Freedom is Not a Feeling: Constraining Huckleberry Finn

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Freedom is Not a Feeling: Constraining Huckleberry Finn

Steph Herold

Form Poems after Chapter 31 of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Form: 0-1-1-2-3-5-8 syllables

long as
he can hide
it, ain't no disgrace.

down, but
the words won't
come. Why would they? My
heart warn't right. It warn't no use tryin'.

a close
place. I took
it up, held it in
my hand. I studied a minute,
sort of holding my breath. Alright, then, I'll go to hell.

Modern form: 2-4-6-8-2 syllables

It was
awful thoughts. But
I let them stay said, and
Never thought no more about re-

Traditional form: ababb rhyme

Blamed if I know what's become of the raft
I went straight out into the country a mile before I stopped
That old fool made a trade, just stood there and laughed.
Got him home late last night, all whiskey, sin-popped
Little rascal shook us, knees flailin', sense dropped.

Form: 5-7-5 syllables, about nature

Filled up the canoe
with water, sunk her where I
could find her again.

So I left.
Struck for the back country.
Didn't look around.

Form: 19 lines, five stanzas of three lines, final stanza of four lines, first and third line of the first stanza repeat alternating as the closing line of each stanza and form the last two lines of the final stanza.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time
I knowed I could pray now
But I didn't do it straight off

Thinking how good it was all this happened so
And got to thinking of our trip down
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time

Sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms
I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath
But I didn't do it straight off

I struck the time I saved him
Would always call me honey, and pet me
I felt good and washed clean of sin for the first time

I was full of trouble, full as I could be
But as long as I was in for good, I might as well go the whole hog
But I didn't do it straight off

It was awful thoughts, and awful words
I let them stay said.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time.
But I didn't do it straight off.


All of these poems were composed using exact phrases from chapter thirty-one of Twain's novel, most of them from the same paragraph, if not the same sentence. That specific chapter was picked because it contains a moment of revelation for Huck, in which he chooses to go with his individual notion of freedom for Jim as opposed to doing the morally respectable act of returning Jim to owner, Miss Watson.

Twain's novel is remarkably, unquestionably about freedom. In putting Twain's words into form poetry, I am twisting the notion that freedom is liberation from constraints, suggesting that freedom is intimately connected with the ability to manipulate within restrictions. In each of the above poems, Huck's voice emerges with fresh meaning and resonance, yet the medium in which his emotions are conveyed is one of ultimate restriction exact syllables or rhyme use. I did not allow Huck's voice to surrender itself to the restraints of form, but instead used these limits I placed upon myself to recreate meaning in Huck's words. Thus, constraints did not inhibit my creative freedom, but instead allowed meaning to manifest in new ways to fit the constraints. Freedom is not, as Rebecca Walker suggested, a feeling. It is instead acceptance of the inevitable presence of constraints in life, and learning how to manipulate these constraints to create a sense of an innovative, original, personal freedom.

Works Cited

Types of Poetry. Poem of Quotes. 2004-2006.
27 April 2006.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Dover Publicastions, Inc: New York, NY, 1994.

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