If I were to say that the famous poem, "The Dash" by Linda Ellis, if it is, as I suspect, an attempt at a poetic 'ballad', then it fails technically and, in several places, it's scansion is a tad clumsy and makes it sound like amateur poesy, would you think me a grudging old academic bore and a purist!
You'd be right if you did, because its sentiment, its message, its feeling for what I know most thinking writers will agree encapsulates a view on life, for taking time to live 'in the moment', will endure for ever, particularly of course at that special family gathering, the funeral, where sensitivity to poetic emotion is always high. Perfect poetic form will not endure without the right words.
For these reasons I think "The Dash" is therefore a great poem and shows that, in my view, poetic form on its own is not what counts; it is the choice of words, how you string them together and the 'X' factor - what lies between the lines, its aura, the je ne sais quoi - that have by far the greatest impact.
I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
from the beginning...to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
that she spent alive on earth...
and now only those who loved her know
what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
the cars....the house...the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard...
are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
to consider what's true and real,
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we've never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
and more often wear a smile...
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy's being read
with your life's actions to rehash...
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spend your dash?
Copyright: Linda Ellis 1996
In fact, on further analysis of this poem, setting aside the odd bit of clumsy scansion and its preachy feel, the principle of the Ballad, with its root in couplets written in heptameter, holds pretty well.
Whatever, I take my hat off to Linda Ellis, who struck a rich commercial vein of good fortune following the publishing of this poem. A lesson for us all, you never know as a poet, when your work will get noticed and it could surprise you that it may not be the poems you'd expect to become well known. Sometimes a poem takes on a life of its own.
Give yourself time to take note of your life and it may surprise you!