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Poetry and Punctuation

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Fri Aug 10, 2007 9:10 pm
Emerson says...


Then turning to my love I said
"The dead are dancing with the dead
The dust is whirling with the dust"

But she - she heard the violin
And left my side and entered in
Love passed into the house of lust

Then suddenly the tune went false
The dancers wearied of the waltz
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl

And down the long and silent street
The dawn, with silver-sandaled feet
Crept like a frightened girl.

What do you think of that poem? It has rhyme, it has rhythm. It’s pretty too! But…Sometimes missing. Ah, I got it. Punctuation! But, I hear you say, there is a period here! And a comma there! Look at the quote! But, can you figure out how to read the poem from just that little?

Before I clean it up, I’ll go through the steps of cleaning it up. So that way you can learn how to do it with your own poetry. But even before that, I’m going to pull out this sick analogy I keep using for punctuation and poetry.

*holds breath* Punctuation is to a poem, as a key/guide is to a map. Viola! When you look at a poem (Look at the one given) If there isn’t any punctuation, or enough, you don’t know how to read it. Where do you pause? Where do you continue into the next line? Where do stop all together and then go to the next line? These are all things that punctuation will tell you.

Back to the actual poem. Image your poetry as sentences. If there isn’t any punctuation, you have run-ons. If there is a little, it’s confusing. So, to simplify this crazy business, like look at a stanza from above as a sentence.

But she - she heard the violin and left my side and entered in love passed into the house of lust

Where does it end!? Where does it begin? If we saw this in a story, we would become flustered. Wouldn’t you?

Here is it with punctuations. Note: I will be using the punctuation that is in the real poem, I’ll name the poem at the end with a link to it for anyone who would like to look. This is not my interpretation, but the poets.

But she - she heard the violin, and left my side, and entered in: love passed into the house of lust.

Oh, wow, look at that… Doesn’t that look beautiful? You can read it! It looks so much better. Read it like a sentence, think were grammatically or where it would suit the poem to add pauses. Remember, pauses are not limited to the ends of lines. You can stop mid line; you could even stop with one word into the line. But if you’re a beginner, you might want to get the hang of everything else, first, that’s a little hard.

So what does our above poem look like with all punctuation?

Then, turning to my love, I said,
"The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust."

But she - she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.

Reading over the poem now, punctuation and all, does it make more sense to you? Does it read better? You can see the pauses, and understand what is being said.


I spoke with someone who I consider to be a one very smart guy, Incandescence. If you don’t know, He’s Brad and I will be calling him Brad through out this part of the article.

I asked him what he thought of punctuation and poetry; he knows a whole lot about it. He’s the Jr. Mod in all the poetry forums, so you’ve probably seen him somewhere; the guy who gives the mean critiques in letter form? Yeah, him.

Anyway, I asked him what he thought and he game me some interesting advice, so I asked if it could be used in this article. “Sure,” he said.

At the first mention of it and my opinion I got this reply:

“o.O what a can of worms.”

But I got into talking to him, and he started bringing up really good points.

“It’s generally a good idea, but some poems benefit just as well from no punctuation,” he began. I agreed right away, but he kept going. “Like all things, it really does depend on the individual piece. For beginners, I would certainly recommend punctuating your poetry.”

I then brought up my idea on how without it, I can’t read poetry. He said it was an interesting point. (And yesterday, he called me a genius! Apparently my points are interesting, too!)

“Sometimes by not using punctuation, you can create the effect of a double entendre, a double meaning.” He says he refers to it more in Squills and his own poetry tips in Writing Tips. “I think I mentioned it several times in there somewhere.” (Notes on Poetry I, Notes on Poetry II)


Yeah, this is my end. The poem I used was The Harlot’s House by Oscar Wilde. Don’t worry, its G-rate.
“It's necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live.”
― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

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Thu Nov 15, 2007 11:02 pm
Rydia says...

You're right again. Punctuation is very important but Brad makes a good point. Occasionally a lack of punctuation is just as effective and I've used the technique once or twice. Good tips, Suzie! I just wish more people would read them.
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Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:37 am
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Areida says...

Very good tips here, Suz! Thanks. :)
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Sat Nov 29, 2008 3:55 am
alwaysawriter says...

Thanks for this article, Suz. I've never understood grammar in poetry because, apparantly, my English and Reading teachers can't say it as simply as you just did. I can venture into reviewing poetry without feeling like a complete idiot now. Yay! Thanks again. :)
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