Sunday, January 29, 2012


“The problem of pause or cæsura had been a large one in eighteenth-century verse, and care in cæsural placing had in general been as much exercised by the poets as it had been preached by the prosodists.”
-- Walter Jackson Bate, The Stylistic Development of Keats. London: Oxford University Press, 1945.

When I read the above quote this morning, I could easily see in my mind the poet John Keats and his friends, some 200 years ago, taking great care in putting into their poems, not just caesuras (pauses), but even the smallest words, and it makes me more determined than ever to teach my young students to use a similar kind of precision as they prepare their essays. To a serious writer, words are as prized as jewels, and should be joined in a sentence with as much attention as a jeweler chooses pieces for a chain. I picture the jeweler leaning over an assortment of jewels, sorting and studying them, always considering what the finest possible positioning might be, and I encourage my student writers to work in a similar way. You could say they are working with priceless objects (words) and so they need to place them in precisely the proper places so they can shine and perform in the foremost ways. Keats and his friends helped each other stay devoted to doing their absolute best on each poem, and my students and I can help each other in a similar way. Like the poets, we can suggest stronger words in certain places, or advise a reshuffling of words to work out a smoother rhythm in a sentence, or recommend a thorough reworking of a paragraph. We can be a band of “literary jewelers” joining words with the care and precision of artists – with the consecration and earnestness of a brotherhood of young poets in England.

"Village Jeweler", oil, by Robin Cheers

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