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Weaving quilts of words

In the hurly-burly of a literary convention recently, I made a discovery. Both writer and scholars were present in abundance, and while they tended to behave similarly during meetings, at mealtime when everyone relaxed, clear distinctions emerged, dividing profession from profession.

The scholars marched ideas out in batallions for review, with every cap in place, all boots polished. Other masses of evidence waited their turn in the parade far back down the road of their thought. In contraSzVPztyh - ers tended to whack ideas around like ping-pong balls in a perpetual game with varying rules. Sometimes a ball seemed to swell as large as a melon, then vanish in a puff of metaphor, only to reappear as a football-shaped pun, grow wings, and fly off under fire from a volley of further puns.

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Since my own experience has spanned both professions, I see the uses of both attitudes, but as I watched the two types, I concluded easily that the writers, as pattern makers, certainly seemed to enjoy some advantages over the scholars.

One of the most striking is the joy of play, of perpetual arranging, varying, searching, pattern forming. This joy is common to all artists and artisans. Once a thing is tried and mastered, the questing spirit pursues another. It is clear that weavers do this, and quilt makers, designers of highway intersections, and ceramists. Among writers it is poets who are the most elaborate patterners.

For the poet, patterning lies beyond conveying ideas through words, and even beyond evoking the aura of a subject. Poetic patterners recognize the importance of both these aspects of their art, but in addition they are fascinated by putting the poem in some network of sound, shape, rhythm, quantity, or repetition.

These patterns are often familiar enough - sonnets of several kinds, Spenserian stanzas, heroic couplets, and the rest. At times the poet is pleased by pouring his work into such forms, making the content match the pattern so naturally that the pattern merges with the rest of the poem and tends to vanish.

Eventually most devoted sonneteers seek elaborations of the form and weave new patterns within it. Robert Frost, in ''The Silken Tent,'' has written a Shakespearean sonnet in a single sentence - so gracefully that we aren't aware of its long continuance. Gerard Manley Hopkins has written some of the great sonnets in English in his own accentual rhythm. Recently a number of poets have enjambed lines so that the traditional sonnet quality virtually disappears when the poem is read aloud, even though they have adhered strictly to the form.

Not only metrical but visual patterning has long been a favorite technique. Writers as diverse as George Herbert and Dylan Thomas have created diamond-shaped stanzas. e. e. cummings wrote one poem, about a fat man, which is shaped like one. William Blake not only illuminated his poems with figures, but occasionally printed words in different colors for their effect.

A great many patterns are hidden, some very remotely. Dylan Thomas wrote the ''Author's Prologue'' to his collected poems in 102 lines, rhyming them inward toward the middle lines, 51 and 52, which form a couplet. Here the echoes of sound delight only the keenly wary.

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Going so often unnoticed, such patterning is a special delight to find. Often it is poets who find patterns in poems by others - because, of course, they are looking. As someone who likes to bury patterns in poems, I know the special pleasure of watching readers feel that puff of delight which comes from discovering a pattern.

As one might expect, I have enjoyed building a small pattern onto this essay, nothing of consequence but illustrating one offshoot of the playful spirit in language.

Many readers will not look for it. Perhaps some may feel unrewarded when they find it. Surely it is no great matter, but then neither are Scrabble games, bridge tournaments, designs in shower tiles, and thousands of other designing games that fill our lives. They are only inner impulsions and necessities.

Exploratory effervescence in people, however, also undergirds many of their great discoveries. As a practice of the mind, it has a true significance. To help the reader perceive the pattern fastened to this essay, here is an easy set of clues:

In acronyms initials make up words.

In codes whole sentences can thus be made.

Though eggs are surely not initial birds,

all paragraphs start with initial aid.

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