The Caprice of Prosody

francesco-petrarch-4

Protest
by Joseph Auslander (1897 – 1965)

I will not make a sonnet from
Each little private martyrdom:
Nor out of love left dead with time
Construe a stanza or a rime.

We do not suffer to afford
The searched for and the subtle word:
There is too much that may not be
At the caprice of prosody.

From Cyclops’ Eye. Harper & Brothers, 1926

Sonnet 61

by Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374)
Translated by Joseph Auslander

Blest be the day, and blest be the month and year,
Season and hour and very moment blest,
The lovely land and place where first possessed
By two pure eyes I found me prisoner;
And blest the first sweet pain, the first most dear,
Which burnt my heart when Love came in as guest;
And blest the bow, the shafts which shook my breast,
And even the wounds which Love delivered there.
Blest be the words and voices which filled grove
And glen with echoes of my lady’s name;
The sighs, the tears, the fierce despair of love;
And blest the sonnet-sources of my fame;
And blest that thought of thoughts which is her own,
Of her, her only, of herself alone!


Pop Quiz.

  1. Can you name the current Poet Laureate of the United States?
  2. Does your state or province have a poet laureate? If yes, who is it?

My Answers:

  1. Tracy K. Smith (September 2017)
  2. Yes – Minnesota’s poet laureate is Joyce Sutphen.

The concept of a poet laureate as a function of recognition and civic artistic contribution to society goes all the way back to the 14th Century.  Petrarch was crowned Rome’s first poet laureate in 1341 and is the god-father of sonnets.   So it is only slightly ironic, or a planned coincidence, that the United States first poet laureate,  was Joseph Auslander.  One of Auslander’s many accomplishments as a writer was an English translation of Petrarch’s sonnets.

In upcoming blog posts I’ll share poems from current and former poet laureates. Here’s a poem from the current Poet Laureate.

Sci-Fi

by Tracy K. Smith

There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.

History, with its hard spine and dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,

Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.

Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,

Having outlived every threat, will gratify
Only the mind, which is where it will exist.

For kicks, we’ll dance for ourselves
Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.

The oldest among us will recognize that glow—
But the word sun will have been re-assigned.

To the Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device
Found in households and nursing homes.

And yes, we’ll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,

Eons from even our own moon, we’ll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once

And for all, scrutable and safe.


Tracy K. Smith, “Sci-Fi” from Life on Mars. Copyright © 2011 by Tracy K. Smith.

Published by

fourteenlines10

I am a life long proud Minnesotan, who has stopped trying to explain why he likes winter. I hope you enjoy my offbeat approach to curating a unique collection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. Fourteen lines can also be found on Facebook.

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