A friend of mine bet his girlfriend he could write a sonnet in an hour — Keats is supposed to have written “On Chapman’s Homer” in an hour — and foolishly sent me the result. The first twelve lines limp along in correct enough pentameter, but he concludes with:

For even if these foes produce a battle won,
A sight so simple as her smile doth make them one.

This is about the best straight line I’ve been fed for a while; I sent him back this couplet from Pope:

A needless alexandrine ends the song,
That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.

(Update: Nobody, not even Seablogger, who dissects it line by line, appears to have remarked of Andrew Motion’s bit of doggerel that the second line is an alexandrine, dragging its slow length along.)

Aaron Haspel | Posted January 8, 2003 @ 6:49 PM | Poetry

5 Responses to “Alexandrines”

  1. 1 1. Timothy Murphy

    Tom Fleming at Chronicles once rejected a tetrameter sonnet of mine because I’d mis-characterized Sappho’s language as "Ionic Greek." It was Aeolic. He added, "Of course I would have rejected Keats’ sonnet for his confusion over the conquistadors." Shelley is reputed to have written Ozymandias in an hour, but that doesn’t happen very often.


  2. 2 2. Aaron Haspel

    Stout Cortez aside, I don’t think Chapman’s Homer is an especially good poem myself, but it’s better than the one my friend sent me. Shelley should have written far more slowly as a rule.


  3. 3 3. Timothy Murphy

    This tale may be apocryphal, but I’ve heard that Auden was at a party where someone challenged him to write a sestina in which the end words had to be the brand names of commercial toothpastes. He retired to an empty room and produced the poem in an hour. But THAT was Auden. I’ve friends who think we’d be better off if Shelley hadn’t written at all.


  4. 4 4. Michael Krantz

    "Limps"???


  5. 5 5. Aaron Haspel

    Limps. Don’t make me publish the rest of it.


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