Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind, But as for me, helas! I may no more. The vain travail hath worried me so sore, I am of them that furthest come behind. Yet may I by no means, my worried mind Draw from the deer; but as she fleeth afore Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore, Since in a net I seek to hold the wind. Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt, As well as I, may spend his time in vain; And graven in diamonds in letters plain There is written, her fair neck round about, “Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am, And wild to hold, though I seem tame.”
Some might find it an odd pairing, Ogden Nash and Sir Thomas Wyatt. But the two could not be better mates in my opinion as poets, as each loved a bit of a riddle, mixed heavily with their rhyme. I find more humor when I look for it; in life and in poetry. Why must sonnets be stuck with the reputation as “serious” poetry? What stodgy English department proclaimed that the sonnet has to be “classic” verse? It’s only because we allow ourselves as readers to be buffaloed into believing such a thing, that we accept it to be true. We the reader are the one placing lofty expectations on the fourteen line form because we have been misled into thinking that’s what we are required to do. Generations of high school and college literature classes have boxed the sonnet into a corner. Maybe it’s time we unpacked the sonnet from it’s historical baggage, time to set the sonnet free.
There is a solution for friends of the sonnet; read the sonnet above through a different lens, a lens that you are reading a comedy, it may be a tragic comedy, but a comedy. Have you ever written a sonnet or tried to write a sonnet? If you have, you can speak from experience there is a moment during its creation where you recognize the silliness of it all – 10 syllables, 14 lines, rhymes all in their proper place. How could it not go off the rails a bit from drama into comedy, if for no other reason than to break the tension? Next time you are inspired to write a sonnet, trying doing it with your tongue set firmly to one side of your mouth as you write to remind yourself of the absurdity of it all and see if it yields a comedic gem along the way.
Most great sonnets have at least one great one-liner contained within them. The question is whether that one line is drama, action adventure, romance, horror, sci-fi, rom-com or stand up comedy? It may be all of them depending on your whim as a reader. But don’t limit your options. Trying reading Shakespeare’s sonnets sometime with the eye of looking for the punch line and then go ahead and laugh at the silliness of it when you find it. Don’t force Shakespeare to be so serious. It’s lots more fun slogging through old English, looking to be inspired by its brilliant comedy, than trying to sleuth out something weighty and intellectual; Oh, where art thou? And like all good comedies, the audience laughs the hardest when it releases the tension of something more serious, something darker. Just look at Ogden Nash.
Progress might have been alright once, but it has gone on too long.
by Ogden Nash
Behold the hippopotamus! We laugh at how he looks to us, And yet in moments dank and grim, I wonder how we look to him.
Peace, peace, thou hippopotamus! We really look all right to us, As you no doubt delight the eye Of other hippopotami
I am as I am and so will I be But how that I am none knoweth truly, Be it evil be it well, be I bond be I free I am as I am and so will I be.
Sir Thomas Wyatt
My Galley, Charged With Forgetfulness
by Sir Thomas Wyatt
My galley, charged with forgetfulness, Thorough sharp seas in winter nights doth pass ‘Tween rock and rock; and eke mine enemy, alas, That is my lord, steereth with cruelness; And every oar a thought in readiness, As though that death were light in such a case. An endless wind doth tear the sail apace Of forced sighs and trusty fearfulness. A rain of tears, a cloud of dark disdain, Hath done the weared cords great hinderance; Wreathed with error and eke with ignorance. The stars be hid that led me to this pain. Drowned is reason that should me consort, And I remain despairing of the port
Thomas Wyatt life reads like the next installment of Bridgerton, except with mostly unhappy endings. His life is so steeped in myth, rumors and innuendo in what has been passed down that generations of academics have yet to completely unravel fact from fiction. What is chronicled makes for juicy reading. Wyatt was a large athletic man, who was as comfortable in the jousting ring as in matters of court and the arts. A successful diplomat and patron of Thomas Cromwell, Wyatt ran in and out of favor with King Henry the VIII, as he pried the Catholic Church’s stranglehold from all matters of court and bloody birthed the Church of England into being. Cromwell was not so fortunate and was executed for his largely honorable service to his country. Despite rumors of romantic connections to Anne Boleyne, or because of it, Wyatt escaped multiple imprisonments and charges of treason with not only his life, but eventually his reputation and standing in court restored. But luck never seemed to run on Wyatt’s side for very long and in 1941 while on a diplomatic mission with Spain he was struck down by a fever.
Wyatt is credited with introducing the sonnet structure to English verse on whose literary accomplishments Shakespeare would use as a foundation. Wyatt’s poetry was widely circulated during his lifetime and included in anthologies following his death. Writing in a style that was personal, at times bitter and venomous, he was also deeply sentimental and romantic. Wyatt wrote of love from a complex perspective having seen and experienced its many facets. Wyatt’s poetry can run on the dark side, as betrayal was a common muse, knowing it could still a man’s heart every bit as the executioner’s ax in King Henry’s VIII court. While in prison in 1936, he wrote following Cromwell’s execution:
Sighs are my food, drink are my tears; Clinking of fetters such music would crave. Stink and close air away my life wears. Innocency is all the hope I have.
Wyatt’s contribution to the sonnet was unique in history. Wyatt’s sonnets are Petrarchian in their construction but with his own new English twist, he laid the path for Shakespeare to follow.
by John Donne
WHEN by thy scorn, O murd’ress, I am dead, And that thou thinkst thee free From all solicitation from me, Then shall my ghost come to thy bed, And thee, feign’d vestal, in worse arms shall see : Then thy sick taper will begin to wink, And he, whose thou art then, being tired before, Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think Thou call’st for more, And, in false sleep, will from thee shrink : And then, poor aspen wretch, neglected thou Bathed in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie, A verier ghost than I. What I will say, I will not tell thee now, Lest that preserve thee ; and since my love is spent, I’d rather thou shouldst painfully repent, Than by my threatenings rest still innocent.