Next Line, Please

Word Golf

By David Lehman | February 21, 2017


Last week I asked: What if Wordsworth had been interrupted before finishing “My Heart Leaps Up”? Having just written “The Child is father of the Man /And I could wish,” he is a mere one-and-a-half lines shy of the finish. I asked people to provide a closing couplet. People were discouraged from consulting Wordsworth’s poem.

I would divide first-place honors between Ricky Ray

The Child is father of the Man
and I could wish him rock to know
the mother Earth he Daughters now,

and Bryan Johnson

The Child is father of the Man
And I could wish the fields [would] darken
The winter wren and the wild hearken

The contestant who calls himself Byron speaks for me in the comment field when he compliments  Ricky’s second line (“awesome”) and the abrupt change of grammar in Bryan’s last line (“Makes me think of ‘hearken’ as a noun.”) Ricky’s sight rhyme (“know” and “now”) and his introduction of a maternal metaphor are added virtues, as is the alliteration of “w” and “r” sounds in Bryan’s last line. May I suggest inserting “would” in line two, Bryan? It would regularize the meter and you would not lose the delicious double object of the verb, it seeming to the reader that the fields grow dark and also that they darken the wren.

Angela Ball claims runner-up laurels with this grace note:

The Child is the father of the Man
And I could wish never to erase
The thunderbolt’s counter impulse: grace.


Millicent Caliban strikes a lighter note with which many parents can identify:

The Child is father of the Man
But I could wish for what I lack:
My own child’s skills to code and hack.

Like his namesake, byron does nice things with rhetoric:

The Child is father of the Man
and I could wish to live in the belly of a fish
sooner than see the flight of the bee,
sooner than the candy man can.

I tried my hand at it, but this imitation of Yeats was the best I could do

The Child is father of the Man
and I could wish
to be as cold and ignorant as a fish.

How did Wordsworth solve the problem? Here is the whole of “My Heart Leaps Up”:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

For next week, what do you say to playing a round of word golf? You ask what that is. I get the phrase from Nabokov, though there may be other names for this alternative to rhyme as a way of organizing a poem. In word golf you go from one four-letter word to another, one letter at a time, with the results supplying the end words of your poem. For example, I can move from mind to fate in seven moves: mind to mine to fine to fire to fare to fate. These become the end-words of a six-line poem. You can expand it accordion-like by adding line and live and five after either mine or fine.

So. . .feel free to borrow the word sequence above, or try moving from kiss to love in seven moves. Or from head to tail in seven moves. Or even from self to wail in five moves.

Deadline:  Sunday, February 26, midnight any time zone.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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