I have ghosts on my mind this week, with Halloween, The Day of the Dead and All Saints Day all swirling beneath the surface. A good yarn, which is all any poem should aspire, at least the ones that keep my attention, require some truth, a truth worth tending. The question is always how much truth comes from a writer’s imagination and how much from their experience? Truth in literature may be fabricated entirely. An empathetic phrase by which we catch a collective breath of understanding.
I write primarily in first person. I realize that this may create confusion for anyone who knows me personally and chooses to view the narrative as literal. What is real and what is not real? Isn’t that the cloak behind which all writers hide and invent a reality worthy of putting to paper.
We don’t have Shakespeare’s blog or twitter feed to gain further insights into his poetry. He left the interpretation of his writing to the reader. But make no mistake, Love plays a role in all this business. A most generous Love, a Love that both clasps hearts in irons and springs the lock of freedom.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, in my view, is a mirror in which to view myself. Yes, it is hubris to put one of my sonnets alongside Shakespeare’s and pretend they belong in the same space. But then isn’t it hubris that drives any of us to write in the first place? My sonnet, Gallant Ghosts, Undaunted, was written during the tail spin of a relationship. It is a fictional Polaroid of a future yet to be experienced, but hoped for with an optimism of forgiveness. I was delusional. Hell hath no fury…..
It is a connection to a beginning and an homage to the role that poetry played throughout our relationship. I am fully aware that the last few words are identical to a sonnet from the 1700s. I will share the story behind that fact in the next blog.
By William Shakespeare
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Gallant Ghosts, Undaunted
by T. A. Fry
I think of you, writing late in the nightfall Revering your muse, as no other may place Claims to a heart, forever a rightful Palace of dreams, once my saving grace. What’s mine is yours, our auspices blessed By memories of loving which illumine my soul. On Darkest Night(s) as you slowly undress, Recall my touch, though its loss be a toll.
Come gallant ghosts, lay down by my side Undaunted: whisper poems long written for me. Their haunting passion shall always reside Deep in bruised hearts, a grand larceny. Timeless this beauty, in mind’s eye I hold, The feel of your lips and outlive the old.
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.