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given this much thought,  how my sonnet obsession might appear to others; harmless, eccentric, needlessly academic, outdated, nerdy all jump to mind.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.

Why Write Sonnets?

 

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A completely genuine word of encouragement occurred after a writing workshop by another writer.  He said, “what you are trying to do isn’t easy.  But I can’t relate, because I have never been able to write what I want to write in the structure that a sonnet imposes.”

He summed up in many ways the very reason why I write sonnets.  I find being forced into a structure of ten syllables a line and fourteen lines empowering and reassuring.  Sonnets require me to think clearly.  I enjoy rhyming poetry, both reading it and the challenge of writing it.  For me, it feels like my writing becomes simultaneously both  more accessible and genuine through a sonnet’s structure.

I find writing sonnets a process of discovery.  It requires that I not fear the rhyme.  I explore ideas first and look to uncover rhyme and structure later.  I strive to write poetry that is pleasing to read aloud and has what I call good mouth feel.  I believe strongly poetry should be read aloud, whether alone or better yet, with someone else to share the experience.   I have found, if I am patient and let the sonnet go in unexpected ways, even let the rhyme have the upper hand once in a while, my subconscious steers my writing in productive and interesting ways.

Here is an example where the rhyme guided, rather than obstructed the writing.  It draws on imagery from one of my favorite poems in the Tao.  It was inspired by the bravery of a friend.

Peace Tears

Cry my brave warrior; peace tears like rain.
Let them fall freely; nourish your heart’s threads.
Each able to share the source of its pain.
Awash in the wisdom of roads you have tread.
Sob my brave fighter, each rasp a sad song.
Don’t hold it in. Give it back to the soil.
Each gasp a lyric of when you were wronged,
The blood tragic score of all of your toil.
Give me your tears and I’ll settle my dust,
Soften my glare, blunt what was pointed.
Each shines my soul and rids it of rust.
With every one shed our friendship anointed.
Bless me or curse me, whatever shall be.
Cry in my arms and set our hearts free.     

by T. A. Fry