Skip to content

Elizabeth Hawksley: When I was Eight

August 22, 2010

When I was eight, I wrote the following poem. It is called ‘Macbeth’.

  ‘Double, double, toil and trouble,

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.’

  This is what the witches sang

Dancing round a great black can.

  Suddenly, they turned around

And a strange observer found.

  He came to ask for their advice,

For he thought them very nice.

  They told him, ‘If you ever should

Look at yon fair Birnam Wood,

  ‘If it should move, one day soon,

Macduff will slay thee by full moon!’

At school, we were taught that poems had to rhyme and to scan, that is, the rhythms and stresses must be regular. I didn’t know that you could write poetry that didn’t  rhyme or scan.

So, I had four rather plodding iambs per line, except for the occasional extra weak stress at the beginning of a line, as in: They told him, ‘If you ever should , which I needed for it to make sense. And it rhymed.

I remember writing it. I struggled to find a rhyme for ‘sang’. Reluctantly, I came up with ‘can’, which I wasn’t happy with. It felt banal – though I didn’t know that word, then. I was also worried about ‘nice’ rhyming with ‘advice’ for the same reason. I really wanted a word which meant ‘scary’ but I couldn’t think of one.

I was proud of the ‘Macduff will slay thee by full moon’ bit, which I thought was both poetic and dramatic (I liked the ‘slay thee’). But the line which really impressed me was ‘And a strange observer found.’

I needed a rhyme for ‘around’ and, in desperation, I showed my poem to my Uncle Freddy and asked for his advice. He suggested, ‘And a strange observer found’. I saw at once that his line was much better; it not only made the line rhyme, it also, somehow, made it more exciting, but it worried me that ‘found’ was in the wrong place.

Uncle Freddy told me that you were allowed to change the word order in poetry. It was a revelation. His explanation taught me something important: that word order can change the emotional colour of what you write. He didn’t laugh at my poem, he took me seriously and he helped me on my way as a writer.

This little piece is my thanks to him.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Prem permalink
    August 23, 2010 7:41 pm

    What a lovely tribute to your Uncle Freddy! A very impressive effort for an eight year old – and I was very struck by the slaying at the full moon! I think these days children are taught that poetry is a little more than a matter of metre and rhyme; I was a slave to rhyming doggerel as a child. Thanks for the trip back to childhood!

  2. August 24, 2010 4:49 pm

    I enjoyed reading this, Elizabeth. It is good to acknowledge help from people. I have acknowledged my grandmother’s encouragement to me elsewhere. I should also say that my mother was very keen on us reading and introduced me to many books.

    However, my own experience with poetry was disappointing. I remember submitting a poem to a magazine when I was about 8 years old. It was about Autumn Leaves . The poem, over which I had laboured long, was returned with a curt message that some lines were too like other poems. Were they suggesting that I had copied? I certainly had NOT, so felt very crushed. Ah Well. That’s life!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: