Although the form we are discussing in today’s post was recently invented by myself within the last year, in many ways, it has been around for over 500 years. Confused? Well let me explain just how the herrickelle came about.
In terms of classical poetry, the majority of metered verse has probably been most commonly written in either iambic pentameter or tetrameter. On the other hand, examples of poets who were known to have wrote in iambic monometer are quite rare, except for one major exception (okay, here is a quick aside for those who have never learned or totally forgotten all about poetical meter. A foot is a unit of poetical measure made up of usually two, but sometimes three, or even four syllables, where the sound of one or more particular syllables are emphasized. An iamb is a specific type of foot consisting of two syllables with the last of the pair being stressed. Iambic pentameter is a line of five feet, while iambic tetrameter is four, and of course, iambic monometer is just one metered foot, or, put in another way, two syllables. Get it? Neither do I, but let’s go on):
Robert Herrick was an English poet, priest, and (by most accounts) playboy from the 17th century. Best known for his poems ”To the Virgins to Make Much of Time,” “Upon Julia’s Clothes,” and “Corinna’s Going a Maying,” , he is probably the only major poet proven to have had a penchant for writing poetry in iambic monometer. In fact, most poetry text books use his poem “Upon His Departure Hence” as the prime example of monometric verse. After coming across this poem in such an anthology a few months ago, I was inspired to utilize it as a template to create a new poetry form which I have dubbed the herrickelle in honor of Herrick.
Because I realize many modern poets are uncomfortable with meter (I know I am), I decided not to make it mandatory to write a herrickelle in strict iambic monometer, although you certainly can if you wish. Instead I decided to have the form use a syllable count as its measure (much like the haiku or the monotetra, both of which I have discussed in earlier posts). So this is a description of my unofficial rules for writing a herrickelle:
A herrickelle is a poem of one or more tercets (stanzas of three lines) with each line consisting of just two syllables. Each tercet uses a monorhyme (which means all its lines use the same end rhyme and rhyme with each other). Thus the rhyme scheme would be aaa for the first tercet, bbb for the second (if there is one), ccc for the third, and so on.
Herrick’s “Upon His Departure Hence”, which rhyme scheme is aaabbbcccdddeee, technically would not qualify as a herrickelle, since he wrote its fifteen lines without any line breaks. However the poem can be easily converted into one by simply dividing its lines into five tercets. So here is what I retroactively consider the very first herrickelle in existence penned by the master himself:
Upon His Departure Hence
I’ th’ grave:
I find composing a herrickelle to be quite a challenge since one is limited to a vocabulary of just one or two syllable words. Because of this, you find yourself often forced to use a lot of short Anglo-Saxon and archaic words. Normally I strongly disapprove of contemporary poets using words like “Thee”, “Thou”, and “Art”. Yet because of the 17th century origin of the form and its monometric rhythm which feels a bit peculiar and ancient, I think that in the case of the herrickelle, such usage is more than permissible. As an example, here is a herrickelle I wrote with a definite medieval or renaissance flavor –
Why Art Thou So Serious?
I have more herrickelles that I wrote to share with you (all which sound much more contemporary), but since this post has gone rather long, I guess that can wait until my next one. Thanks so much for reading!