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Saturday, 15 December 2007

A Liberty

Americans! Of rights and freedoms famed
(Famed often by yourselves, it's true, but still)
Why do I see your once-proud country named
In lists of those who torture when they will?

Why are Iraq's reporters held uncharged?
Why does your leader flout the rule of law?
Look to your homeland, see what is presaged
Consider what you should be fighting for.

Although I know that it might seem a liberty
To say the threat is to your life, and small
There is no power in terrorist activity
To force your strong democracy to fall.

When fears both real and fictional abound,
If you would keep your freedom, stand your ground.


There's a metric device known as a trochaic substitution. Essentially, instead of an iamb (weak-strong), you substitute a trochee (strong-weak). It's usually only done at the beginning of a line, or after a pause mid-line, at the beginning of a new sentence or new idea. There are lots of them in this poem. Please don't mangle them by saying, for example, "Why do . . . " instead of "Why do . . . " in a misguided attempt to stick to the metre. Oh, and you can put one at the beginning of the final line, if you like, even though it's maybe not quite so obviously needed there. I would.


Alon Levy said...

It's topical... for some reason, I didn't think it was as deep as the previous ones. It may just be my bias for things that explore emotions.

The Exterminator said...

I'm with Alon, although I'll say it more bluntly: Political poetry is rarely either good politics or good poetry.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but some things need to be said - whether in poetry or in some other medium. It shames me to know that my country is involved in such things, despite the attempts of so many good people to put a stop to it. It's too late to undo the harm that's been done; hopefully it's not too late to deliver justice to those who did it.

L.L. Barkat said...

Actually, I liked it for its truth. Are you a fan, by chance, of Noam Chomsky?

Anonymous said...

I like it very much. It's an effective way of expressing some hard truths. Even if poetry is not always be the best tool for political content, I admire the fact that you've done it, and done it quite well.

I also appreciate your discussion of the meters involved. I think I instinctively read them properly the first time around, but it's nice of you to give a poetic imbecile like me some help.

Lynet said...


Given that your "bias for things that explore emotions" over political commentary might well disappear if this was prose, I can only conclude that my earlier poetry succeeds at something poetic :-)


Fair enough. I think perhaps this poem may have been easier to write in some ways precisely because I was dealing with a clear-cut political view rather than a messy personal one. That being so, it would make sense that there might be a little less in it. But since I had the idea, I figured I might as well see how it went.

Ebonmuse, LL, chaplain,

Thanks, all of you.

To be honest, Noam Chomsky is on the edge of my scope, really. I've heard his name enough times to know roughly what areas he works in and to have a vague idea of the sorts of things he says, but that's about it.

I'm glad the metre reads the way it should. Actually, I sometimes consider doing a whole post on trochaic substitutions, but I can't help thinking it might be similar to doing a whole post on differential equations or something.

John Evo said...

Not being a "poet" I can only speak of how it made me feel. And it made me very, very sad. Which I suppose is your intention, so for an illiterate like me, it was good.

Alon said...

I'd be happy to see either a post on trochaic substitution or one on differential equations.

Unknown said...

I like the aside at the beginning, which set the tone for the rest of the poem.

I think personal poetry has the potential to touch a person more deeply and maybe that's why it's favored, but this one touched me.

The Exterminator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Exterminator said...

I'd like to see you write a poem using trochaic substitutions about differential equations. Is that what people mean by "form follows function?"

John Evo said...

Ex, Alon...

I have no clue what you guys are talking about. But I'm sure Lynet does.

Lynet said...


You can't be serious. If political poetry tends not to be so good, mathematical poetry is doubtless prone to similar problems.

I could maybe write a poem about differential equations as they apply to physics, I suppose. Actually, I think I'd rather write a poem about algebra. But I still think it would be tricky to get this to work. There's no way I'm using sonnet form, it will have to be something else. I suppose I could have a crack with the Onegin stanza, but I suspect a form with more obvious symmetry would make more sense.

Please say you weren't serious. Otherwise I may go ahead and write this thing. You don't really want a poem on algebra, do you?


You've put your finger on one of the trickier aspects of writing a post on differential equations, there. I suppose I could consider getting the idea across to someone who has never seen differential equations before as my central idea and work from there.

Lynet said...

Actually, now I think about it, I've discerned the central problem with writing a poem about algebra. Algebra is poetry. How could I possibly improve on it?

The Exterminator said...

Here's a short algebraic poem attributed to one Whewell, a learned Master of Trinity College:

Youths who would senior wranglers be
Must drink the juice distilled from tea,
Must burn the midnight oil from month to month,
Raising binomials to the n+1th.

Lynet said...

Yep, that sounds like Whewell, all right. You know, he was famous for chasing away students who were loitering on Trinity Bridge by asking "What was this bridge built for?" and, upon receiving the reply that it was for crossing the river, replying "Well, cross it then." There's a story that one student stymied him by responding that it was built "to provide the best possible view of the St John's grounds, which are unparalled in all Cambridge" -- particularly amusing given the Trinity/John's rivalry.

John Evo said...

Whewell was a famous Anti-Darwinian. Darwin actually took some of his arguments into account as he formulated "Origin". Whewell had already made anti-evolutionary arguments after "Anonymous" wrote "Vestiges" 10 or 15 years before Darwin. Thus, Whewell was much less successful in countering Darwinian Selection.

Anonymous said...

You've been tagged for the Top 20 Albums Meme. Check my December 22 post for details.