Well, no one wanted to take a stab at the formal analysis game, so let’s take a look together, eh? Here is last week’s poem in its entirety:
Night is a thief. He creeps and he skulks,
like a tireless carnivore stalking its prey.
He snatches at shadows
or remnants of daylight.
He tucks them in sacks, then hides them away.
Night is an artist who spurns all color,
a craftsman whose nightmares haunt him by day,
a master who sculpts
in stygian stone,
a painter whose pallet is muted and grey.
Night is a vandal who lives in my bedroom
he creeps up my bedpost and into my head
where he works his great mischief,
and just before morning
crawls back to his sanctum, under my bed.
“Night,” said I to the wordless intruder
“I tire of your silence, your shadows I dread.
Enough of your torment,
your gloom and your madness;
give me my slumber,” I wearily pled
(from the safeness of bedsheets
drawn up to my head).
But night is a thief, a vandal and worse
his darkness a cancer
. . . his silence a curse.
He gives me no answer
—just nods his bleak head
and vows me more hours
of torment instead.
Leaving me sweating
and cold in my bed,
. . . restless and sleepless
enfeebled with dread,
. . . in the arms of the darkness
alone in my bed.
Now I’m willing to be corrected here, but it seems to me that Mr. Chaplin has invented his own stanza form. There are 7 stanzas total, and the first 4 of them follow the same rhyme and rhythm pattern. The rhyme scheme is ABCDB, meaning that for stanza one, the rhyming words are labelled thus:
Every time you see a new sound, you assign it a new letter, thus “B” in the schematic represents the repeating sound of prey/away. The pattern starts over in stanza 2, but interestingly the poet actually chooses the same “B” rhyme, this time the words are day/grey. “B” takes on a new end rhyme in stanza 3 (head/bed), which is likewise repeated in stanza 4 (dread/pled). And then stanza 4 has two extra 2-footed lines, the second of which repeats the end rhyme (head).
Rhythmically, those four stanzas use a combination of anapests and dactyls, which are 3-syllabled poetic feet. He uses them in rapid succession, and every once in a while leaves off an opening syllable or tacks one on the end. An anapest puts the accented syllable last (bum bum DUM), while a dactyl puts it first (BUM dum dum). So you can hear the dactyls in this line:
NIGHT is a VANdal who LIVES in my BEDroom
BUM dum dum BUM dum dum BUM dum dum BUM dum (dum)
and the anapests in this line:
i TIRE of your SI-lence your SHADows i DREAD
(bum) bum DUM bum bum DUM bum bum DUM bum bum DUM
You can see that those lines have four accents each, and are thus written in tetrameter. The “vandal” lines are dactylic tetrameter, the “silence” lines are anapestic tetrameter. And now we’ve done a basic rhyme and meter analysis.
Luckily, Mr. Chaplin is not done having fun, as he then throws at us a tercet, a 3-line stanza, that slows down the proceedings a bit: he introduces a new rhyme (worse/curse), he puts only 2 accents in each line, and he uses ellipses… Then, he throws us yet a new stanza form, this one a tumbling lament that really hits that “B” rhyme hard (head/instead/bed/dread), and includes only 2 accents per line, giving it a headlong, rushed feel. The vocabulary heightens the sense of anxiety.
The poet uses ellipses three times in the poem, and their appearance near the end of stanza 6 and the beginning of stanza 7 land us lightly on his concluding couplet, which is basically anapestic with a an extra unaccented syllable in line 1, and an unaccented syllable chopped off of line 2. The chopping off of an unaccented syllable is called catalexis; if there’s a word for the addition of an unaccented syllable, I’ve forgotten it or never knew. Note the enigmatic, lovely paradox of those concluding lines.
Now these terms and dissections are not meaningful in themselves, but with practice they do help one take apart the poem and see the choices the writer has made. And obviously, the formal choices relate to what is being said (diction/theme), and in what sequence (syntax/repetition). The approach in Mr. Chaplin’s poem is pretty simple. Night is a thief, night is an artist, night is a vandal, and here is what he does to me. Definition, followed by description, followed by subjective expression. It’s quite Romantic in its way, Romantic with a capital R.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe those aren’t anapests and dactyls at all. Maybe they’re iambs and trochees that have been subjected to syzygy! Discuss? -ed.