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.