"Proper English" question about part of a poem I'm working on

Hi everyone!

I’ve been typing away working on a poetry contest this month, and I had a question about this last poem I was working on. These three lines bug me. Something about them feels… off. Is it just me? I think it’s the “was that the/she/a” part - that doesn’t sound grammatically correct to me. :thinking:

What he didn’t know, was that the princess was a mage.
What he didn’t know, was that she had means of escape.
What he didn’t know, was that a dragon was her fiancé.

Maybe try replacing the “was” with “is”?
“What he didn’t know is that the princess was a mage.”

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Grammatically, it looks fine. “was” is correct since it’s past tense. The biggest issue I see is that they run a little long and are a bit repetitive. Sometimes this is desired in poetry, so that might come down to a judgment call for you, but here’s how I would change it.

But he didn’t know that the princess was a mage.
Nor did he know that she had a means of escape.
Or that her fiance was a dragon.

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You could also consider replacing dragon with snake or drake in your last line.
“What he didn’t know is her fiance was a drake”.
In doing this, you also maintain the trochaic-septameter-like rhythm of the previous two lines, which could help the last line match with them.

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The repetition is intentional for the poem. Here is the full version if that helps: Moon Gate - Escape - Wattpad

I’m fine with the fiance even though it’s more of a slant/soft rhyme. It’s the "was that"s that feel like slang? Kind of like how people say “that that,” but it should be one “that”?

I was thinking the first line could be changed to “What he didn’t know, was the princess was a mage,” and remove “that” from there at least. :thinking:

Also, isn’t a drake a duck? :laughing: That’s what google’s telling me.

Olde English for dragon.

Actually now that I think about it, maybe I can remove all the "that"s. So it would be:

What he didn’t know, was the princess was a mage.
What he didn’t know, was she had means of escape.
What he didn’t know, was a dragon was her fiancé.