Benjamin Franklin’s Writing Course, And Pëter The Great In Verse

Benjamin Franklin is a man for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration. Ever since I was a young child, I have heard about him constantly and I read multiple books on him when I was very young. It helps that I came from a place near Philadelphia, the city in which he made his name. But how did this penniless young man rise to such intellectual heights, and how did he learn to write well?

I passed an article recently somewhere, and there are many on the subject, on the method Benjamin Franklin used to teach himself to write, since he was almost entirely an autodidact. But anyone who reads his writing today will recognise the skill and delicacy he had when writing and one must wonder how he came to achieve this.

One of the tips which most appealed to me in his methods was the following: Take any sort of prose and convert it into poetry, and then convert it back with the aim of keeping it as clearly written as possible.

Feeling myself hyperactive today, I decided to give it a go. Unsure where to begin, I used a site with short résumés of history. The site’s writing is, to be honest, horrid and unorganised. But i decided to begin with simply converting prose into poetry, and then I’ll work my way up to converting excellent prose into poetry. It’s a delightful exercise that forces one to reexamine how one approaches a sentence and how one can say the same thing in multiple ways.

I also used what I knew from my courses at Uni and from a few documentaries, since the article was hardly organised chronologically and had spotty information. I converted all these into a (not at all exhaustive or perfectly chronological) poem on Pëter the Great. It actually only took a few minutes and was a very enjoyable process. Please leave constructive criticism if you have any!

In sixteen hundred three score years and twelve
Arose a Pëter who would in Europe delve;
In Russia, lagging Europe’s pace behind
Mediaeval pagan ways their end would find.

The first of Pëters, and self-styled “The Great”,
The first of Emperors in the Russian State,
He struggled with his kin for his own throne,
A headstrong boy would trust himself alone.

The bickering widows of his father passed
Sought both to hold the throne for their sons fast
But through his will he outmanoeuvred these
And into Moscow blew a Zephyr’s breeze.

The toys of war with which he all but played
Were turned against the Swedes; his might displayed,
Ere peace had been accomplished laid he down
On hardly conquered land a royal town.

The regal giant, standing six half feet
Desired for his nation a proud fleet
And shipped himself thence to the Netherlands
To learn to craft a ship with his own hands.

To England then, accompanied by dwarves
He toiled weeks on end in William’s wharves;
Debauched, they all, their manor they destroyed
And shed their manners to drink like young boys.

To Russia, next, the Boyars to subdue
With devilish haste to Petersburg he flew
And sheared the facial locks of nobles mad,
Intransigent, resisting this king-lad.

Once by the Turks from Crimea rebuffed,
He built in six score days a navy tough;
Twice did he then invade those southern seas
And brought the Turks in hours to their knees.

The Church, conservatives against reform
For absolutist needs whipped into form;
A school of navigation and of maths
Was founded to plot Russia’s aqueous paths.

Then to the East, the Urals and beyond
Did Pëter Pjervij draw out Russia’s fronds;
And to the South, in rugged Kavkaz’s peaks
A century later Russia still intrigued.

But Petersburg, the city-monument
Would later the world’s greatest writers lend,
A wonder, gold and ornaments bedecked,
A capital, with blood and sculpture specked.

And Pëter, the bronze horseman, man of skill
Atop his granite plinth sets forth his will,
And Russia leads yet more through stormy seas
Inciting that their Empire never cease.

Some explanations: Pëter the Great was a master of war games. He played them with toy armies from a young age, but they were so serious that dozens of young boys died playing them. Imagine paintball but with live ammunition.

When Pëter stayed in England, in a manor home that was loaned to him, he and his friends threw such wild and obscene parties that they absolutely wrecked the place and the British government sent him a bill for damages later. Also, he was obsessed with dwarves.

He tried to take the Crimea from the Turks but was beaten back once. Realising he needed a navy to help during bombardments, he rebuilt an entire navy from scratch in four months, himself working in the shipyards with his subjects.

I write Pëter because the letter ë in Russian, pronounced ‘yo’, is often written as ‘e’ in English for some reason. So his name isn’t Peter but Pjotr. Many books now use the ë in English to indicate that that is the pronunciation, e.g. Gorbachëv and Khrushchëv. Kavkaz is Russian for Caucasus and fit better in the metre. Pëter Pjervij means Peter the First.

The Bronze Horseman is a statue of Pëter in Petersburg, so called because it is an equestrian statue fashioned from bronze. Peter is situated on top of a large granite block.

Thanks for reading and again, please leave any constructive criticism! I hope this inspired you to try the same method!

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