Created By: Azeotrope on July 11, 2011 Last Edited By: Azeotrope on February 13, 2012

Waxing Poetic

When a series uses well-known (or not so well-known) poems as foreshadowing or as a plot mechanism. They could also be used as general dialogue.

Name Space:
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Trope
Poetry was once a much beloved, highly acclaimed, and popular art form. Compressing thoughts and feelings into a limited amount of space through figurative language was considered the mark of some geniuses. However, as readers became less patient in attempting to analyze their words, poetry steadily left popular culture. So no one really reads it anymo--

Was that Shakespeare?!

Poetry can have a lot of meaning in a short space. Prose writers are usually well-aware of the poetry of the past, so it is not too much of a stretch that they may occasionally incorporate it into their writing. It can be broken down into two main types:

Type I: The author intentionally uses a specific poem as a plot point.

Type II: Poetry is quoted by characters in a series.


Examples

Manga
  • ARAGO: Oz and Seth quote William Blake's "Proverbs of Hell" in chapter 68.

Literature
  • Howl's Moving Castle: The curse which the Witch of the Waste places on Howl is one of John Donne's Songs.
Community Feedback Replies: 35
  • July 12, 2011
    NetMonster
    Poetry is dead? Dude. :-(

    • The Mentalist uses William Blake's poetry as a plot point.
    • In the graphic novel Watchmen, "Ozymandias" is used symbolically.
  • July 12, 2011
    Azeotrope
    I came up with a slightly better title and added my examples. Opinions?
  • July 12, 2011
    Prfnoff
    The title is still bad. And examples hidden behind spoiler tags aren't too helpful at this point.
  • July 12, 2011
    Azeotrope
    Prfnoff, I suppose the spoilers aren't bad enough to hide. As for the title, it's still better than it used to be. Do you have any title suggestions or ideas as how to come up with a better one?
  • July 13, 2011
    Elihu
    So this is basically... "poetry occurs in a non-poetic environment"? Not someone implying "poetry is dead" or marginalizing it in fiction (something that would actually be a trope) but just... an author or character mentioning poetry?
  • July 13, 2011
    Deboss
    What?

    While killing poetry is a worthy goal, I don't think this is much of a trope. It sounds like a poetry specific version of symbolism or something.
  • July 13, 2011
    tylerdurden
    In Wolverine : Origin comics, they have used the poem "The Tyger" by William Blake.

  • July 13, 2011
    Azeotrope
    Since it seems I've confused several people, the trope is about the fact that existing poetry is being used in modern/contemporary literature/television, etc instead of being completely forgotten or ignored. I'm simply not sure how I could include that in the description...

    I've renamed it and am still working on a better title.
  • July 13, 2011
    Elihu
    Nobody's confused about the trope. You are saying exactly this: poetry shows up in non-poetic works. That's just a specific form of allusion that's not limited to poetry. Frankly, your assumption that poetry is dying or should be dying is what's bewildering: where on earth does that idea come from? Grumbling high school students? Poetry is very much alive (like many other mediums) and shows up frequently in fiction (like many other mediums) and there is nothing particularly special about it.
  • July 13, 2011
    Azeotrope
    My assumption comes from the fact that one rarely hears positive comments about modern poetry; they are usually complaints. There is also this article: http://www.newsweek.com/2003/05/05/poetry-is-dead-does-anybody-really-care.html and this response to it: http://poetryisdead.ca/content/poetry-dead-what-hell-happened.html. In the latter, even a poet agrees poetry is dead/dying.

    However, even if someone disagrees about the death of poetry, surely it can be agreed that it's surprising when one encounters old poetry in prose or in the media?

    Any thoughts on the new title?
  • July 13, 2011
    TTurtle
    We could develop a trope called Poetry Has Power, for when real poems from our world have magical power in a fictional 'verse. The Howls Moving Castle example would work for that, as would Christopher Stasheff's Her Majesty's Wizard and its sequels. There might be other examples, too. But that's a completely different thing from the proposed trope, which, I agree, just sounds like "allusion to a work you thought no one bothered to read anymore."
  • July 13, 2011
    TTurtle
    "surely it can be agreed that it's surprising when one encounters old poetry in prose or in the media?:

    I wanted to add: no, when worded that generally, what you are describing is not surprising. That doesn't mean it's insignificant: that kind of allusion might signal that the work in question is trying to be particularly literary. (Example: some literary detective series make heavy use of allusion.) I suppose there are some contexts in which that kind of literary touch may feel very out of place: if you were watching a moronic-seeming comedy where most of the spoken words were no more than two syllables long, and the characters suddenly began exchanging lines from A Comedy Of Errors or something like that, that might be unexpected. (Also, potentially hilarious.) But that's not what you're describing here.
  • July 14, 2011
    Azeotrope
    If I were to remove the "poetry is dead" idea, could this still qualify for the site?
  • July 15, 2011
    Lavalyte

    The Quatermass Conclusion has an ancient nursery rhyme as a plot point.

  • July 15, 2011
    randomsurfer
    The Simpsons: the Chekhovs Gun in a movie that Homer & Marge went to was the nursury rhyme the protagonist read to his daughter at the beginning of the film. Homer blurts our this fact while watching it in a move theater, spoiling the film for everybody else there.
  • July 15, 2011
    Azeotrope
    Thanks for the examples, everyone! Keep them coming!
  • July 16, 2011
    BraveHoratio
    The Hyperion Cantos is made up entirely of this. But then, it's a space opera based on the works of John Keats.
  • July 18, 2011
    Azeotrope
    Does 'Pragmatic Poetry' works as a title or would 'Practical Poetry' be better?
  • July 20, 2011
    Azeotrope
    Rewrote the description. Opinions?
  • July 23, 2011
    MetaFour
    Homestuck drops quotations, most of them poetry, to foreshadow what role each of the four human protagonists will play in the game. In each case, they're deliberately misattributed.
  • July 24, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
  • July 24, 2011
    katiek
    This is more of a reference, but in The Simpsons, "Bart vs. Thanksgiving", Lisa writes the following poem, with a nod to "Howl" by Alan Ginsburg (which I seem to recall is on her shelf):

    I saw the best meals of my generation

    destroyed by the madness of my brother.

    My soul carved in slices

    by spikey-haired demons.
  • July 27, 2011
    BraveHoratio
    The use of an excerpt from "Dover Beach" by Malcolm Arnold in Farenheit451 is one of these, but I can't decide which type.
  • July 27, 2011
    randomsurfer
    "They could also be used as general dialogue. " See Waxing Lyrical.
  • July 27, 2011
    arrowyn
    I checked out Waxing Lyrical, which is song lyrics only, so how about Waxing Poetic for this trope?

    Here's some dialogue from the "North" episode of "Due South," when Fraser and Ray are lost in the wilds of Canada and Ray wants to stop and make camp.

    Vecchio: I don't want to track this guy by moon light. Fraser: There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who-- Vecchio: Toil for gold. Yeah, I heard that one and then they shot that Sam Mc Gee guy. I told you I've been camping before. Fraser: "Moil," Ray, and they cremated him. It was Dan Mc Grue that they shot. Vecchio: Did they get the guy? Fraser: It's a poem Ray. Vecchio: Oh ... "moil," huh? Fraser: Yes, "moil," not "toil." Vecchio: Ah, "moil," "toil," who cares. Fraser: Robert Service apparently. Vecchio: Who's he? Fraser: The poet.

  • July 28, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Tropes Are Flexible. I think Waxing Lyrical can absorb using poetry as dialog; after all, song lyrics are a form of poetry.
  • July 29, 2011
    Azeotrope
    I do like the idea of renaming this trope Waxing Poetic. Randomsurfer, though songs are a form of poetry, this trope specifically focuses on published poetry, not music. Thank you for the suggestion, though.
  • July 29, 2011
    Tasbard
    In John Green's book, Paper Towns, investigating the works of Walt Whitman helps to unravel the mystery of Margot's disappearance, while providing thematic flair. That count?
  • July 31, 2011
    Bisected8
    • In LA Noire a serial killer in the last homicide case uses the works of Shelly as clues to taunt the police (making Cole's college education very helpful indeed).
  • July 31, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    I think Azeotrope may have a point here. Whether it's the notion that recent generations aren't well educated because they don't read the works of Dead White Guys, or the general dissing of humanities degrees and the people who have them, there is a sort of surprise when poetry appears in modern works, especially in popular works like comic books and TV shows.

    BTW it's been a while since I read Watchmen, but didn't it quote Blake's "Tyger" and Bob Dylan lyrics as well as Shelley's poem?
  • September 22, 2011
    Azeotrope
    Lots of new examples, I see, thanks everyone.
  • February 12, 2012
    Prfnoff
    At the end of Princess Ida, Ida quotes from Tennyson's The Princess words which in that poem were actually said by the prince to Ida.
  • February 13, 2012
    Ryuuma
    Italian example: The translation of Knights Of The Zodiac has the main characters quoting poems from Italian works from time to time. At one point, for example, Seiya quotes Leopardi.
  • February 13, 2012
    lunarkweh
    St. Patrick's Rune figures heavily in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book of Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartet.
  • February 13, 2012
    robybang

    This form of referencing can double as a Genius Bonus if the quote isn't cited by the speaker or otherwise made obvious.

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