Saturday, 15 September 2012

The subjunctive and a rondeau, after recent Twitter conversations

These two poems tie in with a couple of recent Twitter conversations.

'Lines on the loss of the subjunctive' dates from 2003. I threw it into a recent discussion, on the Language Log blog from the University of Pennsylvania, about the future or otherwise of the subjunctive mood in English. A bit of a sideline to the discussion as a whole, in which many of the participants are dauntingly well-informed -- have a look!


With the subjunctive, we are losing
a way to show the difference
between two thoughts we'd be confusing
as polar opposites in sense.
"She insists that the house is clean"
(she does, despite all evidence)
is strained if also used to mean
she makes you clean it, no pretence.
"She insists that the house be clean"
conveys the other not the one.
This plaintive pedant rests his case,
lest it should tire him in the sun.

'Flip' was written in 1998 for Rondeau revue -- one of several anthologies that Poetry Now (Forward Press in its present incarnation) devoted in the late 90s to verse in established forms. I'm always up for that kind of challenge, and produced my rondeau fairly quickly. It's on page 105 of the book.


Credit discredit. Like some board
game battered in a long-stay ward,
but it's played everywhere. The game
flicks pain to good and good to blame
or power or weakness or reward.

Both sides of this game's cards record
the moves, but how each player's scored
turns on which side lands up, which name,
credit discredit.

Fine honesty, or mere discord;
beauty, or waste; faith's risks, or fraud;
thankless unstinting, as you claim,
or blackmail; discipline, or maim:

make up the rules, play them when bored,
credit discredit.

For the rondeau as a form see Wikipedia here; for what looks like its Scottish cousin, see Wikipedia here. The Twitter conversation that brought all this up was with Karen McAulay, who has blogged an eighteenth-century poem, possibly by an ancestor-in-law of hers, in a metre that's close kin to that Scottish cousin.

Head, Andrew (ed.). 1998. Rondeau revue. Peterborough: Poetry Now.

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