What are the Visual Patterns Used in Poetry – A Simple Introductory Guide

Simply put, a poems pattern is, ‘the accurate arrangement and development of material (in both visual and aural form) components of words in specific repetitive or serial forms are a means to create a poems structure.’  Through a mingling of elements from sound and visual, a poem is given its structure. Traditionally, poetry has only concerned itself with the sounds a word made – but, given that poetry is a piece of written art, it is difficult to deny that there is a certain visual aspect to a poem that cannot be overlooked.

The aural patterns found in a poem are largely connected to things like the rhythm and the tone established by the words. Visual patterns, on the other hand, point more closely towards that way that a poem is placed on the page that it is written on and less towards the way that a poem might sound when it is read.

Similar to the way that a painter might paint on a canvas, a writer of poetry who concerns themselves with the visual patterning of their work should spend time considering who it will sit on the blank page and how that visual structure will develop patterns that can be used to create a richer experience for anyone viewing the poem.

With that in mind, it is important to ask ourselves – What exactly do we mean when we say visual pattern?

Visual Patterns – a Definition

Visual pattern, by way of definition is: “the careful arrangement and development of material (in both visual and aural form) components of words in specific repetitive or serial forms are a means to create a poems structure.” If we were to rephrase that, visual pattern is every recurring visual element of a poem.

Given that the entire visual field of a poem on a page is available, it is necessary to dissect a certain portion of that field into smaller, more manageable sections. The basic components of the written language are words, letters, phrases, diphthongs, paragraphs and sections, and visual patterns should be broken down into similar components.

When trying to work with visual patterns, the ultimate goal is to train your eye to read a page ‘at a glance.’ This will make it easier for the visual aspect to be seen. Think in terms of whitespace, and you will likely be better able to see the various aspects of visual pattern.

That said, predictability and recurrence are at the root of every pattern. Words, phrases, sentences and other grammar variations are no exception. Rather than focusing on the obvious uses of repetition, it is best to hone in one the recurrence of words on a page that can be easily seen and quickly scanned.

Here are two examples of visual poetry.

Vision and Prayer by Dylan Thomas

Are you
Who is born
In the next room
So loud to my own
That I can hear the womb
Opening and the dark run
Over the ghost and the dropped son
Behind the wall thin as a wren’s bone?
In the birth bloody room unknown
To the burn and turn of time
And the heart print of man
Bows no baptism
But dark alone
Blessing on
The wild

Uplifting by Robert Yehling.

Upon a glade of sun-sculpted

Pine forest, rooted in stone,
Layers of my bark peel away,
Inviting a softer surface to emerge. I climb
Far into the sky, following an eagle’s current
To the sun–
I melt into my sculptor…
Nestled by Her vision, I hear a new call:
“Go back to seed, and I will bring you Home.”

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Structural Elements of Poetry

All things considered, there are several ways that you might choose to structure your poetry. However, like most things, there are common elements that are most often placed inside a poem. This includes things like meter (the rhythm patter), feet (the pattern of the lines of a poem), and stanzas (the group of lines that correlate with themes.)

Here is a quick video to help you better understand the Structural Elements of Poetry: https://www.mometrix.com/academy/structural-elements-of-poetry/

What does Stanza Mean?

Stanza in a poem is simply a division of four or more lines that each have a fixed length, meter or rhyming scheme.

Think of a stanza in a poem like you would paragraphs in a prose. Both consist of like minded thoughts that are set off by a space. The number of lines that you see in a stanza will vary, however, it is extremely rare for a stanza to have more than 12 lines. The pattern it follows will depend greatly on the number of feet in each line.

The following types of stanzas are found in traditional English poetry:

  • Couplet
  • Tercet
  • Quatrain
  • Quintain
  • Sestet

Here is a stanza example: 

A tercet has three lines that follow an identical rhyming scheme (aaa) or have a rhyme pattern (aba). Tercet was first introduced by Thomas Wyatt in his poem My Mother’s Maids When They Did Spin and Sew

My mothers maydes when they did sowe and spynne,
They sang sometyme a song of the feld mowse,
That forbicause her lyvelood was but thynne,
Would nedes goo seke her townysshe systers howse.
She thought her self endured to much pain,
The stormy blastes her cave so sore did sowse,
That when the forowse swymmed with the rain
She must lye cold and whete in sorry plight;
And wours then that, bare meet there did remain
To comfort her when she her howse had dight,
Sometyme a barly corne, sometyme a bene,
For which she laboured hard boeth daye and nyght
In harvest tyme whilest she myght goo and glyne;
And when her stoore was stroyed with the flodd,
Then wellawaye! for she undone was clene.
Then was she fayne to take in stede of fode
Slepe if she myght her hounger to begile.
My syster, quod she, hath a lyving good,
And hens from me she dwelleth not a myle.
In cold and storme she lieth warme and dry,
In bed of downe the dyrt doeth not defile
Her tender fote. She laboureth not as I.
Richely she fedeth and at the richemans cost,
And for her meet she nydes not crave nor cry.
By se, by land, of delicates the moost
Her Cater sekes and spareth for no perell;
She fedeth on boyled bacon, meet and roost,
And hath therof neither charge nor travaill;
And when she list the licour of the grape
Doeth glad her hert, till that her belly swell.
And at this jorney she maketh but a jape;
So fourth she goeth trusting of all this welth
With her syster her part so for to shape
That if she myght kepe her self in helth
To lyve a Lady while her liff doeth last.
And to the dore now is she come by stelth,
And with her foote anon she scrapeth full fast.
Th’othre for fere durst not well scarse appere,
Of every noyse so was the wretche agast.
At last she asked softly who was there,
And in her langage as well as she cowd,
Pepe, quod the othre, syster I ame here.
Peace, quod the towne mowse, why spekest thou so lowde?
And by the hand she toke her fayer and well.
Welcome, quod she, my sister by the Roode.
She fested her, that joy it was to tell
The faere they had: they drancke the wyne so clere.
And as to pourpose now and then it fell
She chered her with how, syster, what chiere?
Amyddes this joye befell a sorry chaunce
That well awaye the straunger bought full dere
The fare she had; for as she loked ascaunce,
Under a stole she spied two stemyng Ise
In a rownde hed with sherp erys. In Fraunce
Was never mowse so ferd for tho the unwise
Had not Isene suche a beest before,
Yet had nature taught her after her gyse
To knowe her foo and dred him evermore.
The towney mowse fled: she knewe whether to goo.
Th’othre had no shift but wonders sore
Ferd of her liff: at home she wyshed her tho,
And to the dore, alas, as she did skipp,
Thevyn it would, lo, and eke her chaunce was so,
At the threshold her sely fote did tripp,
And ere she myght recover it again
The traytor Catt had caught her by the hipp
And made her there against her will remain,
That had forgotten her poure suretie and rest
For semyng welth wherin she thought to rayne.
Alas, my Poynz, how men do seke the best,
And fynde the wourst by error as they stray!
And no marvaill, when sight is so opprest,
And blynde the gyde; anon owte of the way
Goeth gyde and all in seking quyete liff.
O wretched myndes, there is no gold that may
Graunt that ye seke, no warr, no peace, no stryff,
No, no, all tho thy hed were howpt with gold,
Sergeaunt with mace, hawbert, sword nor knyff
Cannot repulse the care that folowe should.
Eche kynd of lyff hath with hym his disease.
Lyve in delight evyn as thy lust would,
And thou shalt fynde when lust doeth moost the please
It irketh straite and by it self doth fade.
A small thing it is that may thy mynde apese.
Non of ye all there is that is so madde
To seke grapes upon brambles or breers,
Nor none, I trow, that hath his wit so badd
To set his hay for Conys over Ryvers,
Ne ye set not a dragg net for an hare,
And yet the thing that moost is your desire
Ye do mysseke with more travaill and care.
Make playn thyn hert that it be not knotted
With hope or dred, and se thy will be bare
From all affectes whome vice hath ever spotted;
Thy self content with that is the assigned,
And use it well that is to the allotted.
Then seke no more owte of thy self to fynde
The thing that thou haist sought so long before,
For thou shalt fele it sitting in thy mynde.
Madde, if ye list to continue your sore,
Let present passe and gape on tyme to come
And diepe your self in travaill more and more.
Hens fourth, my Poynz, this shalbe all and some:
These wretched fooles shall have nought els of me
But to the great god and to his high dome
None othre pain pray I for theim to be
But when the rage doeth led them from the right
That lowking backward vertue they may se
Evyn as she is so goodly fayre and bright;
And whilst they claspe their lustes in armes a crosse,
Graunt theim, goode lorde, as thou maist of thy myght,
To frete inward for losing suche a losse.

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