The ode 'To Autumn' in bullet points
What better time to improve an old poem with the modern business writer's favourite tool?
TO AUTUMN, by John Keats (1795-1821)
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
To John Keats
From: The Team
Re: Autumn proposal.
We obviously appreciate the time and effort you have put into this first draft.
However, we have to point out that this is 2021, not 1819. Our newest Tone of Voice Guidelines (TOVGs) stress that our copy should be:
Use bullet points for ease of understanding.
As you know, John, we are always seeking bold and disruptive solutions. However, we are not convinced that a proposal written in the odal hymn style using the classical structure of strophem, antistrophe and epode is what our prospective customer ecosphere is looking for right now.
So we came together as a team and voted unanimously to recirculate the Autumn Proposal document with a few tweaks. For the avoidance of doubt, we have all aligned around this new version, passionately believing the message will resonate with relevant target clusters.
New deck attached.
Proposal to disseminate new pro-Autumn strategy
Slide 1: Our vision
We are seeking an optimal sensory-seasonal interface
We have considered a range of options
We are confident that the so-called ‘third season’ guarantees high take-up and visibility
Latest research shows that viewings of Autumn in multiple stores are almost universal.
Slide 2: Key facets of the maturing sun and autumn partnership
We believe our close-bosom’d partnership offers the following benefits to all seasonal users:
Fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run (eg apples).
Core competencies in fruit segment:
Slide 3: Key goals of proposed close-bosom’d relationship
Plump hazel shells (NB sweet kernel incl.)
O’erbrim clammy cells (eg of late flowers).
NOTE: These measures are specifically aimed at the bee stakeholders targeting a substantive extension of warm days.
Slide 4: Our Autumn brand aligns around three key commitments
Sitting careless on a granary floor and/or sleep on a half-reap’d furrow
Steadily keeping laden head across a brook
Watching last oozings of miscellaneous cider presses (timeframe TBD: however, our proposal is costed for hours and hours).
Slide 5: Actionable points and core questions to consider
IMPORTANT: Where are the songs of Spring?
We propose you do not think of them. We have a range of Key Alternatives:
Wailful choir – in partnership with Small Gnats
Full-grown lambs (ie sheep) – will loud bleat from hilly bourn
Hedge crickets (songs TBD)
Redbreast whistles (soft treble option)
Gathering swallows Twitter – option to add other social media platforms.
Slide 6: Our solution
Autumn. Looks nice. Sounds nice. Smells nice. Buy Autumn today.
After extensive brainstorming building on the original ‘Ode’ approach, our team has devised a campaign that is:
Channel-agnostic and designed to effect a more positive encounter across multiple customer ecospheres.
Look forward to the next meeting!
If death is by PowerPoint, then we’re all perishing in a hail of bullet points
I had to write up a report based on a Zoom call the other day. I went looking for good quotes. Someone had helpfully captured the key points in bullet-point form from the conversation. I started to reshape the bullet points into proper English sentences. Then I stopped and realised: hell, I may as well just go back to the recording and hear what people actually said.
It wasn’t the waste of time that irked me. It was that capturing of the key points. You take a passage of English with its nuances and sequences, its flows and causalities, and you make it captive within a short list of identical punctuation marks. Bullet points truly are the punctuation equivalent of handcuffs.
Yet bullet points are useful, especially, when you want to compose an agenda, say, or make a list. But in the ardent pursuit of brevity, business writers are reducing their arguments to a monotonous THUD-THUD-THUD (make that THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD – because you have to have at least five bullet points, don’t you?)
I’m not saying all your proposals, presentations and inter-office memos should be written like Keats (and honestly, half the world doesn’t even know what a keat is1).
But don’t you sometimes feel a bit dulled and deafened by all those bullets? It’s like listening to someone who THUMPS – THE – TABLE –EVERY –TIME – THEY – MAKE –A – POINT. Every line has the same, monotonous beat. No thought is more or less important than the last and the next never follows logically on from the last.
But, if you must…
Some useful style rules for bullet points:
Keep the grammar consistent
Stick to one tense
Make the verb the centre of the phrase
Keep them short
Only put a full stop at the end of the sequence or slide.
Fall or Autumn?
“If the pure well of English is to remain undefiled no Yankee should be allowed henceforth to throw mud in it”. That was a 19th century writer in Punch. It’s surprising how many silly British people still see American variations on the Mother Tongue as new-fangled and insolent.
Silly, and ignorant too. ‘Fall’ has an honourable Germanic or Norse lineage. It was the word most Britons used for the season in the 17th century, in preference to the fiddly, Latinate ‘Autumn’.
As with many English usages (gotten is another), the older form survived the voyage across the Atlantic and died out at home.
And we had better end with the Keats rule on writing and inspiration
If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.
Well, we have all done plenty of forced growing in our time. It isn’t only poets who sit for hours, pen (or forefinger) in the air waiting for the right sentences to pass from neural pathway to Word document or blank page.
There are also plenty of writers and writing course teachers who take issue with JK. Keep writing, they say. Pour the words onto the page. It doesn’t matter if they’re no good. You can revise later. You just need to get into the flow.
I’m a bit more Keatsian. I’ve tried the ‘force it out’ method and end up feeling more dispirited and blocked than ever, only with 600 words of embarrassing garbage in front of me.
Far better to do what any decent Romantic poet would have done. Go for a long walk. The words will come.
We can’t turn you into a poet. But we can help your business write more effectively
We started our agency, Forthwrite, because, like you, we’d sat through too many tedious presentations and we’ve read (and rewritten) too many incoherent presentations.
We leaned the hard way – now we can help you find a better way. Our courses are designed to make you and your organisation fall in love with words again. If you remember how much you used to enjoy writing and can’t understand why it’s become such a chore, come to us. Get some leaves back on those bare trees.
Copyright: Spike Milligan