The Seven Sonnetts

Transcendence of Form.

I recently wrote “A Crown of Sonnetts” both as an expression of admiration and as a proof of mastery of form. When I was reading my art history texts, I noticed a phase common to all great artists where they either copied a masterwork or recreated a piece in their own idiom. Later, when they had developed their own styles completely, there was no doubt that underneath their expression was both the talent of a master and a progression of thought that was complementary to the history of art. In present time, this function is often accomplished by a degree or advanced degree in that field and from that certification the assumption of mastery is made, whether or not the individual has achieved excellence or merely competence. To proceed to transcendence of form without proof of mastery is both arrogant by the individual and damaging to the art form. In order to transcend, there must first be found something lacking in the form that can be addressed by the transcendence and in order for the form to be found deficient, there first must be comprehensive understanding.
When I first started to write, I proceeded to free-form both as to a nod to current convention and as it best suited my thought processes to be free of the forms I hadn’t mastered nor completely understood. I then hit a road-block: both content and expression began to fail me. I started to wonder if I was just done and had nothing left to express.
Fortunately, I truly love what I do and not just my work, but other’s work that is driven primarily by content at the occasional expense of form or artifice. I went back to the writers I used to love, T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound,and Conrad Aiken. I found, upon re-examination of their work, their natural antecedent, Charles Olson. I may, at this point, have beaten that name into your consciousness by repetition, but that became a singular moment for me. Reading his work, I saw the union of the work that proceeded him, which made me more curious about that work, and the progression of form that his study and love of poetry led him to, which led me to the realization that they could only flow from the same source. What struck me most profoundly was how effortlessly and subtly he wove his extensive knowledge into his work.
Which brings me to the next influence that shook me from my complacency, Bach. On a whim or perhaps a remembrance from my childhood love of classical music, I picked up a copy of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” performed by Murray Perahia on piano. The Variations are classically rendered on the harpsichord but I find the breadth of the work revealed more fully on the piano. When I first sat down to listen to it, I knew immediately this was what I was looking for: a brilliant, soaring, vast work of a genius in full possession of his art. What I was left with at the conclusion of that work was the realization that his mastery of form lead to the sublime transcendence of time.
Together, those two influences led me to study, again, with renewed diligence, the work I claimed to be about.
To make an analogy, in figure skating, there are two parts to any competition, the compulsory figures and the freestyle. The winners have the highest combined scores. The compulsory figures are rarely shown on television, their nature being each skater repeating the same basic routine with the focus on the execution of the skating of the figure, their mastery of their art. The application of that technique, the freestyle, is what draws the crowds. There is a very high correlation in the scores of the compulsory and the freestyle; in other words, the greater the mastery of the basics, the greater expression seems to flow from it.
When I’m not writing, I often look back at what I’ve done and, for the very great part, am pleased with what I find. It is, oddly, rarely as I remember it being. I made the decision not to work on contemporary themes, choosing to settle instead on timeless, universal topics and I find, looking back at them, they age well. It is, admittedly, a very short time window but our lives are short windows in the entirety of the ages. Is there a metaphor here for my life, attempting to come to mastery of it so that when it is over the current form is transcended?
My, I expect a lot from myself.
*

A Crown Of Sonnetts

(Dedicated to she whom only adoration is worthy.)

As,
if this life should be called my own,
if a man is but on an anvil, turned,
to true, to temper, to trust as the stone
beneath the loving father’s step has earned
the burdens of present and of future,
if the life of a man and of his god
are meant to find more than Earthly measure
and to know faithful is not faith facade,
As wise as some and less than many who
have ancients tolled to seek the knowledge
of men who in their best moments are true
to the glint of sun on the razor’s edge,
As I come to you, I could only speak
of the love we are put on Earth to seek.

Of the love we are put on this Earth to seek,
of time we are given and lessons learned,
I find in these moments of life critique
so often the seconds before me spurned
to relive or yearn for consolation.
From the time that lives only in my mind,
immortal dreams or mortal condemnation,
not solace, purpose or myself defined.
Yet, my life has turned around each moment,
as a pyre twists into the night’s sky,
from the consummation comes the torment
in the immortal slips the mortal lie.
Now, this moment, in each going forward
you are my heaven, the greatest reward.

You are my heaven,the greatest reward
that lives beyond the grasp of mortality,
the holy vision that compels me toward
that dream, unfettered by reality,
you will supplant, transcend, illuminate:
The house of my soul most perfect with you.
You are the peace in my soul, the joy it creates,
the power that has propelled me through.
It is the truest evidence of fate
that you would have become this in my mind.
That you are this, should I not contemplate,
that from the mortal could spring the divine?
I should not need to tell you this is true,
what of your making is not known to you?

What of your making is not known to you?
Though through a child’s eyes of wonder and love
I have only that given to return, true
to sight and grace, life and thought above
the lost moment of idle or misspent
time not in praise of you. To Beauty
would I turn your eyes as I have lent
my back to the kneeling that stand and see?
Yet, this is from you and not this alone
but faith, truth, courage, time and word
that could stand as foundations made from stone
that would sing as angels have not been heard.
That in my darkness, you were there, stirred
the soul of me, for you, for the world.

The soul of me, for you, for the world;
What else have I to give, what have I gained
from my life that is mine unless unfurled
to the storm of time, then battered and strained
against the tether of attachment? Test
becomes testament beyond the power
of words to convey, that which is the best
of me remains, is only, at that hour.
Though we are each only, unite alone,
and save as we are; that soul as is born
I have borne back to you, not to atone
for being, seeing, feeling that is shown
from my time, to atone for all the time
that you were within me, but not yet mine.

That you were within me, but not yet mine
to touch as all the world is before my
senses in its glory, is to define
you to the world beyond the eye
can see alone. That you are so fully
before me, around me, that all is true,
speaks the hushed whisper of divinity.
The Divine touches back when I touch you.
All falls still. In my vision, creation
most perfect: I know in your caress
that, given both knowledge and sensation,
I do not love you blindly, nor need less
than full measure. My love will not deny
that on your mercy my soul must rely.

That on your mercy my soul must rely,
That my life in this world is bound by more
than the passing of stars across the sky,
That moments are a truer time than shore
can grant to the tide, waves are solely bid
to sand to bring the seas strength to tire;
That loss, not joy, not love, to just be rid,
is the numb ocean’s relentless desire,
That I know mercy is your soul for me,
That who would serve his god will serve his love
and a fool would see them differently
but fools are not loved on Earth or above.
In my life have these truths been shown
as if this life should be called my own.
*
Analysis and Genesis of A Crown of Sonnetts (by the author)

Preface

I plan to analyze and recreate the process simultaneously but, first, to be most accurate, I should reveal the beginning of the thought of series of sonnetts around a common theme. Months prior to even the rumination of the thoughts of A Crown, I had written a blank verse piece called A Prayer (unpublished) which I created to specific end: I had come to a point where I acknowledged that the spiritual act of prayer has a cleansing and clarifing effect on my writing and with that acknowledgement came a search for an appropriate prayer for those moments. Not finding one, I wrote my own.
Other than minor changes in meter and format to fit the sonnett form, it is, in content, identical to the original. Sonnett 4 ( A Prayer for You) revolves around the physical center phrase (lines 6,7,8) “To Beauty would I turn your eyes as I have lent my back to the kneeling that now stand and see?” If I’ve written a better line, I’ve certainly never written a better question and what was most stunning, at that moment, was I wrote it unconsciously, only looking back at the completed work to marvel at its complexity and the starkness of its beauty. It was both the prayer and what I was praying for: to be able to express my love for this woman who had so changed my life, ask for the words to convey that feeling and pray both for and about her. When published in sonnett form (My Poetry Blog by TVA, October 26,2009) it was footnoted as ” A prayer and invisible love poem(for you)” and that is exactly how I see it. Or, more elegantly, from line 10 of sonnett 7 “…who would serve his god would serve his love…”
A month or so prior to Christmas, I settled on the idea of creating a crown of sonnetts as a present for her and knowing I already had the centerpiece around which the crown would revolve, a simple question; will you let me tell you about the beauty I see?

(A note about a recurring treatment of gender in The Seven Sonnetts. Masculine terms were used, not as a slight but in order to be consistent with the masculine voice speaking in the first person. The themes are universally applicable and genderless. Please do infer misogyny from this usage.
And sometimes it’s as simple as a one or two syllable count.)

Analysis and Genesis

Sonnett 1 (As I, Who Would Speak published, My Poetry Blog by TVA, December 10, 2009)

Written as the fifth sonnett, and specifically for the crown, As I, Who Would Speak succeeds in establishing the tone, identity and level of sophistication of the voice of the poem, as well as method of sophisticated thought,i.e., common words and thoughts rendered in a complex fashion. There will be no “thee”s or “thou”s used, no references to obscure mythology (and isn’t it all obscure mythology in this modern world?) and efforts will be made so that anyone wishing to read it, can do so, in it’s entirety, without reaching for a reference book of some type.
It has been suggested to me that this approach lowers the level of the poems to near prosody but I contend that it is the reliance on either out-dated classical references or self-indulgent posturing that has relegated poetry to the status of virtual non-entity in modern arts. As an example, I give you two great poets and their styles.
Ezra Pound, a poet’s poet, writes in a very idiosyncratic, classically-influenced style that is best approached with reference materials, a pad and pen to take notes, and a great deal of patience. Not to say he’s not brilliant; the fact that a person is willing to go to such great lengths proves he’s worth the effort but most people would be put-off by what appears to be posturing. It is actually part of the process of his thought which derives from a life-long study of his art. He is writing in the continuity of poetry from the Greeks through his time and, in doing so, honors it but necessitates the study of that continuity to be understood.
Charles Olson, on the other hand, can barely be discerned as a poet. If he makes a classical reference, he will quickly surround it with context that both explains and expands its meaning. The simplicity of his expression and depth of his thought occur simultaneously, with the meter and verse, the song of his work, disappearing into the reading as the power remains. This was his realization, that poetry was becoming irrelevant and it was not because of the message rather the method.
These two differing theologies formed the horns of the dilemma for me. Whether to render the sonnetts classically in style and content, respecting the history and continuity of the art form, or to seek expression in a more timely mode of thought readily assessable to a larger audience. The solution became obvious and, in turn, elegant: use a classic form, the sonnett, rendered in the expression of the current times.

Sonnett 1: Analysis by line.

The first line is also the last line of the poem, a necessity of the crown format, subtly broken by a comma after the first word, “As”. The point of this gesture, as explored in great length in The Treatise on Metaphorical Triangulation (Abstract Building by TVA, March 4,2010), is to point out this rendering, this portrait, is evocation of the subject, not meant as definition, rather as exploration on the topic: not what it “is”, rather, “As” it appears to the voice. So subtle as to pass unnoticed, powerful enough to deny the prosody label.
“if this life should be called my own,” should be understood to read as “if I was to be called to account for this life, how would I answer?”
“if a man is but on an anvil, turned, to true, to temper,” a question rendered as a statement. This is a recurring theme in my work, how what seem, at times, to be the burdens of life prepare us for important moments that require the skills learned in those crises (Alone in the World, My Poetry Blog by TVA, June 13, 2009). This line and line 12 “…the glint of Sun on the razor’s edge…” are taken from a massive, unfinished poem “Upon the Anvil, Turned” which collapsed under its own scale and ambition. When my enthusiasm for it returns someday, perhaps I’ll complete it.
It was my intention at this point to continue with this theme until I wrote ” to trust” and realized that I wanted to pivot away from the voice accounting and explaining why he is this way and focus on the purpose of him being that way, which became, “to trust as the stone beneath the loving father’s steps has earned the burden of the past and the future.”
“if the life of a man, and of his god, are meant to find more than Earthly measure and to know that faithful is not faith facade,” is the central statement of this sonnett appearing, again, at the physical center. Referencing the opening two lines, it should be read as, again, a question presented as a statement, how does a man keep faith with his god during the course of his life and how does the dynamic between a man and his god manifest in the world? This question is explored throughout the poem and resolved in the final quatrain of sonnett 7.
“As wise as some…” is a statement from the voice, the speaker of the poem, equating knowledge of the world gained from books and the knowledge of the world gained by living “upon the anvil, turned”, equating both with the”glint of Sun on the razors edge.”
To the central question, how does a man keep faith, the speaker states, in lines 13 and 14, I can only tell you about love I’ve found in this world if you will take the time to listen.
*
Sonnett 2 (Of Love and Time published, My Poetry Blog by TVA, December 11,2009)

Written last in the series, specifically for the crown, Of Love and Time was the first of two sonnetts written on that day, the seventh poem being the other. Given the satisfaction I felt with the first and third sonnetts and the second position having no particular intent (not an introduction, conclusion or centerpiece) I struggled mightily with proper tone, pace and content as to neither loose the pace of the first nor rush into the third poem. It was, by far, the hardest of the series to write, undergoing several wholesale re-writes, swapping of couplets, the entire octave being changed, finally coming up with a version that was serviceable, which I asked another poet to read and critique. His opinion was the same as mine, and what I had feared, he confirmed. It was adequate, not my goal. He only offered one suggestion: that the line written “in the immortal lives the mortal lie” should be changed and offered “in the immortal slips the mortal lie” which is, of course, correct and I was embarrassed that I hadn’t seen that. Newly chagrined by the experience, I kept that line and threw out the rest of the poem and the next version was, largely, what became the final draft.
Having one line written, I settled on the task of building the poem around it. Given the summary nature of the statement I knew it would fall into the sestet (final six lines) and placed it just above the transitional statement before the repeated line (from the already-written third sonnett.) I remember sinking back in my chair, sighing a deep sigh and thinking “Okay, you’ve been at this for 8 hours and you’ve got two lines done. Only 12 left!” and laughing to myself.
Sonnett 2: Analysis by line
“Of the love we are put on this Earth to seek, of time we are given and lessons learned, I find in these moment of life critique so often the seconds before me spurned to relive or yearn for consolation.” The first five lines of sonnett two is one complete thought, how time spent in reflection makes us miss the opportunity of the present moment. This, also, is a recurring theme in much of my other work (The Impatient Shrink, My poetry Blog By TVA, November 30,2009, etc.) This is the speaker acknowledging the necessary evil of remembrance and “life critique.” With it comes the inevitable regret and desire to change those very things that make him who he is.
“From the time that lives only in my mind, immortal dreams or mortal condemnation, not solace, purpose or myself defined.” This is the summary of the octave, that neither the acts nor the memories of the speaker’s life have brought him satisfaction or resolution. At this point, the narrative turns, as does the sonnett, and as does the entire crown, from a man wondering aloud about his life to a man addressing his god and his love. At this point, the brakes come off and the poem gathers itself to plunge ahead recklessly and should be read that way.
“Yet, my life has turned around each moment, as a pyre twists into the night’s sky, from the consummation comes the torment: in the immortal slips the mortal lie.” This seemingly simple statement is one of the most artistically successful of the crown, carrying several different interpretations and twisting back upon itself, much like the pyre it refers to. The most obvious reading is like a fortune cookie I recieved as a young man: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”(which could have a revelation to me, had I believed in either of those two things as a young man.) The second, and more controversial, reading revolves around the punning of the word “consummation”,i.e., to be consumed as a pyre (or a man) is swallowed up fire (or by life) but also as consummation of a relationship; how the trivialities of life (the mortal) slip into the immortal love between two people. From this side of the punning springs yet a third possible intrepretation, the expression of physical love juxtaposed with spiritual love, another recurring theme ( Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion, My Poetry Blog by TVA, October 18,2009). In any intrepretation, this is a confessional moment for the speaker, realizing that he has let his life overcome his will.
“Now, this moment, in each going forward, you are my heaven, the greatest reward.” At this point the speaker has turned fully to the listener, his god or his love, addressing them in the manner he has always wished to but has never been able to.
*

Sonnett 2 (Of Love and Time published, My Poetry Blog by TVA, December 11,2009)

Written last in the series, specifically for the crown, Of Love and Time was the first of two sonnetts written on that day, the seventh poem being the other. Given the satisfaction I felt with the first and third sonnetts and the second position having no particular intent (not an introduction, conclusion or centerpiece) I struggled mightily with proper tone, pace and content as to neither loose the pace of the first nor rush into the third poem. It was, by far, the hardest of the series to write, undergoing several wholesale re-writes, swapping of couplets, the entire octave being changed, finally coming up with a version that was serviceable, which I asked another poet to read and critique. His opinion was the same as mine, and what I had feared, he confirmed. It was adequate, not my goal. He only offered one suggestion: that the line written “in the immortal lives the mortal lie” should be changed and offered “in the immortal slips the mortal lie” which is, of course, correct and I was embarrassed that I hadn’t seen that. Newly chagrined by the experience, I kept that line and threw out the rest of the poem and the next version was, largely, what became the final draft.
Having one line written, I settled on the task of building the poem around it. Given the summary nature of the statement I knew it would fall into the sestet (final six lines) and placed it just above the transitional statement before the repeated line (from the already-written third sonnett.) I remember sinking back in my chair, sighing a deep sigh and thinking “Okay, you’ve been at this for 8 hours and you’ve got two lines done. Only 12 left!” and laughing to myself.
Sonnett 2: Analysis by line
“Of the love we are put on this Earth to seek, of time we are given and lessons learned, I find in these moment of life critique so often the seconds before me spurned to relive or yearn for consolation.” The first five lines of sonnett two is one complete thought, how time spent in reflection makes us miss the opportunity of the present moment. This, also, is a recurring theme in much of my other work (The Impatient Shrink, My poetry Blog By TVA, November 30,2009, etc.) This is the speaker acknowledging the necessary evil of remembrance and “life critique.” With it comes the inevitable regret and desire to change those very things that make him who he is.
“From the time that lives only in my mind, immortal dreams or mortal condemnation, not solace, purpose or myself defined.” This is the summary of the octave, that neither the acts nor the memories of the speaker’s life have brought him satisfaction or resolution. At this point, the narrative turns, as does the sonnett, and as does the entire crown, from a man wondering aloud about his life to a man addressing his god and his love. At this point, the brakes come off and the poem gathers itself to plunge ahead recklessly and should be read that way.
“Yet, my life has turned around each moment, as a pyre twists into the night’s sky, from the consummation comes the torment: in the immortal slips the mortal lie.” This seemingly simple statement is one of the most artistically successful of the crown, carrying several different interpretations and twisting back upon itself, much like the pyre it refers to. The most obvious reading is like a fortune cookie I recieved as a young man: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”(which could have a revelation to me, had I believed in either of those two things as a young man.) The second, and more controversial, reading revolves around the punning of the word “consummation”,i.e., to be consumed as a pyre (or a man) is swallowed up fire (or by life) but also as consummation of a relationship; how the trivialities of life (the mortal) slip into the immortal love between two people. From this side of the punning springs yet a third possible intrepretation, the expression of physical love juxtaposed with spiritual love, another recurring theme ( Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion, My Poetry Blog by TVA, October 18,2009). In any intrepretation, this is a confessional moment for the speaker, realizing that he has let his life overcome his will.
“Now, this moment, in each going forward, you are my heaven, the greatest reward.” At this point the speaker has turned fully to the listener, his god or his love, addressing them in the manner he has always wished to but has never been able to.
*

Advertisements