Sonnet Essay

William Wickman

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Compare and contrast the ideas presented in a range of sonnets. How significant do you find the sonnet form in expressing the writers’ thoughts and feelings?
The sonnet at first seems to be a short, simple poem, or “little sonnet” as it means in Italian. 14 lines that obey one of a few rhyming patterns and are rhythmically sound. The two most renowned forms are the Petrachian (or Italian) and the Shakespearean (or English). These two take the names of their most influential poets, often hailed as the inventors of these forms. The sonnet form was “invented” in the early 13th century in the Sicilian court, but gradually the concept worked its way, evolving, into the hands of the great poet Petrarch. The Petrarchan sonnet form consists of two verses which run the rhyming pattern [ABBAABBA | CDDE CE]. The pipe represents the division between the first octave and the second sextet. The Shakespearean on the other hand, is divided in to 3 verses of 4 lines or quatrains with a rhyming couplet at the end. This has a slightly different rhyming pattern [ABAB | CDCD | EFEF | GG]. One would have thought that his slight difference in form would make very little difference, but there are subtle differentiations which can change the whole tone and message of a sonnet if the form was swapped. A sonnet’s purpose is to take a thought and explore that thought; develop that thought; contain that thought in words. A thought is a very abstract thing and these 14 lines seem just perfect to contain a state of mind. Capturing your state of mind in words is impossible; you can never really convey exactly what you are thinking to another person, but with the sonnet, many poets, especially Shakespear, come extremely close. Back to the difference in form. The Shakespearean, or English as it is also commonly known, has 3 distinct different opinions; one per verse. The first usually introduces an idea or though, mulling it over. The second will take a different opinion or attitude to that though and the third will bring it round to its conclusion, often back to where it started as in Since there’s no help: Michael Drayton, or another course. The rhyming couplet at the end makes the final conclusion and sums it up succinctly. The Petrarchan on the other hand, only has two verses. The first will present an idea, and discuss it from one general point of view for eight lines, then the sextet will often take the counter to that thought or another slant on the matter and bring the sonnet to its conclusion. That change in verses is a key turning point of the sonnet. The difference is subtle but in poems such Upon Westminster Bridge: William Wordsworth the form makes a big difference. That sonnet only works with the Petrarchan model, developing continuously in one first octet, not as 2 quartets as the Shakespearean would have it.

Because of the sonnets innate ability to capture an idea and express it as words to share with others so well, it has been used by many poets to express a huge range of themes. Many are “love poems” which is an interesting name to give 1 |Page

Sonnet Essay

William Wickman

Sunday, 18 March 2007

them. They do indeed discuss relationships of love between people, but on many occasions what seems to be a great love poem, talks more of hate than love; about the problems in a relationship as opposed to the wonder. Take How do I love thee: Elizabeth Barrett Browning. On first reading this appears to be a simple, almost “cheesy” poem love in which someone describes to a lover all the ways they love them. But when you look at it more closely, Miss Browning appears not to love this person to the sublime, but on a day to day basis, when thinking of death or for political reasons. She is saying how she does not have true love for her lover, in what appears on the surface to be the opposite. Another common theme for sonnets is that of celebration. Seeing something incredibly wonderful often inspires great creativity and in an urge to preserve that though of wonderment, people often turn to the sonnet for its ability to contain a though. A fine example of this would be Chapman’s Homer: John Keats. Keats was so inspired upon reading Chapman’s translation of Homer at a friend’s dinner party that he ran all the way home to try write a sonnet his amazement while he still had access to his state of mind. There also seem to have been composed many sonnets concerning departure; of leaving something behind. This is another emotion that can extract great literature from people and forms an interesting subject for a sonnet. Another of Keats’ sonnets, Bright Star: John Keats is concerned with this matter. Just a random interjection for the draft, to amuse you while you mark a pile of papers, I’ve made a commentary of my writing of this essay in case it is dia and you fall asleep. It has taken me about a week of doing the odd bit here and there to get to this point. It is now Saturday 17th and I am panicking. I will work all evening to get as far as I can. But on to dealing with the task put forward in the title; I must compare and contrast the ideas presented in a range of sonnets. To start off: sonnets based around the idea of departure. I have chosen three sonnets that contain thoughts of this nature: the already mentioned Since there’s no help: Michael Drayton, Bright Star: John Keats and Remember: Christina Rossetti. All of these explore and examine the idea of departure, but all in their own unique, quite different ways. Since there’s no help: Michael Drayton is, in a nutshell, written by a man who wants to break free from a trapping relationship, but is not sure himself that he does. The sonnet gets straight to the point with the first line. “...COME, LET US KISS AND PART”. He seems to want to make the act very cold, business-like then in the second line, “...YOU GET NO MORE OF ME” seems to be rather spiteful and harsh. It is as if he is fed up of being pushed around, and wants to stand up for himself; he has decided to stand up for himself for once. But as the verse moves on, “AND I AM GLAD, YEA, GLAD WITH ALL MY HEART” we can tell by the “yea” that he is not really glad. It is as if he is trying to convince himself more than anyone else that he believes 2 |Page

Sonnet Essay

William Wickman

Sunday, 18 March 2007

what he is saying and it is from the word “CLEANLY” in the fourth line that we get the impression that he has been in a messy, trapping relationship and wants to be free of all ties. The second verse moves on to assert our beliefs that he himself is unsure he is making the right decision. He talks of “CANCEL [ing] ALL OUR VOWS” which infers that he was married and is now divorcing her. With “SHAKE HANDS FOR EVER” he is trying to seem cold, to hide his emotions, to pretend that he does not care. The shaking of hands is very associated with business and he is trying to make this all “just business”. He then tries to put up a wall around himself by saying “BE IT NOT SEEN IN EITHER OF OUR BROWS THAT WE ONE FORMER JOT OF LOVE RETAIN”. He is scared of himself showing any sign of emotion. He is saying “when we meant again we will not show any sign of past affection we had. It is a rather weak thing to be saying. He then adopts more of a pessimistic view. He use the image of a patient lying on a death bed and personifies Love, Passion, Faith and Innocence as an old bony man coming to the end of his life; a weak being so close to expiring. And she has done this to all these “capitalised” (that is to say he has made them proper nouns to emphasize their significance) emotions, she has destroyed them in him. We then come to the final conclusion: “NOW, IF THOU WOULD’ST WHEN ALL HAVE GIVEN HIM [love]OVER, FROM DEATH TO LIFE THOUGH MIGHT’ST HIM YET RECOVER” Saying that there is still hope “THOU”, a much more intimate word than you, might save their love. A brief analysis of the sonnet, but how does it differ from others that also carry the broad title of departure as their theme. How does it compare, first of all, to Remember: Christina Rossetti? This poem is, if summed up in a sentence, a woman giving her partner a major “guilt trip” for breaking up with her. They are in this way similar as they both concentrate on the “break up” of relationships. Since there’s no help is from the point of view of a man who initiated a “break up” of a relationship while the other is from a woman attempting to make her partner feel guilty for breaking up with her. An interesting question to ask would be: if there is a difference in the way that male and female brains are wired, does this have an impact on how similar minded people of different genders would explore the same thought through a sonnet. There is also a huge structural difference in the sonnets in that they are of two different models: Remember is written in the Petrarchan form and Since there’s no help is written in the Shakespearean. The models suit each sonnet very well, with the progression of Since there’s no help through the tree verses and Remember’s two toned approach with the first verse more as an introduction, while the second “amping up” the spitefulness. Remember has an air of death, the ultimate departure, to it not seen at all in the Since there’s no help. Just went to Wills West to read Will Wickman’s essay. Seems pretty good! Ended up staying an hour there watching a rubbish film before I realised that I needed to do this urgently. It refers to “THE SILENT LAND; WHERE YOU CAN NO LONGER HOLD ME BY THE HAND” when that physical connection is removed from them. That holding by the hand, as 3 |Page

Sonnet Essay

William Wickman

Sunday, 18 March 2007

opposed to holding of hands seems also that he may be quite clingy and wants to hold on to her and she is glad to sever this connection. The sonnet also mentions prayer, “IT WILL BE TOO LATE THEN TO COUNSEL OR TO PRAY”, bringing up that religious idea and that only God can help. In the second sextet, as already stated, the level of spitefulness is increased and a real boast is made on the part of the sonnet writer. She says that if the “DARKNESS AND CORRUPTION” of their relationship leave just the tiniest scrap of the amazing thoughts that the poet had then it would be better for the partner to forget than be sad at the loss of such an amazing person, because even then, being sad. It is quite the opposite of the insecurity, worry and even weakness than is conveyed in Since there’s no help; and is instead someone who is quite sure of about the divide, albeit resentful of it. Ordered a Dominoes Pizza. It should be here in half an hour for... 10:15 It is worth noting that Since there’s no help pre-dates Remember by about 300 years and it is evident in some slight changes in language over this time. Yay. Pizza got here 15 minutes early! I just spent half an hour eating it and watching a random French film in the TV room. It’s now 10:30. I’ll stop before 11... Hopefully. Moving on to the third sonnet in the category of departure, Oh I am a ‘tard of epic proportion! I just wrote the last 1000 words on those departure sonnets as if they were love sonnets! Grr. Just gone back and tried to change it. Just woke up! Its 7:53AM. Had a shower. I’ve never seen this part of Sunday at school, and so far I’m not inspired. Here’s to a long day of writing. Bright Star: John Keats (alt. Name: Last Sonnet). This is a very powerful sonnet and is written by a Keats suffering of Tuberculosis. He is on a boat, travelling to Rome with the hope that the more arid climate will help extend his life. To go on this boat, he has had to say goodbye to his wife, his home and to England as he knows almost certainly that this is the last time in his life he will see these things. Like Since there’s no help: Michael Drayton the sonnet takes the Shakespearean form. Like the other two, also, the sonnet is about the end of love. Not the love of a person and another person however, but one man’s love for the beauty of everything in the world he will never see again. It is also like Remember in that it is themed on death, but unlike Remember the death is not a tool to inflict guilt but a man trying to come to terms with his own fate. In the first two verses of Bright Star, Keats states all the ways in which he does not long to be like a star; how he does not want to stay out of contact with the world and just watch it all happen beneath him as he describes a star “LIKE 4 |Page

Sonnet Essay

William Wickman

Sunday, 18 March 2007

NATURE’S PATIENT SLEEPLESS EREMITE”. He wants to keep his connections here on earth, he is not looking forward to the departure, contrary to Remember’s apparent gladness at the severed connection between them and Since there’s no help‘s uncertainty. In the Last Sonnet, Keats also uses fantastic imagery of the water washing around, cleaning earth and compares them to a priest performing a religious ceremony “THE MOVING WATERS AT THEIR PRIEST LIKE TASK OF PURE ABLUTION ROUND EARTH’S HUMAN SHORES”. This powerful imagery is on the scale of the last quatrain in Since there’s no help with the image of the death of these great, good emotions “WHEN FAITH IS KNEELING BY HIS BED OF DEATH”. The washing water is a reference to a priest pouring water at a funeral, but also the beginning of life with a baptism. He is on a boat to Rome and the water is washing around beneath him; he is amongst the “washing-up liquid”. However Remember does not seem to need to use these grand images, but small metaphors “SILENT LAND” and subtle references “GONE AWAY”. In the last quatrain and the rhyming couplet, Keats describes the ways in which he would like to be like a star. He wants the permanency of a star which he cannot have in this life because he is drawing to its end with his tuberculosis “...YET STILL STEADFAST, STILL UNCHANGEABLE”. Then the reference to a relationship with another human which he has had to leave behind “PILLOWED UPON MY FAIR LOVE’S RIPENING BREAST” which is the subject for the other two sonnets in this cluster. The ripening is a sad reference to the fact that he himself will never ripen; he has no future of his own. He says in the last line of that quatrain “STILL, STILL TO HEAT HER TENDER-TAKEN BREATH”. The onomatopoeia of those “h” sounds, the “t”s. The repetition of the word still and the hyphen make the line like a real last gasp, extremely similar to assonance in line 9 of Since there’s no help: Michael Drayton “AT THE LAST GASP OF LOVE’S LATEST BREATH,” the lines in fact achieve almost identical effects using slightly different techniques. The final line of the sonnet, he makes his “make-or-break” statement: “AND SO LIVE EVER - OR ELSE SWOON TO DEATH.” He is making a desperate cry that he might live or else, just die. When he says “AWAKE FOR EVER IN A SWEET UNREST,” it is the opposite of insomnia. He does not want get to sleep but is not able, but rather he does not want to sleep. He wants to be awake like the star, appreciating the world that he lives in but also not falling asleep in “real life” with the feat that he might be killed in his sleep by his illness. The worst aspect of the sonnet, the most saddening, is that this man is his own subject matter. He is writing, saying farewell to all that he has known, but also when a writer or an artist dies, they have to say goodbye to their talent. His great talent will never more be used, be celebrated with the world, but instead lost to death; a rather more heavy matter than the end of a relationship. To sum up this cluster of sonnets associated with departure, a “mini-conclusion”. All three are very emotionally charged but in my opinion the most emotional sonnet is that of John Keats. A man’s impending death can inspire the most amazing creativity, albeit extremely sad. They are all quite different sonnets in their own right and all extremely well written “good” sonnets. Yay! Ok, it has taken me say... 4 hours to do the first cluster. I am going to be here until 7 pm tonight if I eat

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Sonnet Essay

William Wickman

Sunday, 18 March 2007

lunch. Hmmn. Really wish I had managed my time better. When I have finished this, I have 2 essays to finish, 2 essays to start and one presentation to do... all for tomorrow! Aaah! The second small group of sonnets that I am going to compare are those sonnets of celebration; sonnets filled with awe at seeing something so beautiful; sonnets inspired by great wonderment. The three that I will look at are Chapman’s Homer: John Keats, i thank you God: E.E. Cummings and Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3rd 1802: Mingey McMinge. Just spoken to Nick. Aparently we are meant to do one of the sonnets in each cluster in detail, and the rest as quoted comparisons. GRRR! That means I wasted about 2 hours doing that last lot. Oh well, I’ll leave it be. The next cluster will be a lot briefer. I’ve reached about 3000 words at this point, probably about 2000 if you don’t count these stupid comments. First of all, in detail, Chapman’s Homer. This sonnet was written by Keats after reading Chapman’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey at a friend’s dinner party. He was a learned man and had read a lot of very good books as he tells us in the first line “MUCH HAVE I TRAVELLED IN THE REALMS OF GOLD”, referring to the gold leafing on the edge of expensive books in olden times, even read other translations of the Odyssey as he tells us “ROUND MANY WESTERN ISLANDS HAVE I BEEN” referring to the land of the Cyclopes, but was so inspired by this translation that the allegedly ran all the way home to write this sonnet. Some of the language in the poem is of the time that he was writing, circa 17th century, and the fourth line “Which bards in fealty to Apollo told.” Is describing all the stories that storytellers obediently told to Apollo, the God of muse. He refers to the Mediterranean and all the stories that he has heard from there “OFT OF ONE WIDE EXPANSE HAVE I BEEN TOLD” and the fact that homer wrote at great length about this “THAT DEEP-BROWED HOMER RULED AS HIS DEMESNE [domain] ”. We then learn the reason for Keats’ writing of the sonnet “YET DID I NEVER BREATHE ITS PURE SERENE” (He had never read such a good translation) “TILL I HEARD CHAPMAN SPEAK OUT LOUD AND BOLD:” (Until he had read Chapman’s translation). We now have reached the end of the first octave which has set the scene and now move in to Keats’ description of how he felt when he was overcome with wonder. It is interesting that Keats chose to use the Italian form of the sonnet for this poem when the majority of his others are written in the English. He says then I felt like an astronomer who finds a new planet “THEN I FELT LIKE SOME WATCHER OF THE SKIES WHEN A NEW PLANET SWIMS INTO HIS KEN;” This is how profound the impact of reading this translation is on him, as exciting as discovering a new planet. He then goes on to say how the experience is comparable to the wonder that Cortez’s, a Spanish conqueror who was the first European to walk across the American continent and find the pacific, surprise at finding an the world’s largest ocean where he expected to find land.

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Sonnet Essay

William Wickman

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Oh yeah, it’s mother’s day today. Just phoned home. 10:00 AM In the last line he mentions silence. Silence is often a much more appropriate, powerful, often the only response for incredible wonder. Silence is mentioned in another sonnet of celebration Upon Westminster Bridge, but not as a response to wonder rather something to wonder at “THE BEAUTY OF THE MORNING, SILENT, BARE,”. But on with drawing comparisons! Chapman’s Homer is differs from i thank You God and Upon Westminster Bridge in subject matter. They are all three descriptions of awe but Chapman’s Homer focuses on the poet’s reaction upon reading a very good book, while the other two are reactions to seeing the world and its beauty. i thank You God is very interesting sonnet in terms of grammar. It seems upon first reading that all grammar has been left out. There are no commas between the list of senses that a human being could have and must surely believe in God “HOW SHOULD TASTING TOUCHING HEARING SEEING BREATHING ANY HUMAN MERELY BEING...”. Again there is no capitalisation of the word “i” in all locations in the sonnet. There is apparently random swapping of words “I THANK YOU GOD FOR MOST THIS AMAZING” and then the “DAY” is on the next line. Until you realise that all grammar has not been thrown away, merely the rules of grammar have been reshaped and reformed in this sonnet to great effect. Take for example the title: “I THANK YOU GOD”. You and God have been capitalised, why not I? Well the effect that E.E. Cummings (on the paper this is not capitalised either) is trying to convey is that “YOU GOD” are so superior to “I” that I am not worthy of having my name capitalised and you are. The random reversal of word order in fact creates a pause when read that gives the image of the poet pausing for though; as if they are so overcome with amazement that they are struggling to put their thoughts into words. Adverbs take the place of adverbs and vice versa “GREAT HAPPENING ILLIMITABLY EARTH”. But all for a reason! When an adverb is used, he is saying not what he is experiencing, but how he experiences it. When an adjective not how but what. Cummings is using more than words to craft a brilliant sonnet; he is using another medium: grammar. This incredible technique is almost exclusive in i thank You God. None of the other sonnets use this powerful tool to the same extent, but there are a few examples such as the first line of Westminster Bridge where “NOT ANYTHING” is used in the place of “nothing” for exaggeration. i thank You God also is the only one of the cluster to take the English form, and it suits it well. The way that the idea slowly progresses from thanks in the first quatrain, to praising the earth, to proclaiming it is impossible for humans to doubt God in the third before announcing that he now can see with perception in the rhyming couplet. In fact the other two sonnets suit the Italian form very well. Westminster Bridge can only work as an Italian developing through one first passage of eight, not two quatrains, while the turning point in Chapman’s Homer is a key part of the sonnet.

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Sonnet Essay

William Wickman

Sunday, 18 March 2007

OK, I’m listening to spice girls at 10:52 AM in the morning doing English coursework. Oh how amazing my life is. Call over in3 minutes then brunch break! Had brunch, it was lush. I then went to see matron in the prep school with Nick. Time 12:09 PM To leave this cluster of sonnets: another brief conclusion. All three of these sonnets have been inspired, charged with a great sense of wonderment and are a celebration of something. i thank You God is inspired by the world as a whole and its beauty, Upon Westminster Bridge is a celebration of the wonderful the skyline of London looks first thing in the morning and Chapman’s Homer is John Keats’ awe of this translation captured in a 14 line sonnet. They celebrate different subjects in slightly different ways, but a lot of parallels can be drawn between them.

Ah **********. I thought I was meant to do 3 clusters of 2 or 3 sonnets. So I was just about to start a cluster of two sonnets on love. Let me count the ways & 73. But I spoke to Nick and Will and they told me that I only needed to do two clusters. So really, I could have had last night off! All that awaits me is my conclusion! To attempt to draw this analysis to a close, an answer to the question posed as the title for the essay: How significant do I find the sonnet form in expressing the writer’s thoughts and feelings? Well very. As I stated in my introduction, the 14 lines in iambic pentameter seem to be just the perfect tool to contain a thought and explore it. The 10 syllables seem to make a statement, so 14 different statements about a thought can lead from one place to another.

God bless you please Mrs Robinson, Jesus loves

you more than you will know. Ho ho ho. Ho ho ho. God bless you please Mrs Robinson. Heaven holds a place for those who pray. Hay hay hay. Hay hay hay.

The two main different variations: the Italian vs. The English? Well, they both work very well at expressing different thoughts in different ways. This has been proven by John Keats who wrote many sonnets in both of the forms, showing their different strengths in portraying things in different ways. I have to say, before I wrote this essay I thought that this sonnet was just someone experimenting with bad grammar, and making a bad sonnet. However, after spending time going through and analysing it again, I would say that i 8 |Page

Sonnet Essay

William Wickman

Sunday, 18 March 2007

thank You God: E.E. Cummings is now my favourite sonnet. The breaking free from conventional “2D” poetry using merely words and using a third dimension: grammar really brings the sonnet to life like no other. I particularly like the way that lines apparently run one word over the next line “AND THIS IS THE SUN’S BIRTHDAY; THIS IS THE BIRTH” and then “DAY OF LIFE” is just one example. The poem has such attention to detail that makes the meaning so precise that E.E. Cummings thought is conveyed as it must have been the moment it was conceived in his head. The sonnet is a powerful poetic instrument that seems to have been lost in the 21st century. It would be wonderful to see more poems take this form considering its natural gift as a thought receptacle.

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