Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been re-visiting some old poems and re-drafting, revising and re-writing.
Some of the changes are substantial – whole stanzas, refurbished, renovated, knocked in together or removed completely. With changes like this it’s usually clear whether the result is an improvement.
Other changes, though, are less clear cut. I feel like Oscar Wilde when he said he’d been hard at work all day on a poem: “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again.”
I know that every little detail of a poem is important, but sometimes I feel that recognising the exact best version is like trying to find the prettiest flower in a patch like the one in the picture.
2 thoughts on “verses and versions”
There may not always be a single best version. A preference for heavy or light punctuation may depend on the acoustics of the room where the poem is to be be recited, or a poem dedicated to a friend may be adapted to the friend’s personal tastes in a private version but generalised when published.
If variants that can’t be allowed to exist side-by-side for such reasons seem equally good, it may be a sign that the poem is trying to be two poems: in such cases, the rejected variant should certainly be saved for future use. Or it may be a sign that neither variant is working quite well enough for either to be quite right: in such cases, there may be a tertium quid to be discovered.
As for Wilde’s comma, we now know that such details are just as important as he thought, since the flapping of a comma’s wings can cause a hurricane.
I’ve been thinking more about this with regard to all the different possible translations of a single poem and will hopefully get another blog post written on the subject shortly.
Thanks, as always, for adding your two penn’orth (that is what the “tertium quid” is all about, isn’t it – tuppence adjusted for inflation?)