Verse Structure

Last updated: 2020-05-28

Introduction

At their root, the Verses of The Secret are poems. As poems, they are bound by many of the common poetic tropes: stanza, rhyme, meter, etc. I believe that we can use standard poetry analysis to learn more about the verses and better interpret the riddles found within. Below I will outline a few different general analyses of the verses.

Ballad Stanza

Each of the poems are different. It would be too easy to interpret them if they all followed an identical structure, say, like a Shakespearean Sonnet. That said, whether consciously or unconsciously, I think that Preiss did impart common structures and recurring themes into the verses. For example, he used the "Ballad Stanza" at least once, in almost every verse. The Ballad Stanza is defined as:

In poetry, a Ballad stanza is the four-line stanza, known as a quatrain, most often found in the folk ballad. This form consists of alternating four- and three-stress lines. Usually only the second and fourth lines rhyme (in an a/b/c/b pattern). Assonance in place of rhyme is common.

Wikipedia

Here's an example of a Ballad Stanza from Verse 7:

Running north, but first across
In jewel's direction
Is an object
Of Twain's attention

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt pg. 52

In this example, you see that lines 2 and 4 rhyme, which follows the a/b/x/b pattern of the Ballad Stanza. Using this as a starting point, I can destructure the verses into their component stanzas and then highlight common themes and categorizations. Then, using the verses from the found casques as case studies , I hope that this kind of analysis will help improve the interpretation of verses for casques that have not yet been found.

Destructuring Verses

Although the Verses do not have any explicit separation, we can find implicit separation by identifying common poetic patterns. Preiss used a mix of many different poetic styles when writing the verses, from rhyming patterns like the Ballad Stanza to Free Verse, which follows the natural rhythm of the English language. This makes it difficult to apply any one pattern to all of the verses. Rather, each verse must be interpreted individually, paying attention to the particular nuances in order to determine the underlying structure.

One of the easier verses to deconstruct is Verse 7. It appears that most people tend to deconstruct this verse into couplets (i.e. stanzas of 2 lines each), except the last 4 lines which are usually shown as a quatrain (i.e. a stanza of 4 lines).

At stone wall's door
The air smells sweet
Not far away
High posts are three
Education and Justice
For all to see
Sounds from the sky
Near ace is high
Running north, but first across
In jewel's direction
Is an object
Of Twain's attention
Giant pole
Giant step
To the place
The casque is kept.

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt pg. 52

Keeping the Ballad Stanza in mind and analyzing the rhyming patterns shows that it can be deconstructed into 5 stanzas: 3 quatrains that follow the Ballad Stanza's a/b/x/b pattern (i.e. lines 2 and 4 rhyme, lines 1 and 3 do not rhyme), and 2 couplets which are a/b (i.e. neither lines rhyme) and a/a (i.e. both lines rhyme) respectively.

A structured version of Verse 7 looks like this:

A: At stone wall's door
B: The air smells sweet X: Not far away
B: High posts are three
X: Education and Justice
B: For all to see

A: Sounds from the sky
A: Near ace is high

A: Running north, but first across
B: In jewel's direction
X: Is an object
B: Of Twain's attention

A: Giant pole
B: Giant step
X: To the place
B: The casque is kept.

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt pg. 52

This analysis shows that the lines of each stanza are related in some way. In the first stanza, although sweet is not an exact rhyme with three and see, there is an assonance based on the repeating ee. I believe that is enough to tell us that those first six lines all go together.

I have seen many interpretations that pair Near ace is high with Running north, but first across, then drawing the conclusion that both lines are a reference to Highway 1 — which runs through Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, both North/South and East/West. My interpretation, based on the separation into these stanzas, holds that those two lines are not necessarily related. It shows that Running north, but first across is related to both the direction of the jewel and the object of Twain's attention, not to ace is high.

There is a hint from Preiss in the Japanese edition that supports this idea. At minimum, it supports that the first and third lines of Stanza 2 are related. In reference to Education and Justice, it says:

Education and Justice. With only this it's hard to understand, I was told you should think of the phrase together with "..can be seen not far...". "(Education and Justice can be seen from not too far)" means..?

The Secret: Japanese Version Translation By Kenta & Phil pg. 3

This translation implies that the lines Not far away and Education and Justice go together; that Education and Justice can be seen from not far away.

I believe that this analysis shows that there is an underlying poetic structure within this Verse and points in the direction of further investigation into the remaining verses, to see how they can be deconstructed into stanzas.

With the Verse destructured into its component parts, we can focus on a contextual interpretation of each stanza. Applying this same process of destructuring to all of the Verses begins to show patterns, such that stanzas can be interpreted as offering a particular type of information for the quest. I get deeper into this idea in the next article about the different types of stanzas.

Non-Linear Structure

Before getting too deep into the types of Stanzas , I want to point out an underlying assumption that I hold: the Verses are not linear. That is, I do not believe that the verses are to be followed, line by line, in order, from beginning to end. Both Verse 12 (Chicago) and Verse 4 (Cleveland) had the lines about the dig location in the middle of the verse, rather than the end.

For the Cleveland verse, the dig location instructions start at line 3, appearing as the second stanza.

3. In a rectangular plot
4. Beneath the tenth stone
5. From right to left
6. Beneath the ninth row from the top
7. Of the wall including small bricks
8. Seven steps up you can hop
9. From the bottom level

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt pg. 50

For the Chicago verse, the dig location instructions start at line 7, appearing as the second last stanza (note the Ballad Stanza structure):

7. The end of ten by thirteen
8. Is your clue
9. Fence and fixture
10. Central too

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt pg. 54

I believe that this non-linear structure strengthens my assertion that the individual stanzas must be analyzed separately, with respect to what piece of information they are giving the reader. Once the stanzas are properly understood for their intended purposes, they can then be reconstructed in a way that highlights the information particular to the dig location.

Conclusion

Knowing the correct grouping of lines into stanzas is the best way to ensure a proper interpretation. That is, assuming that Preiss followed the commonly accepted elements of poetry. With an understanding of the underlying structure of these verses, we can better isolate and analyze the component pieces.

The continuation of this line a thought is the grouping of stanzas into common themes and can be found in the article about the various Types of Stanzas.