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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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