Good Poem, Bad Essay

I’ve been having a nice conversation with one of your classmates, who likes and appreciates poetry, about a passion we share for the particular style(s) of writing known loosely as verse.

We can all agree as a class that the work below exhibits great skill, and that the result provokes both thought and, for its beauty, admiration.

But we should also acknowledge that it wouldn’t qualify as a passing submission as a persuasive argument to a college composition course.


The crown translates a woman to a Queen –
endless gold, circling itself, an O like a well,
fathomless, for the years to drown in – history’s bride,
anointed, blessed, for a crowning. One head alone
can know its weight, on throne, in pageantry,
and feel it still, in private space, when it’s lifted:
not a hollow thing, but a measuring; no halo,
treasure, but a valuing; decades and duty. Time-gifted,
the crown is old light, journeying from skulls of kings
to living Queen.                                          

Its jewels glow, virtues; loyalty’s ruby, blood-deep; sapphire’s ice resilience; emerald evergreen;
the shy pearl, humility. My whole life, whether it be long
or short, devoted to your service.
 Not lightly worn.

I wouldn’t bother to point this out except that we composition instructors are sometimes criticized for necessarily imposing rules on our very talented students who want to express themselves in a personal style not suited to the norms of college composition, a preliminary form of academic writing.

I’m also compelled to note that the poem was written on a very tight self-imposed deadline (The Queen just finished dying!) and by definition did not go through enough rewrites. Good as the poem is, you can probably find room for improvement in it. Its author, the estimable Carol Anne Duffy, will have years to regret not taking (having) time for another rewrite or two.

None of that should dissuade us from savoring its insights and revelations.

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels.
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