Friday, September 10, 2010

aabb or abab?

In yesterday’s post I presented my poem “Canute (994?-1035)” complete with its 26 exclamation points and three question marks (four if you count the one in the title). You are to be commended for reading it, if you did, and if you didn’t, the world is still turning.

I actually made two versions of the poem, one rhymed aabb and one rhymed abab. That is, in each stanza of the first version, the first and second lines rhyme and then the third and fourth lines rhyme; in the second version, the first and third lines rhyme and the second and fourth lines rhyme. I did have to make one small change (“But it” became “And they”) but you probably would never have even noticed if I hadn’t just told you.

I know there are more important questions facing the world (Will that pastor in Gainesville, Florida, burn a copy of the Koran tomorrow? Will Tony Blair’s book reach the top of the New York Times bestseller list? Will Lindsay Lohan make it all the way through rehab?), but I can’t decide which version of “Canute” I like better. So I’m asking those of you who actually read the first version to share your thoughts with me to help me make up my mind. I am also aware that my friend and former colleague Sanford J. Epstein, a 305-lb. Jew who wore a Kelly green suit every St. Patrick’s Day and changed his name tag to read Sanford J. O’Epstein, once said, "If there’s a difference that makes no difference, then there is no difference."

For those who wish to participate, the rules of the game are simple: It doesn’t matter which version you read first as long as you read both versions.

Here’s the second version (abab):

Canute (994?-1035)
by Robert H. Brague

I, King of all the Britons, and Denmark mine as well!
More kingdoms to be conquered! And all shall be laid low!
My star approaches zenith! In Caesar’s train I dwell!
And feudal lords shall bear me liege wherever I may go!

And shall I stop at kingdoms? Nay, tarry here and see!
No more shall raging ocean erode this harried shore!
The winds and waves shall hearken, and both bow down to me!
And they shall do my bidding, as Christ’s in days of yore!

No more shall sea advance upon the gray and shifting sand!
It is Divinely ordered! You must obey my will!
Now cease your endless churning! Subside at my command!
In God’s name I command you! Hear and hearken: “Peace! Be still!”

But can I be mistaken? And can I be denied?
The swirling eddy rises! The tide attacks my knees!
My words have no effect! Still onward comes the tide!
It hears commands more regal than this lowly creature’s pleas!

God’s kingdom is eternal, mine but of measured span!
I am but mortal monarch! O, hear my fool’s heart cry!
What foolishness emerges from the haughty heart of man!
‘Tis chastened by the deafness of a greater king than I!

I eagerly await your thoughts.


  1. Definitely the first one you posted. It flows so well. Sounds like one of the rousing epic poems we learned in school. The second one just misses. Sorry I didn't comment on the first one the other day. I intended to, but we all know where good intentions lead.

  2. I guess, to be accurate, the first version's rhyme scheme is aabb ccdd eeff gghh iijj and the second version's rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef ghgh ijij....

  3. Well, I was just glad to hear he didn't burn it, but amazed that one single man could potentially cause an international incident.