Training My Inner Ear
In Rhythm, Pace, and Poe – Part I, I shared how my high school English teacher, Mr. Thomas, spent many hours reading poetry aloud to our class. Even though I believe he did this simply because he preferred the easy way out (it’s easier to read poetry aloud than to teach grammar), I’m to this day indebted to that man. He was key in training my inner ear, my soul, and my emotions to delight in the rhythm of words. I was quite fascinated.
While he read to us a wide variety of poetry, I came to admire Edgar Allan Poe. While I was never a fan of Poe’s personal lifestyle, I couldn’t argue that he was an amazing poet.
It was also during my high school years that I first heard this line from an old rhythm and blues song:
When the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls…
My young senses could hardly contain the beauty that I perceived in that one short line. One could definitely think of dusk as being a purple time of day – but it’s not just purple – it’s deep purple. And that deep purple is falling. Hm. That purpling of the evening was falling over the garden walls. And not just a plain old garden wall, but a sleepy garden wall. Can a garden wall be sleepy? Of course it can!
(As someone who was mesmerized with The Secret Garden in sixth grade which was all about a walled garden, it was enough to set me into orbit. [See my blog post entitled Books That Transform])
A Fresh Hunger to Write
I can remember mulling that line over and over in my mind. It amazed me that anyone could even think up a sentence so brimming over with imagery and beauty. Such lyric writing (poetry, actually) stirred up a fresh hunger in me to write.
It wasn’t that I thought I would ever write such a beautiful line – that wasn’t the point. It’s more like being physically hungry and catching the whiff of dinner cooking in the kitchen. The appetite is suddenly intensified. My hunger to write was intensified by such a lovely song.
The first stanza in its entirety goes like this:
When the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls
and the stars begin to flicker in the sky
thru the mist of a memory
you wander back to me
breathing my name with a sigh. (Mitchell Parish)
Take a Memory Journey
Each one of us who are compelled to write can take a memory journey and recall how the art of putting words on paper first beckoned us. And how rhythm and pacing became real to us. For me, I can definitely look back and see the mile-markers of
- The Secret Garden,
- Mr. Thomas reading Edgar Allen Poe (and others)
- and the lyrics of Deep Purple.
Of course there’s a lot more to rhythm and pacing in novel writing than words set down in an artistic arrangement. But I’ll touch on that next time.