Monday, April 20, 2009

sestina: six words

Six Words
by Lloyd Schwartz





never . . .


yes no
maybe sometimes
always never.

A sestina consists of thirty-nine lines broken into six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada). The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time. English sestinas are usually written in iambic pentameter or another decasyllabic meter.

Although unconventional, Schwartz’s poem “Six Words” follows the general structure of a sestina. I think that he is trying to say that in the large scope of things, words are easily lost and lose their meaning. His six words are interchanged meaninglessly throughout the poem leading the reader to think if they are different in the first place.

Many little caesuras (a momentary interruption or break) occur throughout the poem to suggest the objectivity of meaning. As a reader, I do not know what situations these quick answers refer to since some seem to be questions and some seem to be answers. However there does not have to be an intended purpose. Schwartz is able to get his theme across by defying the traditional sestina, known for its rigid structure. He purposefully chooses only six words to convey a sense of excitement, spontaneity, and unknown.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

spenserian sonnet: sonnet 75

Sonnet 75
by Edmund Spenser

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I write it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize,
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eek my name be wiped out likewise.
Not so, (quoth I) let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse, your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name.
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.

The Spenserian Sonnet, named after Edmund Spenser features an abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee rhyme scheme. The form is treated as three quatrains connected by the interlocking rhyme scheme and followed by a couplet.

Spenser speaks of his trying to immortalize the woman he loves by writing her name in the sand. He tries to defy nature and reality writing name in a place that is only going to be “washed away” and disappear each time. Therefore, his efforts are in “vain”. He writes it in vain, though vanity plays two separate roles in this poem. By referring to the tide washing the name away, he is expressing a mental and spiritual immortality, and also referring to time and that eventually we will die.

The link below is an interpretation of the sonnet (embedding of the video was disabled).

Friday, April 17, 2009

monologue: hamlet monologue

Hamlet Monologue
by William Shakespeare

HAMLET: To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

A monologue is an extended uninterrupted speech by a character in a drama. The character may be speaking his or her thoughts aloud, directly addressing another character, or speaking to the audience.

Shakespeare uses conceit (fanciful expression in writing or speech) in his all of his plays to exemplify the well-crafted and articulate style of writing in his time. His style of writing is also full of figurative language (language that goes beyond literal meaning) and euphemism (an indirect expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt). In this monologue, Hamlet cannot commit suicide because he fears “what dreams may come,” or what punishment may be given to him in the “sleep of death” since this act is against Christian beliefs. This fear that gives him “pause” shows that he is cognizant of the negative consequences of committing suicide. Also, it is Hamlet’s acute awareness of his situation that leads him to wonder whether it is better “to sleep, perchance to dream” or to continue to suffer on “this mortal coil.” The possibility that the Ghost is telling the truth and the possibility that Hamlet must avenge his father’s murder overburden him. And Hamlet’s awareness of these possibilities causes him to contemplate suicide.

pantoum: on beauty

On Beauty
by Nick Laird

No, we could not itemize the list
of sins they can't forgive us.
The beautiful don't lack the wound.
It is always beginning to snow.

Of sins they can't forgive us
speech is beautifully useless.
It is always beginning to snow.
The beautiful know this.

Speech is beautifully useless.
They are the damned.
The beautiful know this.
They stand around unnatural as statuary.

They are the damned.
and so their sadness is perfect,
delicate as an egg placed in your palm.
Hard, it is decorated with their face

and so their sadness is perfect.
The beautiful don't lack the wound.
Hard, it is decorated with their face.
No, we could not itemize the list.

The pantoum originated in Malaysia as a short folk poem. However, the modern pantoum is a poem of any length, composed of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The last line of a pantoum is often the same as the first.

Enjambment (the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a stanza) occurs in this poem in various places to emphasize the points. In the third stanza, the phrase “and so…your palm” is a continuation to highlight the severity of the situation. Although “perfect”, their sadness is “delicate as an egg” and can be compromised by many means. I think Laird is trying to say that despite families struggling through the times, a simple mistake could cost them everything they have left.

When describing the depression, Laird describes their “sadness” as being “perfect”. However, his assertion is clearly an instance of figurative language (language that goes beyond literal meaning) since the two descriptions contradict each other.

Friday, April 3, 2009

free verse: the thing

The Thing
by William Carlos Williams

Each time it rings
I think it is for
me but it is
not for me nor for

anyone it merely
rings and we
serve it bitterly
together, they and I

Free verse describes various styles of poetry that are written without using strict meter or rhyme. Lines and stanzas may seem unrelated however the work retains as a coherent whole.

In Williams’ poem, “the thing” that he refers to can be simply an alarm clock or phone. He seems to be very straight forward with his lines, using simple language and getting his point across. A phone has a rung and whoever they are looking for is unknown. However, I was thinking that “the thing” Williams’ alludes to may actually be death. And in that case, the whole poem is a euphemism (an indirect expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt) for death. Williams realizes that death is unpredictable and anyone can be “called” at any time. Since there is no escape, eventually we must all “serve it bitterly”. He uses the word “anyone” to refer to the fact that everyone will die.

There appears to be a caesura (a momentary interruption or break) in the middle of the poem giving it a sense of detachment. Williams’ could have written a continuous poem, reflecting ongoing life. But instead he chooses to detach his stanzas to emphasize the word “anyone”. In the first stanza, he only refers to himself, however after the pause, he draws in the audience as well. Finally, since there is a lack of an end punctuation, I think Williams is trying to say that the instance of death is a mystery and ongoing struggle.

What do you think “the thing” is? (leave comments)

imagist: fog

by Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Imagist poetry refers to the poems that paint a picture. Many times poets will incorporate the senses and express a brief moment in words.

Sandburg is very frugal in the words he chooses to describe the “fog”. There appears to be a cacophony (a harsh or discordant mix of sounds) in the way that the word is described. The opening line of Sandburg's poem suggests a loud warning. And yet he uses an antithesis of silence in the imagery of a “little cat” to demonstrate that the city will be caught unaware. Furthermore, he personifies the fog to accentuate the feeling of danger. The fact that the “fog” sits looking “over the harbor and city” is an ominous image. It emphasizes an aspect of vulnerability to the elements of nature. Man has no control over weather, which can be beautiful and destructive at the same time.

However, the fog “moves on” at the end. It does not dwell and linger above the city, but rather continues on its journey. Sandburg’s ending seems to be parallel life; we dwell upon things and eventually come to a decision and move forward.

Monday, March 9, 2009

villanelle: the house on the hill

The House on the Hill
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill.
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

A villanelle is a 19 lined poetic form that entered English from the imitation of French models. There are only two rhyme sounds used throughout the poem. However, the first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate at the end of each following stanza and forms a couplet at the end. The second line of each stanza also rhymes according to the second rhyming sound.

In the House on the Hill, Edwin Robinson laments upon the past. The House on the Hill symbolizes his past and throughout the poem he shares his remorse. Although he never expresses a want to return to it, he illustrates the “broken walls” and “sunken sill” of the house. In other words, his memories and experiences are slowly becoming the forgotten past. Being in nature a villanelle, the use of anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of clauses) is expected. Robinson chooses the refrains: “they are all gone away” and “there is nothing more to say” to convey his tone. His past is the past, there is nothing in it for him and there is no reason to hold onto regret.

A dark undertone is also apparent in this villanelle. The “ruin and decay” of the “House on the Hill” shows the past was far from perfect. The two refrain lines can be viewed as a euphemism (an indirect expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt) for death. His relationships have “all gone away” meaning his friends are all dead. And he himself has “nothing more to say” because he is dying as well. This poem seems to almost express Robinson’s last words.

Monday, January 26, 2009


by Galway Kinnell

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

I really like poem because of its profound philosophy on life expressed in 14 words. Not to mention the use of the word “is” three times in a row and still having the poem make sense. I remember reading this poem over several times, figuring out the correct places to place stress. Kinnell says that “whatever happens” will happen, with or without a reason or for a purpose or not. The next line makes sense when read the right way, “what is”, or in other words the present, “is”. And that is what he wants. He is content and accepts this fact. Furthermore, he expresses that he wants “only that” although it is something that he cannot control.

The only contrast within the flow of the poem seems to be the word “but”. It seems as if Kinnell wants to say more, or maybe even contradict himself. The poem seems incomplete in a way, but I think “but” reinforces the meaning of the poem. Simply, just let everything happen the way it should.

the red wheelbarrow

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

William Carlos Williams is definitely one of my favorite poets, considering this is the third poem of his that I’ve chosen. Anyways, I really enjoy the simplicity and imagery of his poems. His writing is almost photographic, describing every little detail and how they all combine together, forming a clear picture. His choice of words is so succinct and elementary that almost anyone can appreciate his poetry. I can see that rain washed wheelbarrow as clearly as if it was sitting in front of me, and I can hear the chickens clucking as they peck at the soil in search of food. I am there, savoring that moment along with Williams, and I am grateful that he preserved it for us with these 16 powerful words.

In all of Williams’ poems, a deeper meaning can be debated. But I can appreciate the surface, or the unexpected beauty found in the simplest and most inconsequential things. Sometimes something that is absolutely ordinary can be stunningly beautiful. I think Williams is trying to say that we must cherish these rare moments, if only for a fleeting moment.

evening news

Evening News
by David Ferry (p1048)

We have been there
..............................and seen nothing
Nothing has been there
..............................for us to see
In what a beautiful silence
..............................the death is inflicted
In a dazzling distance the fresh dews
And morning lights radiantly
In the glistening
..............................the village is wasted.
It is by such sights
..............................the eye is instructed

*... represent spaces

Ferry’s poem splits the voice and sight in this poem through the use of two columns. His voice appears to be on the right and leads the reader through what he views: a “wasted” village. The right column confirms what his voice has already explained and paints a picture for the reader’s eyes. The shape of the poem also looks like a step ladder with events deteriorating as it reaches the bottom. The poem starts innocently with “We have been there/ and seen nothing” and later on says “the village is wasted”.

Also, it is interesting that there are only two punctuation marks throughout the entire poem. He spends a large majority of the poem on the first sentence: the occurrence. Then finally the last two lines complete the second sentence: the lesson. I think Ferry is trying to say that we become swayed by what is fed to us through the media. We listen and digest with blind faith, often missing the small but important details.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

ars poetica

Ars Poetica
by Archibald MacLeish (p1041)
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown--

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind--

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea--

A poem should not mean
But be
Translated to “The Art of Poetry”, Ars Poetica is a poem that expresses its meaning implicitly. In the initial lines of the poem, MacLeish bluntly states that a poem is like a “globed fruit” and “dumb”. He voices to the reader how poems should be taken: in a simplistic manner. Also, he says “a poem should be wordless” which further reinforces the idea of simplicity, as if nothing is there.

In the next stanzas, MacLeish compares poems to the moon, being “motionless in time”. The moon appears every night, something we pay little attention to. Same concept applies to poems, they simply exist to be read. Also, he emphasizes that a poem may be difficult to understand, “behind winter leaves”, but it doesn’t matter. He repeats the lines “motionless in time” to show that being confused by a poem is natural and normal.

Finally, the last stanzas reflect the theme of the poem once more. The ideas of simplicity and stillness allow a poem to “not mean but be”. Instead of having profound meaning, every poem simply exists to be read. A poem is a poem.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

joy sonnet in a random universe

Joy Sonnet in a Random Universe
by Helen Chasin (p1035)

Sometimes I'm happy: la la la la la la la
la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la
la la la la. Tum tum ti tum. La la la la la
la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la.
Hey nonny nonny. La la la la la la la la
la la la la la la la la la la la. Vo do di o do.
Poo poo pi doo. la la la la la la la la la la
la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la
la la. Whack a do. La la la la la la la la. Sh-
boom, sh-boom. La la la la la la la la la la
la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la
la la. Dum di dum. La la la la la la la la.
la la la la la la la la. Tra la la. Tra la la
la la la la la la la la la la. Yeah yeah yeah.

This poem immediately caught my attention and I couldn’t help but write about it. Chasin definitely conveys to the reader her joy, excitement, and spontaneity through her poem. Her lines are just a random assortment of sounds that somehow fill 14 lines. However, I would not consider her poem to be a sonnet. Though it is by far the one of the most abstract sonnets or even poems, the only sonnet guideline it follows are the 14 lines. There is no clear rhyme scheme since most of the lines end with “la” and also no apparent flow or rhythm. The only other aspect this poem qualifies as a sonnet is the title, “Joy Sonnet in a Random Universe”. Though not a “sonnet”, this poem is nonetheless expresses “joy” and is in its own “random universe”.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

first dance. then fiddle.

First Fight. Then Fiddle.
by Gwendolyn Brooks (p1026)

First fight. Then fiddle. Ply the slipping string
With feathery sorcery; muzzle the note
With hurting love; the music that they wrote
Bewitch, bewilder. Qualify to sing
Threadwise. Devise no salt, no hempen thing
For the dear instrument to bear. Devote
The bow to silks and honey. Be remote
A while from malice and from murdering.
But first to arms, to armor. Carry hate
In front of you and harmony behind.
Be deaf to music and to beauty blind.
Win war. Rise bloody, maybe not too late
For having first to civilize a space
Wherein to play your violin with grace.

Brooks mixes both the Shakespearean sonnet and the Italian sonnet. After doing some research online, I learned that a Shakespearean sonnet's rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg. On the other hand an Italian sonnet has an octet first, with the rhyme scheme abbaabba and then a sextet that can be any rhyme scheme without ending as a couplet. However, Brook does not follow either tradition in her sonnet, but rather invents her own style.

This sonnet discusses the aspects of war and peace. The speaker expresses an indifference to society’s conflicts but emphasizes the need to “be remote” or in other words, united. She comments on society’s cyclical nature of instigating war, “but first to arms”, and then establishing peace, “civilize a space…with grace”. Finally, Brook creates a paradox where a society seeks greatness but ends up doing the opposite.