What is the structure of George MacBeth's poem "Bedtime Story"?

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"Bedtime Story" by George MacBeth comprises thirteen free-verse quatrains. Free verse means that this poem does not contain any rhymes, nor does it have a regular meter. A quatrain simply means there are four lines to each stanza. A “stanza” is a group of lines forming a unit, or verse. Therefore, in this poem, there are thirteen units comprising four lines each. Having a “regular meter” means that there is a pattern to the beats in the poem. Read the poem aloud to determine if you can hear a regular pattern or rhythm to it. There are many types of rhyme schemes. You may have heard of the following forms: ABAB, AABB, AAAA, and so on. Although “Bedtime Story” was written in free verse without a specific rhyme scheme, it does seem to have some consistency to the way it was written. Look, particularly, at the last lines of each quatrain. As you read it aloud, you should hear similarities to the way in which each quatrain ends. These similarities give structure to the poem physically, with each quatrain ending with shorter lines than the other three. When you read it aloud, do you hear a jungle beat? If not, read all of the last lines aloud together:

Hard by the Congo
Stalking a monkey
Lion, rats, deer
Starved for a monkey
Find them and feed them
Armed with a shaved spear
Huge as the rough trunks
Staring in hot still
Hard at the soldier
Sting was a reflex
When she was certain
Nobody found them
Wind, like the dodo’s

What do you hear? What do you see? Short words with hard consonants, such as “d” and “t,” are used to create an image and “feel” to the poem. Therefore, although the poem does not have a consistent rhyme scheme, it does form a pattern—just not a pattern with a conventional meter.

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It is a narrative, free-verse parody of a bedtime story. A narrative poem tells a story, and a parody makes fun of another work or type of literature. Free verse doesn't have regular patterns of rhyme or rhythm. As the title indicates, Macbeth is making fun of bedtime stories that usually begin with "Long long ago. . ." and end with ". . .and they lived happily ever after". It satirizes European attitudes toward colonialism and humanity's relationship to the natural world. Historically, most European countries would go into poor, undeveloped countries and take the responsibility of governing that country. Macbeth says countries like Britain and France looked down upon these conquered peoples as savages, treating them badly in order to save them. Macbeth also makes fun of man's tendency to hunt a species of animal until it is almost extinct and then to save what is left of the species by putting them in zoos or history museums. In all, the poem has 13 quatrains (four-line stanzas) of verse.

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