‘Classic’ square poems refer to poems where the number of syllables per line is equal to the number of lines.
I Often Wondered
I often wondered when I cursed,
Often feared where I would be -
Wondered where she’d yield her love
When I yield, so will she.
I would her will be pitied!
Cursed be love! She pitied me…
A quick read of this shows that the above is not an example of a ‘classic’ square poem.
Lewis Carroll – most famous as the author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, and of “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There” – wrote the poem above, and came up with the structure that underlies it.
Carroll – whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – had an academic career that swung like a pendulum between promise and disaster. Like many scholars who are naturally gifted, he didn’t always apply himself, and lost scholarships because of, simply, not studying.
Still, his innate mathematical ability won him a position as a lecturer in Oxford University, which he practiced for over a quarter of a century.
Being an avid mathematician, Carroll loved weaving it through his works, and doctoral dissertations have been written on the geometry, algebra, and more complex mathematics embedded in the Alice series.
He’s done that as well, in “I Often Wondered”, embedded mathematics into the poem. This time, he’s done it with a matrix… but the form has come to be known (unfortunately for the ‘classic’ square poem) as a square poem. Let’s call it a Carroll square poem, for clarity.
In the example above, there are six lines to the poem, each with six words. However, the trick is that while you can read the lines in the normal way, horizontally, the poem can also be read in columns. Either way, the poem reads exactly the same!
It’s pretty easy to do this with random, nonsensical words. The amazing thing is that each line of the poem does make sense – with a bit of mental gymnastics – and the poem hangs together pretty well as a whole.
Carroll created a 6×6 square poem, but it can be done with any length, for example, here are a few square poems I made up just now:
He sees things
Sees them all
Things all change.
Are you my love?
You make dreams new,
My dreams and yours.
Love, new, yours, true.
We came home from battle,
Came home tired without hope.
Home, tired of grief now;
From without, grief from everything.
Battle, hope – now everything lost.
Not having edited these except for punctuation, I don’t consider the above more than exercises… but you can definitely produce some good work with the structure, pulling a white rabbit out of the hat, as it were.
Here’s what it can look like, throwing a bit of slant rhyme for the second lines of each stanza:
Bend to This
by Samuel Peralta
Bend to this, your wondrous lips;
To these, which desire your kiss;
This, which engenders our trembling limbs.
Your desire, our shared hearts’ caress;
Wondrous, your trembling heart’s entwining flames.
Lips kiss, limbs caress, flames embrace.
The challenge gets more difficult the higher up in order you go. I’ve pretty much pegged Carroll’s 6×6 as the benchmark.
Can you do a 6×6 Carroll square poem, or any better? I’m eager to see!
As usual, share your poem via the link button below, and please, visit your fellow writers to see what they’ve come up with. I know I’m looking forward to it!
Images public domain / via WikiMedia Commons.