April 18, 2016

National Poetry Month: Zelda Cinquains

I first set out
the old man said to me,
"It's dangerous to go alone.
Take this."

This week, for National Poetry Month, I tried to tackle of the Legend of Zelda series in a number of cinquains. 

The Legend of Zelda is one of the most well known and widely played game series of all time, with 19 main and side games (if we don't count the Tingle games, because... no). Every game is set in a fantasy world that incorporates both European and Asian elements and involves the the adventures of a boy named Link. Link's backstory is different in each game, from being an orphan hidden away in a forests to being a boy searching for his kidnapped sister to being a budding train conductor, but one thing that is always the same is that he gets embroiled in the larger events of his world. The reason for this, cosmically-speaking, is because he carries a part of a divine artifact, the Triforce, within him. In the setting of Zelda, three goddess have gifted the world with the power of the Triforce, which can be used to grant any desire. The Triforce is split into three pieces, carried by reincarnations of the same three people. The Triforce of Courage is carried by our protagonist Link, who also wields the Master Sword and other game specific items (an ocarina that can cast spells, a baton that can conduct and control the wind, a talking hat, etc). The Triforce of Wisdom is held by Princess Zelda, who serves as a miko-hime, a holy princess who can cast barriers and maintain magical seals, fire arrows of light, and even give her life force to others, depending on the game. (As a side note, I think a lot of Westerner's criticism of the games for being non-feminist stems from a lack of understanding of the Japanese priestess/princess dynamic, and a misunderstanding of the role of royalty in general; the princess can't save herself, because she's too busy keeping demons from coming in and murdering her people! I digress...) The Triforce of Power, the last piece, is held by Ganon, the games' villain. He is a demon king, who wields power only to serve his own desires (which mainly involve ruling stuff and ruining everyone's day); different iterations give him more or less defined personality, but my favorite is in Wind Waker, where he describes growing up in the howling sands of a desert, and has come to despise the wind, which only brings death.

Well, that's the premise, and it doesn't even scratch the surface of what makes those games so popular and beloved. The game play is always inventive, actually utilizing whatever new gimmick Nintendo has come up with for that console. The companions who help you in every journey are all varied and unique, and the different items you obtain make each level/dungeon/temple interesting to play through. And the story--though it is always pretty much "Link is thrown into some quest, Zelda is working behind the scenes prevent worse things from happening, and Ganon is being a jerk who will inevitable get defeated in the end"-- is so different in each game that it never feels repetitive. Ocarina of Time sets the stage for the other consul games, and introduces us to the world of Hyrule; Wind Waker occurs on an ocean, with the old and beloved world of Hyrule nowhere to be seen (and the way they bring it in is blew my mind); Twilight Princess gives us more of a look at the Shikah/Twili, a tribe who served the royal family, but used magic for dark purposes, and was banished; and Skyward Sword is actually a prequel that explains why Link, Zelda, and Ganon are locked in their eternal conflict. And those are only the main games! Lets not forget the rollicking fantasy of Link to the Past, Link Between Worlds, and the Oracle games; the dreamscapes of Majora's Mask and Link's Awakening; or the sea-fairing and steampunk fun of Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. Every Zelda game is unique, but they're all the Zelda we know and love. That's what makes this series great.

And now that I've bored all the non-gamers out there (but if you want to start somewhere, Zelda is a fine gateway-game...), let's talk about poetry! This week I did American cinquains and variations thereof. An American cinquain-- unlike the ones you probably did in school, with single words and parts of speech--is very much like a haiku. They are a complete thought, one or two sentences, in five lines of poetry. The five lines are of the syllable structure 2-4-6-8-2, and may be written in iambic meter, though that's not required.

Here is an American cinquain about Ocarina of Time, a game in which Zelda, disguised for her own safety, teaches Link songs on his ocarina that can help him on his quest.

I feel like you
have been there all along,
like a melody, teaching me
to play.

There are many variations of cinquains, some of which I feel are just two short to say much. Take this lanterne, of syllable form 1-2-3-4-1, about Skyward Sword:

and feel
rushing wind.
Catch your wings and

Others are better, such as the tetractys, of syllable form 1-2-3-4-10, which at least gives the poet enough time to ruminate on something. The name tetractys suggested a poem about Wind Waker, because of Tetra, after she finds out about her true identity:

the ocean.
The more I wait,
the more I wake to who I was before.

Then there are butterfly cinquains: 2-4-6-8-2-8-6-4-2. The name, and the idea of wings reminded me of Navi, the annoying fairy “navigator” in Ocarina who tells you painfully obvious things to try and help the player. I don't know if it was just a glitch with our family's game cartridge, but after solving all the temples, when we were wrapping up all the side-quests on our way to fight Ganon, Navi kept pointing attention to Death Mountain... which was a dungeon we had beaten about four levels back. I think this butterfly cinquain captures the feelings of the player quite well:

“Watch out!”
I know, Navi...
“There's smoke on Death Mountain!”
No, see, we've already been there,
done that.
“Hey!” “Look!” “There's smoke on Death Mountain!”
I heard you the first time!
If you would just—

Similar to the butterfly is the mirror cinquain, which has two lines of two syllables in the middle. Mirrors of course reminded me of Twilight Princess, where Midna comes from the Twilight Realm into Hyrule through a mirror portal. I focused on her relationship with Zelda, and tried to go for parallelism between the two princesses.

You were
so very brave,
full of light and wisdom.
You held your ground and gave your life,
I fled so I could go and fight.
The shadows that I wield
will let us both
live on.

Most intriguing of all is the garland cinquain, which has six cinquain-stanzas. The last stanza's first line is the same as that of the first stanza, the second line of the last stanza is also the second line of the second, and so forth. The trick to writing these is of course to write that last stanza first, so that you have at least one line of each other stanza, for sure.

that's who the songs
and legends tell us of,
one who will fight against evil
and win.

So now,
take up your sword!
Heed the goddesses' call.
Walk between the worlds of shadow
and light.

Hold on
and don't despair.
Our fate is in your hands.
You, only you, can prevent our

friends and allies
to battle by your side.
Fight, and be the one to give us

the lost pieces
of that most ancient Force.
Step into the dungeon and take

take up your sword!
Our fate is in your hands.
Fight, and be the one to give us


  1. Am I the only one who imagined this reading the last one?

    "On a certain island, it became customary to garb young boys in green when they come of age. Clothed in the green of fields, they aspire to find heroic blades and cast evil down... The elders wish only for the youths to know courage like the hero of legend..."

  2. I imagined exactly that while writing it :)