Study Guide

Famous Form and Meter

By Naomi Shihab Nye

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Form and Meter

Free Verse

The ironic thing about free verse poetry is that it isn't exactly free. On one hand, the poet doesn't have to closely obey any specific rules about syllables or rhymes and what not. It's a regular hootenanny. But on the other hand, the poet still has to pay attention to form—or else the poem isn't a poem at all; it's just a prose paragraph. Like one of our fave poets T.S. Eliot said, "No verse is [free] for the man who wants to do a good job" (oh, and we're sure he meant that to apply to female poets too).

Nye sticks to the poetic form by dividing her poem into lines and stanzas, and using a consistent pattern throughout the poem. Each stanza deals with a different example of a famous item, and the first line of each stanza tells us about the item and whom or what it is famous to. For example, the first line states The river is famous to the fish. She follows that up with: The loud voice is famous to silence. Then she writes: The cat…is famous to the birds… See what we mean? It goes on and on like that until it takes a turn around line 15.

She also makes use of lots of snazzy poetic tools-of-the-trade—things like repetition (we're looking at you, "famous") and the imagery of ordinary life. (If the suspense is killing you, click on over to the "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" section for more examples from her arsenal. But then be sure to head on back here.)

Still, Nye's using free verse here, which means she's ignoring a lot of common and accepted poetic devices, like rhyme, simile, and meter. Could that have some sort of thematic link, do you think? We think so, even if we aren't quite sure what that is. Maybe, by flouting traditional poetic devices, she's reminding us that we shouldn't so readily accept the things we readily accept. Fame isn't about what's famous. It's about what's important. And in her case, that's not rhyme.

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