Incremental Poetry ~ 70 Lines

The Cynic and the Sage


Why love?
Why let another in?
It teaches us the feel of pain,
includes its share of loss with gain—
Why let another in?

Why hate?
Why shut another out?
It grows in us a murderous heart
in which no kindness has a part—
Why shut another out?


Why laugh?
Why disregard all care?
It causes stitches in the sides,
masks suffering, and ugly hides—
Why disregard all care?

Why cry?
Why shed the lonesome tear?
It clouds the eye and blots the face,
pushes away the warm embrace—
Why shed the lonesome tear?


Why hope?
Why live expectantly?
Fulfillment rarely comes in haste;
a life of hope seems such a waste—
Why live expectantly?

Why mope?
Why wear the weighty frown?
Dejection is a crown of thorns
to pierce the brow of one who mourns—
Why wear the weighty frown?


Why wait?
Why learn to live without?
If you could get it for a song,
is instant satisfaction wrong?
Why learn to live without?

Why rush?
Why move with careless haste?
The richest treasures that I know
have often taken years to grow—
Why move with careless haste?


Why sing?
Why warble like a bird?
A truer fake I’ve never heard,
and plastic smiles are most absurd—
Why warble like a bird?

Why sigh?
Why melancholy breathe?
Why choose to waste away depressed
and suffer from a lack of rest?
Why melancholy breathe?


Why trust?
Why demonstrate your faith?
It means you must let go of pride,
your life in others’ hands confide—
Why demonstrate your faith?

Why fret?
Why live each day in fear?
A cancer, worry eats away
at these poor vessels made of clay—
Why live each day in fear?


Why help?
Why come to aid of fools?
You’d rather spend your time, I’ll bet,
on those who can’t repay the debt—
Why come to aid of fools?

Why hurt?
Don’t perpetrate more pain!
We each must bear our share of woe
with neighbor, kinfolk, friend, and foe—
Don’t perpetrate more pain!

Copyright © 2021 Abigail Gronway – All Rights Reserved

Welcome to my series, Incremental Poetry, where each week the featured poem will be one line longer than the one I share the week before. I have no idea how long I’ll keep this up, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Thank you for stopping by.


I recently learned that this form was created by Sylvia Argow of the New York Poetry Forum in the 1970s, and what seem to be her original rules for the form are a bit different from what I first understood. The citation that credits her says an Argonelles is:

Stanzaic verse comprised of two 5-line stanzas
Syllabic structure: 2-6-8-8-6
Rhyme scheme: xAbbA xCddC, where x is unrhymed and lines 2 & 5 are refrains
L1 in each stanza = “Why” followed by an idea or emotion
The two stanzas employ opposite sides of a view (i.e. Why live? Why die?)
I like to see it as a pessimist and an optimist having a friendly debate. The first stanza is the pessimist posing a question, and the second is the optimist’s rebuttal.

Several sources soften the form:
Stanzaic verse comprised of any number of 5-line stanzas
Syllabic structure: 2-6-8-8-6
Rhyme scheme: xabba xcddc, etc. where x is unrhymed (no refrain)

I originally chose this form for my 70-line poem when I only knew about the general instructions, which seems to me now to be a spin-off of the inventor’s original intent. I still needed a 70-line poem, so I combined her rules with the modified rules to come up with 7 pairs of stanzas in the debate format, employing the “why” questions and the refrains for lines 2 and 5 of each stanza. I also began each of my refrain lines with “why,” which is entirely at my own discretion.

The only thing I don’t like about this format is how difficult it is to bring the poem to a conclusion. Then again, that’s the consequence of my choice to also employ a “Why” statement in the refrain, so that the poem ends on a question. Yet this too may not be far off from reality, for have you ever known an optimist to win a pessimist over to his side? Nevertheless, I didn’t like the fact the my poem merely stopped, and didn’t end; so in the final stanza I broke from my question pattern for the refrain, turning the interrogative into an imperative statement.

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