems using the rhetorical figures taught in Elements of Eloquence (the book by Mark Forsyth that we are using for our Poetry Challenge 20/Single Line Challenge Series.)

Burch writes good poems. This particular one, called Observance, has some trouble with form. It reads fairly smooth as a rhythmical poem, rather than as a strictly metrical poem; but even read so, there are sticking points and needless unevenness.

I want to show how, by using rhetorical figures to open up our options, we can find solutions to the strictures of form without losing our meaning or being awkward. I have transformed the poem into a strict metrical poem, while bringing in some alliteration rather than stick to an unsuccessful rhyme scheme.

Happily, by using the rhetorical figures, I’ve managed to retain a lyrical and smooth style, with lines still clear and expressive. The rhetorical figures allow us to achieve stylistic variation, without going stylistically astray.

Here’s the link to the original poem: Observation by Michael R. Burch.

Now my re-write.


Here the hills are old, and roll, but
Carefully in aging age;
While far-off crowds of youthful mountains
Bathe themselves in wind-blown ice-melts…

Listless leaves; returning rainfalls;
By them I have traced time’s stops
And starts; and years seen pass unnoticed
but by trees with whom they whisper…

Valleys hold, like bowls, slow sunlight:
Fill and brim and spill again;
And only I – think I – now notice
How the years flood out and in and…

What do you think?  Can you spot the rhetorical figures? When you read it aloud, do you feel the surges and eddies in rhythm, preserved from the author’s original rhythmic structure?

I also found an instance of fortunate enjambment between lines 6 and 7, thanks to moving something to another line for meter’s sake.

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