Sometimes Brevity is King

I have long been an admirer of those who can express themselves well in short verse. Consequently I was interested when I came across 7 Poems, an Alexa skill, which provides the user of an Amazon Echo with access to 7 poems from the book Text Messages, by Andrew Wilson,

I was impressed with the poems showcased in the above free Alexa skill, and will be purchasing Wilson’s book Text Messages.

My love for the short poem began, I believe with my reading of Ernest Dowson’s “They are not long, the weeping and the laughter” which runs thus:

“They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream”.

Life is indeed brief and the brevity of Dowson’s poem serves to underline this fact. It is, of course true that there have been many fine long poems written on the subject of mortality. Take, for example Keats “Ode to a Nightingale” which is, incidentally one of my favourite poems.

Keats produced a wonderful meditation on mortality, suicide and beauty and his ode does, to my mind contain not one extraneous word. I have, however read other poems where I have thought that (had the poem been briefer) it would have been more impactful. Dowson’s “They are not Long” certainly does not suffer from being long winded, and his verses undoubtedly pack a powerful punch.

Many (but by no means all) of my own poems are brief in nature. Take, for example my poem Summer, which runs as follows:

“Summer unlocks
Youthful passion.
Now ’tis the fashion
For short frocks
And tiny socks.
Some girls barefoot go;
For, of a summer’s day,
They little know
That winter snow
Is on its way.”

Only my readers can say whether the above poem conveys (in 10 lines) what the poet wished to convey, and, if so whether his message is well expressed in so brief a space. As the poet, I believe that I said all I wished to convey in 10 lines. Had I said more I would have been guilty of the sin of waffle, and heaven preserve us from wafflers! But, in the final analysis its all in the interpretation of my readers.

In conclusion, there is, I believe a place for both short and longer poems. If something can be expressed briefly and with impact then there is, in my opinion no point in spinning out the word count. Indeed doing so will merely weary the reader and turn an otherwise potentially good (even great) poem, into a mediocre or poor piece of writing. Some things are, however better expressed at greater length, as is the case with Keats “Nightingale”.

My poem Summer can be found in my Selected Poems, which is available in paperback and e-book format from Amazon: (for the UK, and (for the US and elsewhere).

2 thoughts on “Sometimes Brevity is King

  1. V.M.Sang

    I think it was Mark Twain who said ‘ I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.’ Short is concise and to the point. Not easy!
    However one of my favorite long poems about the subject has a long title, too. Wordsworth’s Ode to Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.
    I love both poems you quote here, though, both Dawson’s and yours. Both thoughtful and thought provoking

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for your comment.

      I always smile at the lines you quote of Mark Twain. Thanks for reminding me of them.

      As you say, Wordsworth’s poem is a great piece of writing.

      I’m delighted you enjoyed both the poems included by me (Dowson’s and my own).

      Best wishes, Kevin


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