The Art of Dying

 

689px-Ars_moriendi_(Meister_E.S.),_L.175
Pride of The Spirit – Woodcut by Master E. S. circa 1460

 

Sonnet

Evelyn Douglas

Starry mystery of the eternal skies!
To-night I walk the verges of the grave:
The shallow things that charm life and enslave
Fall off: the gaunt world stands without disguise.
Hope, starry mystery, to the world-sick eyes:
Unfold, thou aching void, to thoughts that crave
The secret of thy secret, though I rave.
Better to rave than live in sick surmise.

The moon, and all the stars about the pole.
Swim round me, and I travel in dull pain,
A dumb Want in the solitude of Time.
What means it all ? Whence comes, and to what goal?
Whence, what am I whose life seems all in vain?
— Earth, sea, and sky stand silent and sublime.

Happy Halloween.  This trick or treat connects sonnets of Evelyn Douglas (John Barlas), the theater of Phantasmagoria and the Christian text, The Art of Dying.    Where do I see a common thread? The answer is in the imagery of the macabre, which today we associate with Halloween, but was common in religion, architecture, art and literature from the middle ages through the early 1900’s.

Deaths constant presence, a source of mystery, solace and sorrow, for the whole of human history has diminished in our sanitized modern experience. Health care having changed, for most of us, our first hand knowledge of death, relegating it to an infrequent stranger, an antiseptic ghost that exists outside of our homes and daily lives.  Death in the middle ages and Victorian England was an ever-present master,  a very real specter that haunted from the miracle of birth to all facets of life.   The language and experience of death, a central inspiration of classical poetry,  is spoken more seldom today.  We have turned the macabre into a mere light-hearted entertainment of October, not a reflection of our human experience, reconciling Life with the inevitability of Death, light with dark.

Ars Morendi, The Art of Dying,  is a Christian text.  Published first in Germany in the 1400’s and then revised and republished in the 1500’s.  It was written during the context of the Black Death, the depopulation of parts of Europe and the following social unrest that occurred.   Illustrated with graphic woodcuts like the one above, it provides instruction in how to approach death with propriety.  It was an unexpected response by the Roman Catholic Church, whose ranks were hard hit by plague.  It gave to laymen,  the precepts of preparing for a good death.  The idea of the Art of Death, became popular among both Protestants and Catholics, lessening fear and providing relief to both the living and the dying.

The imagery of the Art of Dying may appear graphic to current religious sensibilities; with demons alongside angels,  both waiting for the soul to emerge from the dying man’s mouth, but was common in churches and religious texts of its era.  It should be no surprise then that the macabre made the jump from religious to theatrical.  Phantasmagoria, a common theatrical experience across Europe in the 1800s, combined elements of what we would consider a séance with good old-fashioned scare tactics with projected imagery of skeletons, shadowy apparitions, sound effects and theatrical tricks.  Think of phantasmagoria as the Friday The Thirteenth horror movies of their day.

John Barlas, an under appreciated sonneteer, a friend of Oscar Wilde, an anarchist and ardent socialist, published remarkable poems and sonnets under the name Evelyn Douglas.    Barlas also wrote for the phantasmagoria in London.   His connection to sonnets and phantasmagoria may seem at odds,  but fits together seamlessly with his poetic vision.   Barlas’ use of color, flames, lust and passion in his writing, weave imagery of  romantic beauty with the macabre as part of the natural order.  A perspective that would feel perfectly at home,  if we were able to walk the landscape of the grime infested alleys of London in the late 1900’s.

Barlas’ book, Phantasmagoria: Love Sonnets,  delves deeply into the themes of love, passion, life and death.   Here are two of his sonnets for your Halloween pleasure.  For a complete collection check out the website Sonnet Central.

LIII

Evelyn Douglas

As a flower springs up out of dark and cold,
Drawn by the gracious beauty of the light,
A bud that knows not all its own delight,
Till opening to one blaze of red and gold
Its deep-involvèd splendours, fold by fold,
It yields the perfume of its being one night,
Touches with conscious joy its nature’s height,
Then withers back into the crumbling mould:
So love from the human spirit’s lonely lair,
Nourished in moving darkness and damp gloom;
And peeps forth shyly to the golden air,
–A mere bud, but a blossom in its womb,
That knows itself a moment of brief bloom,
Then withers back into the soul’s despair.

 

LIV

Evelyn Douglas

Wave after wave arises from the deep,
And slips back into silence and the grave:
It matters not whether it fret and rave
And foam at lip with fury, or still keep
A quiet motion: both sink into sleep,
The same cold sleep, and the great sea, that gave,
Receives again their life, wave after wave.
Shall we who think of it give thanks or weep?
I know not; only would the law not lay
With love as life! for as our lives emerge
From the vague sea to sing their own brief dirge;
So out of each of these, and vain as they,
Love after love arises like a surge,
And sighs, and passes in the sigh away.

___________________________________

Poems Lyrical and Dramatic, by Evelyn Douglas. 1894.

Phantasmagoria: Love Sonnets, by Evelyn Douglas, 1887.

©2017 Original material copyright T. A. Fry.  Other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

How Many Moments Must (Amazing Each)

image (28)
e.e. cummings
Writers write and writers read.
                And in between guess what’s conceived?

                                              T. A. Fry

To even the most superficial of readers of sonnets there emerges a clanging gong of subject matter that shows up over and over again; Love – Love in all its forms.  And I mean Love with a capital L.   This isn’t some sleazy video rental of poetry through the ages. We are talking the timeless questions that come to every person during their lifetime:

  • What is Love?
  • Is Love eternal?
  • Is God Love?
  • Is Love God?
  • Is sex Love?  or better stated,
  • Why is only some sex Love? (No judgement as to types of sexual acts intended, I am referring to emotional connections or lack there of during the sexual act.  We all have felt the difference, even with those we love, and the difference is everything.)
  • Is true Love unconditional?
  • Am I capable of unconditional Love?
  • Is there any such thing as true Love or is there just Love?

I find it fascinating that the sonnet has evolved into the structure by which thousands of writers have taken up the challenge to put to paper their personal philosophy around their own place in relation to their God, or to their fellow-humans and or to woo the epitome of their flesh and blood desire,  whether real or imagined.  Why create so formal a structure and add unnecessary obstacles to the writing process in what is already a difficult subject matter?  Or is that the magic of sonnets that beguile writers and readers alike?   In a sonnet, both share the writer’s struggles, the varying skill with which a sonnet’s structure is lyrically mastered becomes a lasting banner of the battle we all face internally, in raising our own sword to conquer what we believe in our hearts. In a sonnet the writer and reader touch swords before the clash begins to measure the distance between each other.

I don’t know how many sonnets a writer must write to be considered a sonneteer?  How many more they must write and publish to be of sufficient stature to be mentioned as a minor footnote alongside the Pantheon of Dante, Shakespeare, Sidney or Petrarch?  I bet someone at Harvard or Oxford has done a mathematical analysis on the subject and I am guessing it must be a sufficient volume of sonnets that you remind yourself about roman numerals well over a hundered.  If that’s the case at this point I would consider myself more a mousekeeter.

I smile when I write the word sonneteer.   It evokes an image of a swashbuckling writer, dueling with their nemisis, by sitting down with his or her sheet of velum, quill pen and candle to ink fourteen lines of bravery to win the day.  The sonneteer’s act of writing every bit as daring as the swordsman, upheld as a romantic figure, chivalrous in defending the honor of those he has sworn protection.  I find it ironic that it is the great sonneteers who have touched the honor of millions over time and not the hired muscle.

I am of the mindset that it is not the quantity but quality that defines the legacy of any writer.    Why do we look down on one hit wonders, particularly if their one hit sealed the deal on romance?  We should respect their efficiency. Maybe the best sonneteers of all time have been lost from history as they kept their poetic legacy away from prying eyes,  never sharing their sonnet with a reading public that may have been all too happy to reject it for publication.   There is a power in privacy.   It protects the sanctity of the unpublished poem or sonnet’s ability to cement together two beating hearts.  The sonnet squirreled away as a carefully folded sheet of paper at the bottom of a jewelry box or corner of a dresser, faded and yellow, seemingly forgotten only because it was memorized by the recipient decades before.  I am of the opinion that it only takes one great sonnet which wins the love of your life, your Laura, Beatrice or Stella, to be a sonneteer.

I name dropped e.e. cummings in a recent blog as a more accessible poet with devious intent.  I certainly did not mean to associate the word accessible in readers minds with the idea that I was damning with faint praise. I meant it as a compliment. I think Cummings is brilliant.   I like his poetry because it is entertaining, challenging, and crafted from writing that is both untraditional but easily understood.   Cummings is known for his highly stylized poetry that emphasizes his unique approach to language and representation on the page.  I am in awe of Cumming’s skill in combining the playfulness of words into inspiring ideas.   To those readers that know him by only his unique poetry style, it might surprise you that nearly one-quarter of all the poems collected in his complete anthology in 1962 are sonnets (over 200).  It might further surprise you that he wrote sonnets over the course of his entire career, including at least one in every volume of poetry he published.

At first glance his sonnets may not seem to follow the rules of sonneteering and some critics of his day rolled their eyes at the irregularities, but no one ignored the genius of his writing.

Here are two of my favorites.  “I carry your heart with me” is widely known, but how many readers, read it without any awareness that it is a sonnet?   As you read it, what added complexity does the poem have based on its structure that ties it to a history and legacy far beyond Cummings?

Share your thoughts and ideas.  Comments are welcomed!

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

by e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
.                                                               i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

how many moments must (amazing each

by e.e. cummings

how many moments must( amazing each
how many centuries )these more than eyes
restroll and stroll some never deepening beach

locked in foreverish time’s tide at poise

love alone understands: only for whom
i’ll keep my tryst until that tide shall turn;
and from all selfsubtracting hugely doom
treasures of reeking innocence are born.

Then, with not credible the anywhere
eclipsing of a spirit’s ignorance
by every wisdom knowledge fears to dare,

how the( myself ‘s own self who’s)child will dance!

and when he’s plucked such mysteries as men
do not conceive-let ocean grow again.

______________________________________

“[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]” Copyright 1952, © 1980, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust, from Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage.

“[How many moments must (Amazing each]” Copyright 1961, © 1980, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust, from Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage.

©2017 Original material copyright T. A. Fry.  Other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

My True Verse

 

IMG_1389
Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis MN

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

October in Minneapolis is a sacred month.   It has the last warm days of the season mixed with a visual feast of greens, yellows, orange and reds beneath a blue harvest sky.  Minnesotans know what’s coming next; cold weather, snow, icy sidewalks, short foggy grey overcast days and leafless trees.  Please, don’t ruin our enjoyment of being sozzled by beauty for a couple of weeks by reminding us of our winter hangover that is yet to come.  Nature throws a hell of party at summer’s closing time in Minneapolis, with a last round of a Kaleidoscope of colors for our bacchanalian fall over indulgence.

October is sacred for another reason for me personally.  It is the month of my mother’s birth and the one year anniversary of her ashes being interred at Lakewood Cemetery, next to her parents and grandmother.

The only reason I am a poet and writing this blog is because of my mother.   Poetry was and is a visceral connection to her. She and I shared a love of poetry going back to my childhood but it intensified as time went on.   My mother returned to Minnesota for the last four years of her life, after 28 years of living in other parts of the world, always pronouncing steadfastly during short visits, that she would never return to live here again.   That she relented on that declaration was a gift beyond measure.  Her return to Minneapolis, coming full circle back to the neighborhood where she grew up and first taught grade school after graduating from the University of Minnesota,  allowed me and my sister to spend time with her on a weekly basis, as she lived less than two miles away from each of us in those remaining years.

IMG_1425
Mary Fry

Soon after she returned, my mother and I created a tradition called poetry night.  It started out informally but grew to have regular rules.   We each would pick out 5 or 6 poems to read aloud to each other and eat a meal together once every 3 or 4 months.  The rule was you had to read each poem twice (her rule, in part because of her struggles with hearing aids, but also so that you can listen carefully and internalize more of the poem the second time through).   We would take turns, alternating, reading each poem we had selected one at a time,  then asking each other questions, laughing, telling stories, talking about the author and why we chose each poem, before moving on to the next.  We were planning another poetry night shortly before she died. It was a lovely way to spend 3 hours in her presence.  Here is a poem I had set aside to read to her on our next poetry night.

Love is a Place

e. e. cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)  all worlds

My mother was a good poet and had great taste in poetry.  She liked serious poetry, but also appreciated silly rhymes, and was a masterful limerick writer. She often wrote us a poem for our birthdays, an affirmation of her love. In a future blog post I will share more of her poetry.  Here is a poem my mother wrote in August of 2014 following heavy June rains that caused minor flooding on Lake of Isles, which is only a couple of blocks from where she lived. It illustrates her powers of observation, wisdom and sense of humor.

High Water

Mary Fry

In the middle of the summer downpour
The lake rose up out of its bed,
Ambled across the beach,
Crept over the grassy verge,
And settled on the walking path.
Little fish followed;
Swimming along, their shadows gliding beneath them,
On the path that said ….’No Bikes’.

My mother lived and lives in a yes world, and wished for all of her family and friends to live a loving life with brightness of peace. She allowed each of us to swim our own paths, even in high water.

It is a daunting thing to try and write something in honor of your mother.   Words never measure up.   I wrote the following poem as part of my grief process.  It began as a sonnet, but it morphed a little to become something sonnet-light.  The day of her internment was overcast, grey and slightly rainy.

Happy Birthday Mom.

My True Verse

T. A. Fry

Laid bare before life’s mighty eyes,
Farewell beloved I leave behind.
Look past the rain, the grey torn sky.
And if you weep this day, then go resigned.
Keep no somber vigil by silent ash.
As my spirit lives with those I loved.
For I lay beyond mere earthen cache,
My love of you forever proved.
So when in need of kindly word,
Amid drag and drone of a rambling curse.
Listen for my voice in brook or bird.
And hear the truest of my true verse.

 


 

Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost from The Poetry of Robert Frost edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright © 1923, 1947, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, copyright © 1942, 1951 by Robert Frost, copyright © 1970, 1975 by Lesley Frost Ballantine.

“love is a place” by E.E. Cummings from Complete Poems 1904-1962, edited by George James Firmage. Copyright © 1935, 1963, 1991 by the Trustees for the E.E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1978 by George James Firmage.

©2017 Original material and images copyright T. A. Fry.  Other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

 

 

Hunting Down The Lawless Sonnets of The Old West

Sonnet Eye Chart (1)

 

In fact, it seems to be the opinion of most of the later poets of our language that if the game is to be played at all, it is best to follow the rules without cavil and without claiming any license to depart from them.

 A Study on Versification (1911) by Brander Matthews

It is a conundrum, this holy aura that surrounds sonnets. The nearly religious vow that a poet is expected to uphold in pursuit of writing them, by fervently obeying a sonnet’s ancient rhyming rules and metrical structure. I agree with Matthews; “There is no obligation of any poet to make use of the sonnet framework; and if he would express himself without restraint he has at his command the large liberty of all the other lyrical forms.  It is in the rigidity of its skeleton that the charm of the sonnet is firmly rooted.  It tends to impose a helpful condensation, thus counteracting the temptation to diffuseness.”

Rules aren’t fun when it comes to creative writing. I think it’s why many readers of poetry wrinkle their noses at sonnets like an ancient lyricist has let out a fart in the library and it’s just wafted their way.   We might pin the blame for the modern masses eschewing sonnets on Shakespeare, whose sonnets, even his most ardent fans admit, can be at times practically unreadable in the leaden opacity of some of his verse.  We are told by learned professors of literature we are supposed to like Shakespeare because he is brilliant, not because we actually like his sonnets.  No wonder most modern readers have thrown off their literary chains, shirking their responsibilities of reading Milton, Chaucer, Tennyson, Wordsworth and Dunne to obtain a well rounded appreciation of poetry, instead favoring more accessible poets like e. e. cummings, who followed no rules at all. However, boldly avowing a broad dislike of dusty sonnets would require taking the time to actually read a fair bit of Shakespeare or Milton to have a real opinion on the matter and most of us never cracked those books to begin with in high school, college or beyond.

Sonnets run the risk of offending the sensibility of modern readers of poetry, those readers that are attracted to free verse precisely because poetry doesn’t have to follow the rules of grammar and sentence construction we were taught in school.  A modern poet can claim poetic license at anytime and lay down their “get out of grammar jail” free card whenever he or she chooses.

So dear readers, let’s climb into this poet’s confessional and get something off our collective chests early on in this blog.   Sonneteers sometimes stretch the rules just a bit in favor of a winning line or for the sake of clarity and story.   Let’s not pretend that sonnets are bound by an ironclad suit of armor of 14 lines of 10 syllables each and every time.   Many great sonnets stray slightly from this construction, with the occasional couplet getting its freak on by being 9 syllables followed by 10 or 11 syllables, or the addition of a bonus couplet and winding up with 16 lines, or snipping a couplet off and wrapping things up after only 12 lines.   Believe it or not, there are even 18 line sonnets, who aren’t kicked out of the family tree of sonnets for having an extra few chromosomes as it were. Rudyard Kipling, a contemporary of Brander Matthew, wrote him a letter following the publication of A Study of Versification and quipped; “I’d like to war over the sonnet idea with you.  A sonnet is much more lawless than you’d have it.”

Things happen in poetry, even classical poetry.   Its true, that rules are rules with sonnets, and a serious reader of sonnets should probably know the difference between an English sonnet, an Italian sonnet or a Petrarchan sonnet, but not every line must rhyme precisely in its anointed position if the flow and meter is pleasing.  Some sonnets follow the – if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck rule of sonnets, for even with slight unique modifications – it’s still a sonnet.  But as Brander Matthews said: “A poor sonnet is a poor thing indeed….. nothing is longer than a sonnet if there is nothing in it.”  A boorish writer of sonnets can be a slave to impeccable rhyme sequence and structure with nothing interesting to say and the reader is still left with a shortish bit of rubbish.

Why go in search of great sonnets?  And whose to be the judge of what constitutes a great sonnet?   Both good questions one should ask if we are both to invest considerable time in this endeavor, me in writing this blog and you in reading it. I’ll not impose or assume anything about your motivations. The reason I have an obsession with sonnets is that when I find a sonnet that really speaks to me, in both the fluidity of its language and in the artistry of it’s message, it sparkles. Finding a great sonnet is like finding a keeper agate;  I see a glimpse of it sticking out of the ground, I bend over to pick it up and hope that when I lick off the dirt and study it closely I am going to uncover something incredibly beautiful.

Here are four sonnets about sonnets.  I figured why not let much better writers than I explain why sonnets can suck you in under their influence if you’re not careful.   Astute readers will instantly call foul on the Billy Collins poem, Sonnet, being labeled a sonnet. True, it lacks a sonnets rhyming scheme. But its a ripping good poem, so it qualifies in my book as a true “sonnet.”  A sense of humor scores bonus points if I am judge and jury in curating which sonnets make the grade for this blog.  Enjoy!

 

Scorn Not The Sonnet

William Wordsworth

Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
Mindless of it’s just honours; with this key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch’s wound;
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camöens soothed an exile’s grief;
The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned
His visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp,
It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faery-land
To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains—alas, too few!

 

A Sonnet

D. G. Rossetti

A Sonnet is a moment’s monument,
–Memorial from the Soul’s eternity
To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,
Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
Of its own arduous fullness reverent:
Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see
Its flowering crest impearled and orient.
A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
The soul,–its converse, to what Power ’tis due:
–Whether for tribute to the august appeals
Of Life, or dower in Love’s high retinue,
It serve, or, ‘mid the dark wharf’s cavernous breath,
In Charon’s palm it pay the toll to Death.

 

I Will Put Chaos Into Fourteen Lines

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
And keep him there; and let him thence escape
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
Flood, fire, and demon — his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
Of this sweet order, where, in pious rape,
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Past are the hours, the years of our duress,
His arrogance, our awful servitude:
I have him. He is nothing more nor less
Than something simple not yet understood;
I shall not even force him to confess;
Or answer. I will only make him good.

Sonnet

Billy Collins

To read Collin’s poem click the link below.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=40461

 

©2017 Original material copyright T. A. Fry.  Other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

How First You Loved Me For A Written Line

 

All you have to do is write one true sentence.   The truest sentence you know.

Earnest Hemingway

EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay saw the tides of public sentiment regarding her writing wax and wane during her lifetime.  She straddled the era of classical poetry and the emergence of new voices, a new poetic language.  The writing of Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, just to name a few, was evolving the accepted poetic style that would bring free verse to the forefront of American literature.

To the literary critics who stabbed and slashed at Edna’s prose in search of some kind of retributive analysis; I say phooey. I have no interest in literary critique as character assassination. I think the critics of her day suffered from the same character flaw strong independent women face today; criticism that hides behind misogyny. I prefer to invest my time as unabashed fan of Millay who brings a sense of humor and humanity to her poetry. Millay’s writing is filled with true sentences which stick with me long after the cover is closed.

Sometimes When I Am Wearied Suddenly

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sometimes when I am wearied suddenly
Of all the things that are the outward you,
And my gaze wanders ere your tale is through
To webs of my own weaving, or I see
Abstractedly your hands about your knee
And wonder why I love you as I do,
Then I recall, “Yet Sorrow thus he drew;
“Then I consider, “Pride thus painted he.”
Oh, friend, forget not, when you fain would note
In me a beauty that was never mine,
How first you knew me in a book I wrote,
How first you loved me for a written line:
So are we bound till broken is the throat
Of Song, and Art no more leads out the Nine.

©2017 Original material copyright T. A. Fry.  Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

 

A Farewell To Arms

sir r peale
George Baxter’s Portrait of Sir Robert Peele

ob·ses·sion

əbˈseSHən

noun

  1. The state of being obsessed with someone or something.
  2. An idea or thought that repetitively preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.
  3. The judgement of others who believe the person obsessed is spending an excessive amount of time on something.

English Oxford Dictionary

A true confession.  The wonderful thing about an honest obsession is the depth of wonder it constantly evokes, connections that one either uncovers like mini-mysteries, threads woven into the common consciousness or imagines out of whole cloth for one’s own entertainment.   To an outsider, another’s obsession may seem odd, repetitively annoying,  bewildering, or taken to the extreme,  a mental illness.   I haven’t given this much thought,  how my sonnet obsession might appear to others; harmless, eccentric, needlessly academic, outdated, nerdy all jump to mind.  Fortunately, as of yet, it has not proven to be the cause of social ostracism or source of embarrassment to my children.  However, I’ve only just begun this blog; stay tuned..

One of the things I quickly uncovered about sonnets is the ubiquity of their influence on writers of all stripes throughout the ages. Sonnets lend themselves to the obsessive mind because of their seemingly unlimited connections within literature, a backbone of the cosmos of poetic ideals that are inherent to the human psyche’s pursuit of artistic expression.

I have not, as yet, uncovered a sonnet written by Earnest Hemingway. If someone reading this blog knows of one, be so kind as to share it. The title to Hemingway’s novel, A Farewell to Arms, is likely lifted from George Peele’s sonnet of the same name.   The themes of the novel and the sonnet are very much connected; exploring the noble ideals around the concept of service – service to country first as soldier, then, when no longer able to sustain the ravages of war, service to others, friends, family, lovers or Queen.

Reading Peele’s sonnet the first time sent me scurrying to the dictionary, unsure if I truly understood the meaning of the word beadsman.   I’ll save you the trip.  What I learned is in the 1500’s it was common for royalty, nobleman and wealthy benefactors of churches or castles to hire alms men or woman to pray for their well being.  An interesting thought, that the rich believed someone else could pray their way to either earthly success or something more eternal.  I suppose that’s the cynical view of a concept I have no modern equivalent.  A more generous assumption would be that with no social security as safety net, the wealthy shared a modest pension to those that had loyally served them when young, to provide a modicum of support in their waning years. I’ll let you decide.  Regardless, Peele’s sonnet speaks to the ideals of faithful service to a cause that is worthy of something greater than himself.

A Farewell To Arms

George Peele
(1556-1596)

 

HIS golden locks Time hath to silver turn’d;
O Time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing!
His youth ‘gainst time and age hath ever spurn’d,
But spurn’d in vain; youth waneth by increasing:
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.

His helmet now shall make a hive for bees;
And, lovers’ sonnets turn’d to holy psalms,
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed on prayers, which are Age his alms:
But though from court to cottage he depart,
His Saint is sure of his unspotted heart.

And when he saddest sits in homely cell,
He’ll teach his swains this carol for a song,–
‘Blest be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
Curst be the souls that think her any wrong.’
Goddess, allow this aged man his right
To be your beadsman now that was your knight.

©2017 Original material copyright T. A. Fry.  Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.