The core character in my current work-in-progress is an immortal goddess (of the minor kind), who goes increasingly desperate. In her desperation she's about to do something quite terrible, and the protagonist's task is to stop her. He knows her final intent, but not the motives - why she wants to do this. About the most significant thread of the story is discovery: learning about her motives, worries and desires, and acting upon them, influencing others in ways that rekindle her hope.

At one point the protagonist finds a tome of poetry written by that goddess, and by mantra "show, don't tell" I use the poems within to show her character and her worst ire: the mortals wasting their lives on what she deems follies: etiquette, lies, meddling, scheming, empty rituals of habit and tradition. Her greatest pain is the mortals pass away so fast, and then they squander the little time they have. Normally she's caring, sincere and gentle, but now she's increasingly angry, and her patience is running short.

There are some poems that are to show her gentle side, and her regret at how fleeting mortal lives are, and I'm fairly sure I got their messages clear, but this one, is to show her anger, to make the reader understand both how to talk with her (only blunt honesty; no flattery, groveling or skirting around the subject) and what kind of change in the society would make her happy (a revolution of sincerity, living lives to the fullest, awakening courageous visionaries).

Before that poem her motives seem unclear, selfish, low and unimportant, and acting upon these is a dead end. The discovery of the poems is a turning point, when the protagonist can start doing things that actually help instead of just delaying the inevitable - but will the reader understand the change?

You fool in fancy lace
Why do you wait
Why do you waste
your breath?
It's late!

Your life is dwindling by
Like candle flame
Like waning night.
Creeps death.
For fame?

You say I lack decorum?
No, you lack time!
Your etiquette
will die.

In your short time, be smart
Follow your dreams
Follow the art!
your schemes.

You fool, don't you see?
Through being free,
Through honesty,
you live
for me.

I teach but they forget it.
They keep lyng,
They don't get it!
They strive,

You spit on my plight
That fanciful speak
It's blight!
Your hive:
They reek!

Innocent cried for loss,
Nations fell.
Fraud and gloss:
they drive
their hell.

The moon in the sky.
bears scars.
Each your lie

If I find one worthy soul
If you oppose his deeds,
you worthless fool,
I'll rive
you to bits.

I choose this form - strongly fragmented phrases, the uneven lines, imprecise rhymes, weird rhyme scheme, to keep the emotions emphasized. This is not to be a piece polished to chrome shine, it's to be an angry shout-out, frustrated and desperate. I'm not sure though, if I didn't just lose the message in the mess.

EDIT: I added the stanzas in double quote. I hope the last one drives the point home. Now... are there any stanzas I should remove?

  • 1
    It would probably help if you explained the intent after presenting the writing. By reading what was intended before the actual text, it is more difficult to perceive how one without such knowledge would understand the text. (It might be worth editing the question for later readers.)
    – user5232
    Sep 3, 2013 at 17:23

2 Answers 2


Some aspects of the poem truly do communicate the perspective of the writer. The short lines certainly present the intensity of the emotion and the sense of urgency in her plea. The somewhat irregular rhyme scheme (aba'cb ded'ce) and irregular line length might express something of her contempt for mere formality. I think this could be further emphasized by not having the last line of each stanza have a firm, proximate rhyme resolution (e.g., abcba' deced' or aba'bc ded'ec).

Some of the long words seem to detract slightly from the force of her words. Long words (which are often more formal) might best be used in ways that express her contempt and associate such finery and artifice to the foolish mortals.

The forcefulness of the accusations (and concerns) might be further increased by more use of forms of address expressing their character. E.g., addressing them as liars and not just saying that they lie. Name calling more forcefully expresses emotion (whether hostility or affection) than description.

If you are willing to do a very extensive rewrite, you might consider using a conceptual repetition at the end of each stanza pair to present a didactic feeling (repetition of basic content) and break that expectation by having an odd number of stanzas. This might give a sense of anticipation of doom, that she may give up trying to teach these foolish mortals (particularly if the odd-numbered stanzas are more judgment oriented and the even stanzas more pleading).

The impact of ending on an odd-numbered stanza might be increased if the book or scroll ended there, particularly if some cleverness is applied in selecting a name for the volume. E.g.,

[last, odd-numbered stanza]

And there The Scroll of Mortals ended.

A title like "Book of Dreams" might be more ambiguous (whether revealed to a mortal scribe in a dream-like state, referring to her aspirations for mortals, or referring to mortals' ephemeral creativity), possibly weakening the impact of that line but also possibly not telegraphing the ending or making it sound trite. If some of her earlier poems in the volume compared the mortals' brief but potentially extravagant creativity with dreams, such a title might be appropriate.

This effect might be further intensified by the protagonist not immediately recognizing how these writings offer the hoped for chance of convincing the goddess to abandon her plan to "do something quite terrible". The quest has ended in failure mirroring the hopeless ending of the book. (This symbolism could also be used at the end of the novel by having the protagonist discover that the book is mysteriously larger with many blank pages added to the end — the dreams will continue.)

Alternating judgmental and pleading stanzas might also express her tension of wishing mortals well and being frustrated by their madness.

In addition to differences in meter brought by their different tone, it might also be good to end the even/odd stanzas with different metrical feet. E.g., ending the pleading (even) stanzas with an amphibrach (unstressed, stressed, unstressed) might express something of gentle longing and opportunity for them to repent, and ending the judgment (odd) stanzas with an iamb (unstressed, stressed) might express an abruptness and forcefulness.

Trying to work all such tricks into such a poem may well be just too difficult. The weakness of the following rephrasing of just two stanzas may hint at the difficulty:

Do I lack grace?
You lack time!
Winter makes
A fireless rime
Of ettiquette

Dear mayflies, think!
Forge your dreams
In timeless ink
And empty schemes

Replacing "decorum" not only removes a longer, less forceful, more formal word but also seems to make the mortals' accusation harsher (lacking grace being perhaps worse than lacking decorum). Calling them mayflies not only directly addresses them (an affectionate condescension and a call to attention) but adds force and metaphor (which links to the urging to manifest their dreams). The moving of the rhyme linking the stanzas to the last line of the stanzas makes that (near) rhyme more apparent and would intensify the effect of ending on an odd stanza. Having "etiquette" at the end of the stanza may also increase the sense of forceful contempt she has for such. The ending of stanzas with different feet might also add some value; the near spondee perhaps having a feel of "please, please" (expressing urgency that there is still time to change) while the iambic pair possibly giving a sense of relentless marching doom.

Unfortunately, this rephrasing substantially changes the specific meaning (and somewhat the general meaning) from the original and uses a more regular meter, rhyme, and line length than appropriate. "Forge your dreams/ In timeless ink" is poetic and I like the use of "rime" in that it presents etiquette as fog-like (obstructing, disguising, insubstantial) and frozen (to an entombing container) by the chill of mortality. However, the meaning is very different.

  • Hmm. "fireless rime" vs. "lifeless rime"--the former is more symbolic (no passion, a frost without sparkling beauty) and sounds more forceful but the later seems more literal/understandable and connects winter with death.
    – user5232
    Sep 3, 2013 at 22:01

You're getting there. Push it farther. I think your first and last stanzas/poems have the right idea. Be rougher. Be angrier. Don't worry about grammar. Show more images, and have them more raw: fire consuming, water draining, a tornado blowing things away, an sinkhole devouring buildings, lava flowing over a city.

These stanzas are a little too hand-holding, if anything. She's not desperate or frustrated enough.

EDIT: Remove four, five, and six. Too mushy. The new ones are definite improvements.

  • When she was writing these, she wasn't that desperate yet. But see the edits.
    – SF.
    Sep 3, 2013 at 14:30

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