On Writing Lyric Poetry
By Holly Ordway
Erato is the Muse of lyric poetry. So, what exactly is lyric poetry, anyway?
It’s the counter-balance to the epic, in a sense: the epic poem tells a big story, a narrative with lots of action, while the lyric is a smaller-scale form, more personal, focusing on some expression of the poet’s emotions. In ancient times, lyric poems were often sung, to the music of the lyre – hence the name, as the Online Dictionary of Etymology explains. That’s also why there’s a persistent connection between lyric poetry and music – including the word ‘lyrics’ to mean ‘the words to a song.’
What with Erato also being the Muse of love, one might think that the emotions expressed in lyric poetry are all the romantic kind – and certainly that’s a common theme, but certainly not the only one! In this poem, I wanted to hint at the range of emotions that one might find worth writing about. For me, landscape is rich with meaning, on the small scale as well as the large; hence this poem. It’s also, in a small way, a sequel to my sonnet ‘Maps,’ which appears in Malcolm Guite’s anthology Waiting on the Word (you can read that sonnet, and hear Malcolm’s reading of it, in this post from that anthology).
On writing lyric poetry
A long drive north: hours in the car,
The road unfurling mile after mile,
The landscape shifting as the far comes near
And then so swiftly disappears behind.
I look, and look again. Those hills ahead,
Snow-patched slopes, all bristled with brown trees,
Rise steep beside the road, along the river
By my side: austere but not unwelcoming.
Not now a passing image scrolling by,
These hills, but the solid covers of a book,
Page after page within; how many poems
Wait in the gleam of light on water, the sigh
Of wind on leaves, the way clouds move across
The sky? – seen here, as in no other place.
Holly is a poet, teacher, and apologist exploring the intersection of literature and faith, reason and imagination. She is the author of the memoir Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms.