Why Capitalize the First Letter of Every Line in Poetry?


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Thread: Why Capitalize the First Letter of Every Line in Poetry?

  1. #1

    Why Capitalize the First Letter of Every Line in Poetry?

    I understand that punctuation, capitalizing letters, white space, line and stanza breaks, short or long lines, etc can be used to regulate how poems flow, but what I don't understand is why in 2020 we are still capitalizing the first letter of EVERY line regardless of intent. I feel it is a distraction and interrupts the flow.

    ETA I am not referring to poetry where each line is a complete thought and ends with a period/full stop

    Example: https://www.writingforums.com/thread...er-Cygnets-(3)

    Thoughts please?
    Last edited by PiP; December 6th, 2020 at 11:55 PM.
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  2. #2
    I sometimes capitalize first letters; sometimes don't. It depends on what degree of separation between lines I want the reader to feel. For a more structured poem, I tend to like capitalized first words. Or, if I'm writing a poem to be read aloud, I also like capitalized first words, because it helps me scan the poem without getting lost. I used to hate how non-capitalized lines looked at all, but now I've gotten used to it, at least for free verse. Not capitalizing can help with enjambment, or if you want a poem to be read faster (capitalizing first words slows down the reading, to me, which can be a good or bad thing depending on what effect you want).

    I don't understand how the current year is relevant to the discussion, though (???).
    In my mouth, if there be sweetness,
    It has come from my Creator;
    If my hands are filled with beauty,
    All the beauty comes from God.
    ~ from The Kalevala (paraphrased)

    Whom have I in heaven but You?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides You.

    ~ Psalm 73:25

    Christ is risen from the dead,
    trampling on Death by death,
    And on those in the tombs,
    lavishing light.






  3. #3
    I don't get it either. Many still do it just because it is the default setting on there Word program, or whatever they use and they can't be bothered to correct it each time. I've tried change the default on my i-pad but it doesn't work so I have to manually backspace each time and change the first letter to lower case. I think the habit is just a hold over from the olden days when people wrote everything by hand and the capital letter was a way to embellish the look of the page and distinguish it from prose.

  4. #4
    Autocorrect and lackluster editing. If it isn't a complete thought (sentence) or a proper noun it should not be capitalised. When in doubt, leave it out. It is the most common, dated assumption about poetry many writers make. Classic poems we read in school amd elsewhere, all have the surfeit capital letters as a default setting established by the printing industry. Readers see it and assume that because it is present in a majority of classic, published works it is correct.


  5. #5
    It's one of the most annoying things to read for me. It makes incomplete thoughts that run over several lines almost incomprehensible. I wish poets would leave it out. You can set your Word settings to stop capitalizing every new line.
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  6. #6
    Okay, I'll fight for it. Just to be clear, I'm not saying always capitalize first letters -- just when it works. Here are some good reasons:

    1) When you want the poem to read more slowly
    2) When you want to evoke a classic style
    3) When you have some lines starting as sentences and some not, but want it to appear consistent (esp. for metered poetry)
    4) The only time I can see it working well in free verse is when you want the poem to feel very fragmented

    That being said, as others have mentioned, poems with heavy use of enjambment are probably not the best for this style. Some enjambment is ok in the capitalized style, I think, but not the level of enjambment common in most free verse. That's why I don't think it really works for free verse, usually. BUT I almost always do it in metered poetry. To me, at least, a poem of mine like "The War God" would look so weird with lowercased first letters.
    In my mouth, if there be sweetness,
    It has come from my Creator;
    If my hands are filled with beauty,
    All the beauty comes from God.
    ~ from The Kalevala (paraphrased)

    Whom have I in heaven but You?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides You.

    ~ Psalm 73:25

    Christ is risen from the dead,
    trampling on Death by death,
    And on those in the tombs,
    lavishing light.






  7. #7
    I have done it before, but that was when I didn't realise it was okay not to. I have occasionally done it since, but only when I was trying to give an old classical feel to the poem. As it's gradually dawned on me my that poetry doesn't merit the "old classical" tag and never will, I've dropped that way of writing.

    Word tends to default to a capital letter after a forced line break, but that's only because it sees it as a new paragraph. You can tell it not to.


  8. #8
    The joy of anachronism - Got to be seen to be doing things properly old chap. I'm all for thatched cottages with roses round the door, but they are not a pre-requisite of country living, so capitalise if you wish, but is no longer neccessary and, quite frankly, looks a bit odd in a modern, non-formally structured, poem.
    A man in possession of a wooden spoon must be in want of a pot to stir.

  9. #9
    This is a debate between the poem and the poet. A reader's prejudices may not be relevant.
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  10. #10
    I don't agree Katrina. The reader in me (and I read a lot of poetry) skips poems with capitalization at the start of every line. It honestly annoys me so much that I choose not to read that kind of poetry anymore.
    Of course, an exception made for older poetry I love Shakespeare's sonnets for example.
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