How to Write Poems – Chapter 13: The Parody

Contents | Chapter 14: The Epitaph

In keeping with the subject matter of A Christmas Carol, we will write a poem about wealth. We will write a parody of John Donne’s famous poem “Death, Be Not Proud.” A parody is an (often humorous) imitation of the style or form of another writer. John Donne (1572-1631) was a cleric in the Church of England, and he is referred to as a metaphysical poet. Here is his poem, “Death, Be Not Proud”:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

The rhyme scheme of the poem is abba, abba, cddc, ee which makes it a cross between the Italian sonnet and the English sonnet. At the end of each quatrain, there is either a period (full stop) or a question mark. Let’s keep this form, and substitute ideas about wealth into the framework.

Each line has between nine and eleven syllables, and there is no fixed meter, although some of the lines are in iambic pentameter. We can scan line five this way:

From rest/and sleep,//which but/thy pic-/tures be,

This time, we will worry more about the rhyme and content than the meter.

Let’s take the first quatrain:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

Now let’s write the first line with only a few changes. We can change “death” to “wealth” and use the modern version of “thee”:

Wealth, be not proud, though some have called you

Eventually, we will need three more words that rhyme with “you.” Let’s see what we can find.

bleu, blew, blue, boo, brew, chew, clue, coo, coup, crew, cue, dew, do, drew, due, ewe, few, flew, flu, flue, foo, glue, gnu, goo, grew, hew, hue, knew, lieu, loo, mew, moo, mu, new, ooh, pew, phew, pooh, queue, roux, rue, screw, shew, shoe, shoo, skew, slew, spew, stew, strew, sue, threw, through, thru, to, too, true, two, view, whew, who, woo, yew, zoo

It looks like we have enough to work with. Let’s also look for synonyms for “wealth” in case we need them.

Exercise: How many synonyms for “wealth” and “money” can you find in your thesaurus?

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Here are some synonyms for “wealth” and “money”:

abundance, affluence, Almighty Dollar, assets, bills, bread, bucks, capital, cash, check, coin, coinage, coins, commodities, currency, dinero, dough, fortune, funds, gold, gravy, hoard, labor power, legal tender, lucre, luxury, means, money, notes, opulence, pelf, pesos, property, prosperity, resources, revenue, riches, securities, shekels, silver, specie, stock, stocks and bonds, substance, treasure, vested interests, wad

Wealth, be not proud, though some have called you

What have people called “wealth”?

Exercise: What adjectives can you think of that people use to describe wealth? Our line will say that wealth does not really have this nature.

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Here are some synonyms for “valuable” and “useful.”

advantageous, crucial, dear, essential, important, invaluable, precious, required, usable, useful, valuable, vital

We can say,

Wealth, be not proud, though some have called you

Precious and vital, for you are not so

“Vital” means “having life” or “being necessary for life.”

What rhymes with so?

aux, beau, beaux, blow, bro, crow, doe, dough, eau, faux, floe, flow, foe, fro, grow, ho, hoe, jo, joe, know, lo, low, mow, no, o, oh, owe, pro, quo, rho, roe, row, sew, show, sloe, slow, snow, so, sow, stow, though, throw, toe, tow, whoa, wo, woe

Wealth, be not proud, though some have called you

Precious and vital, for you are not so

For those who think that they need the dough

Now we need one of the words that rhyme with “you.”

Wealth, be not proud, though some have called you

Precious and vital, for you are not so;

For those who think that they need the dough,

Do not, cash is merely a social glue.

Here is Donne’s next quatrain:

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

The rhyming sounds are the same as in the first quatrain.

From stocks and bonds, and bills, crisp and new

Much fear comes; for soon they are spent and go

And money can be lost as well as grow

Exercise: What would you write as the last line of the above stanza? The last word must rhyme with “new.”

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We can finish it this way:

From stocks and bonds, and bills, crisp and new

Much fear comes; for soon they are spent and go

And money can be lost as well as grow,

For men can cheat and steal, and often do.

Here is Donne’s third quatrain, with a new set of rhyming words:

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

Exercise: What can we say that wealth is a slave to?

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We can write this:

You are slave to the passions and whims of men,

Exercise: What can we say that wealth dwells with?

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We can continue this way:

You are slave to the passions and whims of men,

And do with prisons, debt, and gambling dwell;

Now we can continue with the same ending words that Donne used (“men,” “dwell,” “well,” and “then”). We can use “puff up” in place of “swell’st.”

You are slave to the passions and whims of men,

And do with prisons, debt, and gambling dwell;

And barter or giving can serve us just as well

And better than your means; why puff up then?

Here is Donne’s conclusion (in a couplet):

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

In modern English, “die” and “eternally” don’t rhyme, but it was common in Donne’s time to use the “y” sound as a rhyme for the “I” sound.

On the last line, we should say something parallel to Donne’s line:

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Instead of saying “Wealth, you shall die,” we can replace “die” with another negative verb.

Exercise: What word would you use in place of “die” to say what will happen to “wealth”?

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We can say this:

And wealth shall flow no more; Wealth, you shall deflate.

“Grow” is a better word than “flow” here:

And wealth shall grow no more; Wealth, you shall deflate.

Now we need to work backwards and find some rhymes for “deflate.” Here are some two-syllable words that have the same stresses as “deflate” (wS).

abate, await, berate, collate, conflate, create, debate, dictate, elate, equate, estate, inflate, irate, misstate, negate, oblate, ornate, predate, reflate, relate, restate, sedate, translate, update,

Exercise: Which word would you pick, and how would you write the next to last line of the poem?

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We can write this:

Though you have ruled, a new order shall dictate:

Wealth shall grow no more; Wealth, you shall deflate.

Now let’s put it all together and see what we have.

“Wealth, Be Not Proud”

Wealth, be not proud, though some have called you

Precious and vital, for you are not so;

For those who think that they need the dough,

Do not, cash is merely a social glue.

From stocks and bonds, and bills, crisp and new

Much fear comes; for soon they are spent and go

And money can be lost as well as grow,

For men can cheat and steal, and often do.

You are slave to the passions and whims of men,

And do with prisons, debt, and gambling dwell;

And barter or giving can serve us just as well

And better than your means; why puff up then?

Though you have ruled, a new order shall dictate:

Wealth shall grow no more; Wealth, you shall deflate.

The word “deflate” has the meaning of “to go down in price,” and the word also provides a good counterpoint to the words “proud” and “puff up.”

Contents | Chapter 14: The Epitaph