You know what I like about poetic license? It’s like a hall pass or a get-out-of-jail-free card. You can say something ludicrous but then you can just claim poetic license. Many people won’t know what you’re talking about anyway and, hey, it might make you sound smarter. Dictionary.com defines poetic license as a “license or liberty taken by a poet, prose writer, or other artist in deviating from rule, conventional form, logic, or fact, in order to produce a desired effect.” But that’s being much too generous. I think it’s simply just a good excuse.
There are other similar licenses that don’t require a trip to DMV. Take “dramatic license” for example, where a movie is changed enough from the book to be a sincere disappointment. Or “artistic license” where cartoonists exaggerate an individual’s features but you can still recognize who it is. This is why I’d never run for public office – I would not want to see what my nose would look like in one of those cartoons.
But back to poetic license and some well-known examples. Shakespeare used poetic license when he wrote: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen Lend Me Your Ears”. Now that I think about it, that statement really would’ve been more appropriate coming from Van Gogh. Anyway, Shakespeare left out the “and” before “Countrymen” so to keep the line in iambic pentameter. What would the world be without iambic pentameter, one wonders? But, you know, if it was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s gotta be good enough for me.
Another example of poetic license runs rampant in one of my favorite poems – Jabberwocky - where Lewis Carroll took so much poetic license, he almost had it revoked:
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Is it me or does it seem like he might have gotten into the mushrooms? Seriously, though, you can see what he did by changing the words around to sound like ones you almost recognize but then it’s up to you to figure it out. No, I’m not going to tell you what I think it means. But I do feel like there might be a swamp involved.
So now that we’re all up to speed on poetic license, I expect you’ll be using and/or abusing it on a regular basis - only if it’s in iambic pentameter, of course. Finally, how fun would it be to greet everyone you meet with “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”? Yep, I thought so.