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The Punctuation Poem: "The Dictaphone Bard" by Franklin P. Adams

"Quote We are lost exclamation point close quote the captain shouted comma"

By

The Punctuation Poem:

Franklin Pierce Adams


In the early decades of the 20th century, American journalist Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960) wrote a daily column for The New York Tribune and other now-defunct New York City newspapers. In his column, FPA (as he was widely known) dispensed witty observations and often printed light verse. "The Dictaphone Bard" is a good example of his playful work.

As Adams indicates in his preface, the following poem was originally composed in the mid-19th century by publisher and author James T. Fields. By demonstrating how "The Ballad of the Tempest" might look after being played back through a Dictaphone (an early voice-recording device), Adams highlights (to the point of distraction) the usually unobtrusive marks of punctuation. Try reading Adams' version aloud--and then compare it to the original, which appears below "The Dictaphone Bard."


The Dictaphone Bard

by Franklin Pierce Adams

[And here is a suggestion: Did you ever try dictating your stories or articles to the dictaphone for the first draft? I would be glad to have you come down and make the experiment.
--From a shorthand reporter's circular letter.]

(As "The Ballad of the Tempest" would have to issue from the dictaphone to the stenographer)

Begin each line with a capital. Indent alternate lines. Double space after each fourth line.

We were crowded in the cabin comma
Not a soul would dare to sleep dash comma
It was midnight on the waters comma
And a storm was on the deep period

Apostrophe Tis a fearful thing in capital Winter
To be shattered by the blast comma
And to hear the rattling trumpet
Thunder colon quote capital Cut away the mast exclamation point close quote

So we shuddered there in silence comma dash
For the stoutest held his breath comma
While the hungry sea was roaring comma
And the breakers talked with capital Death period

As thus we sat in darkness comma
Each one busy with his prayers comma
Quote We are lost exclamation point close quote the captain shouted comma
As he staggered down the stairs period

But his little daughter whispered comma
As she took his icy hand colon
Quote Isn't capital God upon the ocean comma
Just the same as on the land interrogation point close quote

Then we kissed the little maiden comma
And we spake in better cheer comma
And we anchored safe in harbor
When the morn was shining clear period

(1919)

The Ballad of the Tempest

by James T. Fields

We were crowded in the cabin,
Not a soul would dare to sleep,—
It was midnight on the waters,
And a storm was on the deep.

’Tis a fearful thing in winter
To be shattered by the blast,
And to hear the rattling trumpet
Thunder, “Cut away the mast!”

So we shuddered there in silence,—
For the stoutest held his breath,
While the hungry sea was roaring
And the breakers talked with Death.

As thus we sat in darkness,
Each one busy with his prayers,
“We are lost!” the captain shouted,
As he staggered down the stairs.

But his little daughter whispered,
As she took his icy hand,
“Isn’t God upon the ocean,
Just the same as on the land?”

Then we kissed the little maiden,
And we spoke in better cheer,
And we anchored safe in harbor,
When the morn was shining clear.

(1847)

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