Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dr. Word Says: Trump Tries His Hand at Poetry

Posted By on Wed, Jul 19, 2017 at 4:41 PM

Squeezing a message into a 140 character tweet sometimes results in what might be referred to as poetic compression, but rarely does the product qualify as poetry. More commonly, the compressed phrase is awkward, even confused. However, sometimes one finds a gem. Take as an example the last sentence in a recent tweet by Donald J. Trump.

"The Dems scream death" is a pithy, well-turned phrase, combining both the act of screaming the word "death" and the scream which can accompany death. Those words are followed immediately by the phrase "as OCare dies," repeating the death image while simultaneously referencing the Republican assertion that Obamacare is in a death spiral. The word "OCare" has an antique, almost Elizabethan quality which adds to the poetic resonance of the passage. A rich, complex interplay of words and images is contained in those seven deceptively simple words.

Did Trump intend the sentence to have a poetic ring, or was his phrasing borne of the necessity of keeping the message to 140 characters, which happens to be the exact length of the tweet? One might as well ask, is an especially evocative Haiku beautiful because the poet intended it to be so, or is the beauty of the poem an accident caused by the constraints of the seventeen syllable, five-seven-five form? Since I readily grant the author of a splendid haiku credit for the work, who am I to deny our president similar credit for the felicity of his phrasing?

Now, let's take this analysis a step further and look at the rhythmic form of the eight syllables. The line, it turns out, is written in perfect iambic tetrameter—four iambic feet.

An iamb contains two syllables, the first unstressed, the second stressed. A well known example of a poem written entirely in iambic tetrameter is Joyce Kilmer's Trees. Here is the opening couplet of the poem.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree. 

If you overemphasize the stressed syllables, the meter becomes evident.
I THINK that I shall NEver SEE
Doubters might believe, incorrectly, that any eight syllable line can be read in four natural-sounding iambs, that the reader can put the stress points on any syllables with equal success. I recommend these doubters attempt to read the couplet aloud stressing the first syllable of each poetic foot and unstressing the second. They will find it doesn't work. The president would likely describe their attempt as FAKE METER, and rightly so. An iamb is an iamb is an iamb.

Here is Trump's carefully wrought line with the same visual overemphasis.
The DEMS scream DEATH as Ocare DIES.
As a fledgling poet, Trump was most probably wise not to attempt a rhyming couplet. Better to create one perfect line than to degrade the effort by reaching too far. However, even though I am aware of the danger, I will attempt a rhyming couplet in iambic tetrameter.
Our Senate wingnuts wouldn't dare
Vote to end Obamacare.
An observant reader might have noticed I dropped the unstressed syllable at the beginning of the second line. Though that results in seven syllables rather than eight, an omission of that kind is accepted poetic practice. Shakespeare dropped the occasional syllable in his sonnets (which are written in iambic pentameter) and elsewhere, which is good enough authority for me. That being said, I will be the first to admit my lines are little more than doggerel. Regretfully, I have not reached the level of mastery of our Versifier-In-Chief.

Truth-In-Advertising Full Disclosure: David Safier is not a doctor, medical or philosophical, but he has been known to play one in the past on Blog for Arizona and is now attempting a similar imposture on The Range.

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