Saturday, February 2, 2013

Poem: To the Sphinx


Remember this?

Here's the first two stanzas after some intense revision.

My old dame, you ask questions that ring the nerve-cells
while you squat at brown crossroads and sound our                  death-knell.
Now what manner of things walks on four legs, three—?      Tell.
Poor King Laius and I know conundrums as well.  
While you squat at brown crossroads and sound our                death-knell,
we’ve wrought riddles and rimes to crack open your                brain.
Poor King Laius and I know conundrums as well.
Why Jocasta, cracked famine, cold orphans, dry plague?

Still not finished!  As always, gentle feedback desired and appreciated.



  1. Christie,
    Lovely poem. After reading both versions several times my wife and I both like the first stanza of the original and the second stanza of the revised. Specifically we both like the last line of the second stanza in your revised - "Why Jocasta, cracked famine, cold orphans, dry plague?". That line reads very nice. But we think the first stanza of your original version reads better than the new one. Specifically we think the transition between the shorter quote of the Sphinx's riddle "what walks" rather than "what manner of things walks" and the "Tell" reads easier. The only difference is my wife likes starting the poem with 'Sphinx' whereas I like 'My old dame'.

    Looking forward to reading the rest.

    1. Edward, thank you so much for taking the time to read and read thoughtfully, and for sharing it with your wife.

      Thank you for pointing out that "what manner of things walks" is too wordy vs. "what walks."

      The reason it changed is because in the second version I've tried to confine all the lines to anapest (unstressed, unstressed, stressed) tetrameter, while the first version was of varying lines of meter.

      So it seems like the didache (stressed, unstressed, unstressed) sounds better for this poem. Would that be right? It does give the poem a better sense of urgency.

      So I can experiment with changing the meter of the poem from anapest to didache, or a mix of both, or try to re-work the wordy phrases in order to keep them strong AND anapest.

      What do you think?

      Thank you once again for your invaluable feedback. c:

    2. I admire efforts to restrict poems to consistent meter. Though I've had little patience for the art form I can't help feeling something important is happening when poets do this work.

      I agree that your original version has more urgency about it, but there's something - (looking for the right word) maybe 'stately' or 'reminiscent of antiquity' - about the meter of the revised version, as well as some of the wording changes, which makes the poem feel older in a good way. So maybe my vote would be for sticking with the anapest but smoothing out that one wordy line.

      Nothing like doing extra work, though. Why not compose two complete versions of the poem, one as a pure anapest tetrameter and another that flows like your original version? It would be curious to see the different merits each version would have.


    3. I was afraid you'd say that! LOL! Thanks for the advice!

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  3. I did like the "what manner of thing" change..but I'm a bit wordy and so I don't know how valuable my leaning is there..

    I loved the change from Oedipus to Laius..and the change from Sphinx to Old dame..the rhythm is fantastic in the new version, I feel trapped in a riddle. I really like the meter..

    I also meant to respond earlier, and not leave it hanging, you've done fantastic work on the poem.

    In my mind I always want to change about "at brown crossroads" to "squat brown at crossroads" which sort of messes with everything, but it took me a few readings to read it right..something to think about, I guess. In a vague sort of way :)


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