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Sunday Scribblings #139: The Storytelling Magic of Fable Poems

This week’s Poetic Sunday is a multi-tasking one, kind of ‘buy one, get another or more free’ or the more gruesome ‘killing two birds with one stone.’ This week has a few literary celebrations, including World Storytelling Day, World Poetry Day, as well as World Folktales & Fables Week. So today I bring to you the storytelling magic of fable poems, and thus celebrate all these!

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Notepad and a pen over it with a cup of coffee next to it. words read Sunday Scribblings, and this is for Sunday Scribblings #138: Cadae is a Wonderful Slice of Pi

Poetic Sundays: The Storytelling Magic of Fable Poems

So what is a fable? It is a short and concise story in prose or verse with a moral at the end. Fables use personification or anthropomorphism featuring animals to demonstrate a lesson about human behavior. The central theme of the fable is its moral, and hence the story is usually simply told with minimal plot and fewer characters, while still trying to have it be entertaining enough to the reader/listener.

Using animals as characters makes the fable:

  • appealing to wide audiences, regardless of age
  • makes the story less ‘preachy’ while still sharing its moral
  • provides a universality to the fable and thus can work with any time/place/audience

The origins of fables lie in oral storytelling traditions. Fables have passed on morals and life lessons for centuries across folk cultures worldwide, and they have been particularly important in the social development of children. Some of the best-known fables are

  • Aesop’s Fables (The Hare and the Tortoise, The Fox and the Grapes, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, and more),
  • the Jataka Tales and the Panchatantra from India,
  • a modern example of a fable is George Orwell’s Animal Farm

And what is a fable poem? Of course, it is simply a fable told in verse form rather than prose. The actual poetic form is left to the writer, and they can use any form of their choice, or even free verse.

How To Guide: Exploring the Storytelling Magic of Fable Poems by (re)Writing One

Writing fable poems requires a simple yet strong and short narrative told in verse, where each of the components (be it character, plot, or setting) contributes visibly to the fable poems’ moral. So let us look at how to write fable poems.

What?: The Moral, Or, Begin at the End

Since the moral is the main aspect of the fable, it is best to start with the end in mind. In this case, the moral you want to relay to the reader. Write it down in verse form (of your choice). These will be the last lines (or line) of your fable poem.

Tips for picking a moral:

  • look to current culturally pertinent issues
  • choose age-old maxims and proverbs
  • or simply use a made-up one you might have heard someone say or something you say often to people around you!

Remember that a moral is a lesson to live by, especially one concerning what is right or prudent. It is usually a general principle to live by and not anything specific. You can look at morals from Aesop’s fables here (and the stories they are linked to as well)

Who?: Pick Your Characters and Their Traits

Now pick your animal (or other non-human) characters to help tell a story with your chosen/written moral. Can be just one or many characters, and note that they can also be inanimate (like trees and mountains and even aliens and such). Considering the fable needs to be simple and short, keep the number of characters minimal. Two is generally a good rule of thumb for that number.

Take the example of the fox and the grapes. It actually has only one character, the fox! And his traits: maybe just a little lazy, but kind of clever and maybe philosophical too, as he decides that those grapes he cannot reach are sour, so it doesn’t matter.

If we look at the story of the tortoise and the hare, we see two main characters, with one being slow and steady (the moral of the story revolves around that), and the other rash and over-confident.

One last note, you don’t need to name your characters here. While the Jataka Tales from India do give names (and pretty meaningful ones that show the traits of the characters instantly), Aesop chose to simply call his characters what they were – the sun, the hare, the fox, and so on. One thing that is common in fables though is to capitalize those common nouns instead, so the Sun, the Hare, the Fox, and so on , as you write your fable.

Where?: Pick Your Setting

The characters can help decide the setting for you, or if you had a setting in mind first, that can help you pick your characters. Most commonly known fables include settings like the forest, a farm, the city/town, a village, or similar simple easily identifiable setting so you don’t need to spend too much time or too many words describing it. You could choose to make it modern by picking a theme park, the inside of a video game, or even space!

How?: Decide on the Conflict and Resolution

Again, keeping in mind that the fable needs to be simple, its conflict-resolution part needs to be simple and straight-forward too. Your characters (and setting) can help you pick the conflict and resolution (or vice-versa). Conflicts that work for fables include:

  • slow vs fast
  • good vs evil
  • cunning vs innocent
  • rich vs poor
  • kind vs cruel/mean

The conflict can help decide the plot, and help you create a series of events building up towards the resolution, and finally the moral.

Pick the Poetic Form You Wish, and Write

Maybe something with a simple rhyme scheme but no specific meter or rhythm (like in Emerson’s Fable linked below); or free verse maybe; or write it like a series of couplets; or maybe just anything at all.

h/t, Related Reading, and References for Fable Poems:

My Attempt at Fable Poems

This attempt is based on a true story that happened right in my backyard, and one I witnessed a couple of years ago (right during the pandemic)…A cat did try to get away with taking a baby /fledgling crow (though I did not see it pounce upon the fledgling), and soon crows filled our backyard as they tried to rescue their own and push the cat away from their tree-borhood! The cat valiantly (well, not so valiantly actually) tried to hide among the trees in our yard but finally gave up and the crows did emerge as the victors here. It was a cawfully noisy day for us that day.

I do not have dialog here of any sort but did try to personify the animals the best I could. And yes, I do have morals here.

The Cat and the Crows
That Cat so sly and stealthy,
Slunk away with a prize, felt wealthy.
A fledgling brave, had dared to fly,
But alas, he had caught Cat’s eye.
And when Fledgling landed close,
Cat pounced before it rose.

Little Fledgling cried out in despair,
And soon, caws filled the air,
His parents caw-ll-ed out to one and all
Soon their neighbors joined the brawl!

They flew together – a mighty force!
To save their own, of course.
And with persistence, they fought so good,
Until Cat was gone from their “treeborhood.”
Little Fledgling was back in family’s fold,
to hug, and feed, their joy to behold!

So we learn these simple truths, that
in the end, what’s wrong will go down in a fray.
And in unity is strength; so be it a cat
or another foe, together, you can win every day!
~ Vidya @ LadyInReadWrites

Another note: this real-life incident right in my backyard reminded me of one of my favorite picture books about dadsA Song for Papa Crow by Marit Menzin.


On My Blog & at Home

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On My Blog & Homefront

A review (or two) and other bookish and non-bookish posts

This Week’s Celebrations

Literary Celebrations (close-to-it also!)

  • Literary birthdays this week of March include: Lois Lowry and Louis Sachar on the 20th of March; and Phyllis McGinley on the 21st; Billy Collins, James Patterson, and Louis L’Amour on March 22nd; Jonathan Ames on the 23rd of March; Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Muthuswami Dikshitar on March 24th; Kate DiCamillo and Linda Sue Park on the 25th of March; Erica Jong, Richard Dawkins, Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams, Mahadevi Varma, and Viktor Frankl on March 26th
  • It is World Storytelling Day on the 20th of March, and this year’s theme is ‘Together We Can’
  • And also Bibliomania Day (why? – On March 20, 1990, Stephen Blumberg, who came to be known as the Book Bandit was arrested for stealing more than 23,600 books worth US$5.3 million (worth over double that amount in 2023)
  • The 21st of March is World Poetry Day and World Puppetry Day
  • National Tolkien Reading Day is on the 25th of March
  • The third week of March observes World Folktales & Fables Week (March 19 – 25, 2023)

Foodie Celebrations

Other Celebrations

Wrapping up my Sunday Scribblings

So dear reader, you have reached the end of this Sunday Scribblings! As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about this post. And do let me know if you plan to celebrate any of these mentioned celebrations this coming week/month? Or if you write a few fable poems, do share them with me!

Linking this to the Sunday Post over at the Caffeinated Reviewer and the Sunday Salon

image of a frog speaking in front of a group of animals; pin title - Poetic Sundays: The Storytelling Magic of Fable Poems

14 thoughts on “Sunday Scribblings #139: The Storytelling Magic of Fable Poems

  1. The fable poem you wrote and shared today is my favorite of all you have posted thus far. It’s a poem based on an experience you witnessed and it works well as a poem.

    I’ve reworked some old fables as poems. This one is the sequel to a fable:

    The Lion and the Mouse

    Lion, quite famished
    From his adventure in the net,
    Chanced yet again upon poor Mouse,
    And, with much regret,
    Friend Mouse he et.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comments on this poem Deb (as always!), and your comments inspire me to try my hand at fable poems more often (and based on personal experiences)..Your sequel to The Lion and the Mouse is perfect… and well, poor mouse 🙂

  2. I remember, my mom used to tell me stories about Aesop’s Fables. The one that stuck in my memory is the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, which tells the story of a dishonest boy.

  3. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article on fable poems. The way you described the power of storytelling and its impact on our emotions is truly inspiring. Your love for fables and the art of storytelling shines through in your writing, and I look forward to reading more from you.

  4. Fables were my favorites when I was little, especially the traditional ones for my culture. Always rhymed as well. I enjoyed this post as it has reminded me of my childhood’s happy moments

  5. Storytelling is an integral part of Advertising and I was fortunate to study the subject in depth during my masters. However, the way you have drafted the blog post is really fun to read and easy to comprehend

  6. I grew up reading Aesop’s fables but a fable poem is new to me. I would love to attempt writing one as I think it’s a bit more challenging than writing a short story.

    Appreciate the tips Thank you for sharing your work and all these tips.

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