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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - Epigrammatically Speaking...

Greetings, Poetry Lovers!


I finally hit "send" on this year's regular freelance writing gig I've done for more than a dozen years. (Lost count.)  I write three components of a nation-wide character education curriculum, Core Essentials Values.  This adventure started when we lived in Georgia, and the folks at the helm were women I knew.  They needed some writers and contacted me, and I jumped aboard.  My regular assignments have evolved over the years, but here's what I do.  Each month of the school year has its own value (say, "compassion" or "respect" or "commitment" or some such.)  As part of the elementary school curriculum, I come up with an animal to represent each value, and a color to represent each value, and a little set of quotes for each month as well. (I love seeing the animals and colors magically appear on the yearly poster & graphics.  And I love that many of the materials are in Spanish as well as English.)


Each nonfiction animal description runs about 250-280 words; each "reason for the color," about 100 words (also nonfiction).  I do love me some research, and these little gems require a lot of it.  For the quotes, I search far and wide to find sayings or quotations that relate to the value and/or its definition. That might sound easy, but it's involved, too.


For one thing, I use old quotes.  I don't want to get into any sticky copyright situations.  Also, voices from the past have a lot to teach us, even though time marches on and our society changes and evolves.  I take care with these, and don't claim to always get it exactly right.  If you simply search for quotes online, you'll find a zillion websites, many attributing the same quotes to the same folks, but despite the colorful, uplifting graphics and bold fonts, these are not always well researched.  So my trust level for authenticity has been honed through the years. 


It's also a challenge sometimes trying to find diverse voices, but I try.  If you think about it, whose voices were most likely to be solidified in print 50 or 100 or more years ago?  Yep.  And I have nothing against white men - I've been happily married to one for decades.  But I try to incorporate perspectives from women and writers of color whenever possible as well. 


If you love quotes, I do have one site to recommend: Dr. Mardy Grothe's website, particularly his "Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations."  You will find sources for each entry, as well as some helpful "error alerts" for quotes commonly misattributed or misused. I do also use books, especially antiques - one of the hundred-plus-years-old ones I have has 40,000 quotes - and I love literary and museum sites.  I try to collect quotes throughout the year.  What does any of this have to do with Poetry Friday?


I frequently meander down roads less travelled when I'm writing, and this week I stumbled into a patch of epigrams.  Well, I was using a quotation from the fella pictured above, François VI, Duc de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680), and discovered that the work he is famous for is his Maximes, which include 500 astute/often biting nuggets of observation about being human.  Aphorisms such as:


On ne donne rien si libéralement que ses conseils - "We give nothing so generously as…advice."  


I didn't realize how many classic writers were drawn to reading and writing these literary cordials. The haiku poet in me, trying to squeeze multiple drops of meaning out of a very few words, was/is intrigued.  And while La Rochefoucauld's name was not on the tip of my tongue, I learned he influenced many later writers, from Voltaire to Thomas Hardy to Friedrich Nietzsche, to name a few. My epirgram detours this week occurred primarily in the online Encyclopdia Britannica.  I'm old enough to remember having a whole, hard-copy set in our home when my brother and I were young!  So it has a special place in my psyche. Here are a couple more for you, with Britannica links below. 



I saw a Flie within a Beade

Of Amber cleanly buried:

The Urne was little, but the room

More rich than Cleopatra's Tombe.


Robert Herrick (1591-1674)


(Herrick gave us  "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.")




What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole,

Its body brevity, and wit its soul.


Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)




For more about our French duke, click here.


For more about epigrams, click here.


To gather rosebuds with Robert Herrick, click here.


To revisit Samuel Taylor Coleridge, click here



And to come back to the 21st Century and lots of great poetry, visit our lovely and talented Patricia at Reverie.  Thanks for hosting, Patricia! Wishing all a safe and memorable Memorial Day weekend, with special thanks to military families. Prayers for those who are remembering precious loved ones, especially. 

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