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The Challenge

There has been much talk of the value per word of Denethorisms. It's time for you all to put yer money where yer mouth is.

Fortified not by drink (we do not have that excuse) but by a good dollop each of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food and Full Vermonty ice-cream, Andria and I this weekend rustled up a nice little challenge for you gifted and wonderful people: The Denethor Poetry Writing Challenge.

Yes, you read that right. There is no doubt, in our fevered minds at least, that the Steward had a drawerful of stuff hidden away. No-one Must Ever Know. But we think these jewels should see the light of day, and we want you to supply them.

They would, of course, be ghastly - except that technically they would be superb. Denethor would pretend he's writing for the technical challenge, and would admire forms that had strict rhyming and metrical schemes. They would also be very compact and involve word-play.

We have a number of suggestions, but you can take this particular challenge wherever you would like. There is no need to supply them in Sindarin, or even in Quenya - which would of course be Denethor's code, sorry, language of choice.

1. The haiku. The presence of this particular form in Gondor is something of a mystery, although the extended voyages of the Númenoreans might have brought this particularly attractive and compact form back to Gondor. "Haiku is a contemplative poetry that valorizes nature, color, season, contrasts and surprises. Usually it has 3 lines and 17 syllables distributed in 5, 7 and 5. It must register or indicate a moment, sensation, impression or drama of a specific fact of nature. It's almost like a photo of some specific moment of nature. More than inspiration, it needs meditation, effort and perception to compose a real haiku." The thinking man's verse.

"White tower stands watch
Yet falls the shadow, despite
Our far-sightedness."

2. The rubáiyát. The Haradric influence on Gondorian verse provided a particularly attractive form for the Steward - despite his misgivings about the impurity of a non-Númenorean form (there would be just a hint of decadence about writing these).

These are quatrains, each complete in itself, and generally epigrammatic. The first, second, and fourth lines rhyme, and sometimes also the third. The pre-emininent practitioner of this form in Gondor was Sathros, who was born in Umbar under the reign of Taranon Falastur, and was the son of a Númenorean lord and a Haradrim lady. He had as his motto: 'Abridge, concentrate, distil' and his verse are filled with a sense of the transience of all things human, the pleasures of existence, and the resignation with which the stoics and the people of the South accepted good and evil as alike predestined.

"But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays
And one by one back in the Closet lays."

3. The linnod. A form of word play, consisting, in its original form, of a single line of matching halves. Each half is made up of a trochee, a dactyl, and a trochee (dum dum, dee dum dum, dum dum; dum dum, dee dum dum, dum dum).

The linnod, of course, developed its form in the South Kingdom, becoming an 'extended linnod' or 'linnod couplet', with the North Kingdom retaining the shorter, 'purer' form. Denethor would be more familiar with the linnod couplet, a rhyming pair of linnods. It would no doubt be particularly galling that Thorongil could probably extemporize the shorter and punchier form on demand.

"Grief tears my soul in morning - harsh tares in soft fields of corn.
Tears dull the growing of grief, rain the gold tiers of new dawn."

"To she who seeks the free-soaring seabirds at night--I try."

4. The love sonnet. Because you just know there's a bunch of these hidden away as well. You can pick your own form for this (http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/sonnet.html), if you're brave enough to go there.

Do your worst.

Una and Andria, who were not drunk...

...but were aided and abetted by Dwim

My Response:


Forever one step from greatness
Logic ruling affections
Until my heart is bound in chains
So strong I cannot stretch out of them

Loneliness is mastery, mastery is all
Let the cries of the flesh and the heart
Be silenced forever in the demands of duty
Let pain be subsumed beneath it all

The heart is a prison with walls of stone
Trapped in this prison, as a fly in honey
I watch while my captors tear themselves apart
Attempting to reach me and free me

Fire and darkness war in my vision.
Contending with unseen enemy I fight through the night.
Stability taken from me by dreams
I am left with uncertainty by my side

Now around me the darkness grows deeper
Despair conquers, my heart is flames and frost
Death comes to claim us all
Yet I shall take uncertainty to the grave with me

This was inspired by the "Denethor Poetry Challenge" on the Henneth Annun mailing list. I wrote it while I was in the middle of a rather nasty depressive patch of my own. As a form of therapy, I decided to try channelling Denethor (I figured that what the hells, he's not likely to be much more depressed than I am, after all). The above is what came out of it. It's not metrically correct and it corresponds to no known poetic form anywhere, but I have a feeling that it's what Denethor would have liked to have been able to write.

It also had the nice side effect of being able to vent one hell of a lot of my depression. Hmmmm... something to remember, methinks.

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