Tuesday, 18 January 2011

(Skinny, Decaf) Tea With the Vicar

Tuesday 18th January 2011, A. Palmer

“Forgive me, Father,” she said, “for I have skimmed.”
The full-fat tea completely missed the sink
and puddled the top, swelled and over-brimmed,

cascading down cupboards as if to chink
the reverend’s cool and tempt forth a splay
of Eastertime zest with the putrid stink

of God-awful tempers on Bad Friday,
but failed and snaked off towards the fridge.
“Forgive me, Father, you won’t be cross I pray?”

He assured the shop was just across the bridge ,
but her shrill didn’t dampen, rather it rose-
making at cake as if it were cartridge,

she clasped at her stomach through children’s clothes,
“Would you get an apple too? I can’t eat those.”

This is the third instalment of my experimentation with poetry forms (after the octain Of Course, Death and villanelle Weekend When the World Was Away). It is a ‘terza rima’, first used by the Italian poet Dante in his Divine Comedy.
A terza rima is a series of tercets using chain rhyme in the scheme a/b/a | b/c/b | c/d/c | d/e/d. There is no limit to the number of stanzas, but the terza rima is closed with a single line or couplet rhyming with the middle line of the final tercet (thus giving each and every line a rhyme). There is no set meter either, but for terza rimas written in English, lines of 10 syllables or iambic pentameter are generally preferred.
Geoffrey Chaucer first introduced the form into English literature in the fourteenth century with his Complaint to His Lady. Five centuries later, Byron, Milton and Shelley adopted the terza rima, with the latter’s Ode to the West Wind remaining a popular work. Thomas Hardy also employed terza rima’s cross-stanza rhyme scheme to inter-link the characters in his Friends Beyond.
More recently, Robert Frost and Sylvia Plath have written in the form, with the former’s Acquainted With the Night often quoted as an exemplary terza rima.


  1. nice job experimenting...i rather like this form...and the story rather tongue in cheek, but serious enough...the imagery in the last two stanza particularly throw the mind into thought...nice one shot

  2. Has a great rhythm arron and a contrmporary feel to an old form of poetry. I had a bit of difficulty following what was going on until I re read it...but the story is well told....took a while for it to sink in that she has a disorder d'oh!

  3. now you're going "formal" really cool arron - enjoyed it - love the rhythm

  4. Nice poem, thanks for sharing.

  5. 1) great job! 2) love the terza rima form 3)great to find another with interest in the formalists' way :)

  6. This is one of my favorite forms, and I think you've done it well.

    I like the turns you've taken with religious phrases.

  7. This is funny, clever, well written and I read it over and over and now I must stop. You go Aaron.
    Gay That Beachanny Woman you know.

  8. My 1st time reading your work. . .
    I must say, you're very clever & talented. Great stuff here :]

  9. a great poem..but the style intrigued me...i found this style more enjoyable than the villanelle..which stuttered too much for me...cheers pete

  10. Brilliant. You grabbed me with the opening line and didn't let go till the end.

  11. Great terza rima with some unusual rhyme-words that give it personality, as well as enhance the topic. First stanza hooked, but last couplet is killer.

  12. Thank you all so much for your wonderfully kind comments. Claudia, great wordplay there, and not even in your native tongue! Brian, Gay, Randall and all of you really, I'm so glad you picked up on the tongue-in-cheek religious wordplay, I really enjoyed throwing that stuff in there.

    The first line came to me when I made a cup of tea for my mum's friend (with semi-skimmed milk), and she took a sip and said 'ah forgive me, I have skimmed [milk]'. I suddenly thought how much it had sounded like the old clichéd opening to a confession and the poem just sort of trailed from there.

    By chance, I read up on forms a while later (after being influenced by Luke Prater's octain and the villanelle thanks to Claudia Schönfeld) and, coming across the terza rima form, I suddenly noticed this poem would fit. So a few tweaks (meter-wise, which is my biggest obstacle in poetry) and it was done!

    I'm quite pleased with it after my diabolical attempt at a villanelle, so thank you for your kind reviews.

    P.S. Yes, Pete, I enjoyed this more than the villanelle, as wonderful a form as that is, for exactly those reasons: I simply love how linked the rhyme scheme is cross-stanza, and what this sounds like as it is read. You really should check out the terza rimas I mentioned above, especially Robert Frost's and Hardy's. And, as you favour your a/b/c/b and your a/b/a/b patterns, Pete, I think you'd love (and be excellent at) trying your hand. Go on, Pete, give us a terza rima! (That goes for the rest of you too, perhaps we could do a Monday Workshop on them?) Cheers guys :)

  13. Interesting form.. and very interesting verse... I liked it very much.. Thanks

    ॐ नमः शिवाय
    Om Namah Shivaya
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