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Don Patterson on Sonnets…

Ok enough time has past since Don put out his book
‘Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets’.

Don’s insights into Sonnet writing are invaluable to anyone discovering the form. Today’s post will delve into the world of Shakespeare’s Donnet form.

Disclaimer first:
I, like Don, take these poems as poetry first and biography last. Though seperating the two is nigh on impossible.

Like Don, I too discovered these sonnets when drunk, tired, bored, enervated, buzzin, etc. I find no fault with this methodology.

The numerological clues as to ordering the poems belong within the forms and pressures of the time and are not exclusive to Shakes. Nor do I think they are of grave importance.

Unlike Don, I’m not a poet, lecturer, (lecherer maybe), nor a musician. I appreciate and bow to his knowledge on these levels.

Lastly Don, I don’t mind the quirky po-mo analogies and popular references and trashing the contents. I do disagree with some of his conclusions about good and bad sonnets. But hey, i like this song, you like that. Even if it is cliche ridden.

Let’s move on to what Don says:

Poetry is an interactive pursuit.
Reading a Sh sonnet is an act of authorship.
Reading conventions have changed a lot.
People like poetry that sounds like poetry.
The poem is an unstable sign: it forces itself into an original expression, to say what can’t be said. It demands interpretation.
What Don thinks of sonnet 47: This poem is so thin you want to wrap it up and feed it soup.

Clear enough so far. Interpretation then being inevitable. However there has been a cultural shift from Humoral to scientific philosophy resulting in a…

Change in Cultural Metaphors.
We no longer think in terms of symbols as token, message, contagion, substance, shadow, oaths, vows, breakers of etc.
The lens Elizabethan lovers were obliged to observe their own behaviour.
Shakespeare shows a Barthesian keenness of insight into love’s effects, even if we remain ignorant of their cause.
Offers the same solace and camaraderie. i.e. My situation may have seemed to me insane and exceptional to me. But now I see others have suffered in an identical fashion.

Obviously these aren’t quotes per se. But bits selected to illustrate broad outlines. Let’s move on to the set of Renaissance conventions Sh had at his disposal…

Petrarch’s themes: wooing, exhortation, outcry, praise, blame, self examining, repentance, farewell to love, love at first sight, love sickness, frustration, feudal service, Lady as ideally beautiful, virtuous, miraculous, beloved in heaven, destined to early death.
Cupid with his arrows, fire, whips and chains.
War within self: love as virtue, idolatry, sensuality. Hope, fear, joy, sorrow, conceits, wit, urbanity, precision, allegory, personification.

Naturally we could give each of these a sonnet number and show where Sh went anti-conventional in interpreting them. Here are some of Don’s findings in themes…

* Sonnets 1-17
We want lovely things to carry on.
i.e. You’re too beautiful to deny the world replicas.

* Time is less a dimension than a farce.

* Immortality through procreation to
immortality through deathless verse.

* Love as a can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t think about anything else stuff.

* The depth of silent love: if too strong – it ties the tongue.

* The trick of claiming incompetence in the most competent way. i.e. my poems are rubbish, here’s a pretty good one.

* Whenever I feel awful i think of you and then I feel better.

* The torment of memory, i.e. we never really get over it if we can bring it to mind.

* How can I lack inspiration while you’re still alive.

* Stolen jewels conceit. Rare pleasures are more acute. i.e. way of dealing with absence.

Substance and shadow
Form and reflection
Image and idea

* The difficulty of outwardly expressing what is in the heart.

* How much more beautiful is beauty when it is accompanied by truth and integrity.

* Distillation of fragrance from roses. Therefore second life. Works with hair too, for wigs.

* Immortality promised to the lover becomes the poet’s through the vehicle of the poems.

* Power of poetry to survive in the human mind regardless.

* The addiction of love: what happens when the drugs wear off? Dopamine kicks in early and is released, which works in anticipation of a reward, not the reward itself. Add will he won’t he to the mix.

* Uncertain conclusion leads to exciting and thrilling circumstances.

* Love is not an appetite like lust and hunger. It doesn’t answer a physical need.

* We are dealing with works whose truth value lies as much in their style as their logic.

* Love as a voluntary hell.

* You are everything and everything is you.

So now a little Don the professor on the mechanics of sonnets….

Metre the magnet of speech.
Prosody = agree or disagree between stress, metre and speech rhythm.

3 kinds of stress:
received stress = baNana not banaNa
sense stress = emphasis for meaning
expressive stress = emphasis for emotion

The 3 components of stress:
Rhythmic displacement

And a little bit about metonymy and metaphor, tenor and vehicle…

Metonymy is a trope of relation.

Metaphor is a trope of correspondence:
intra-domain operates within
inter-domain operates across

A domain = anything you think of being more or less one thing. Conceptually made up of lots of attributes, aspects, connotations and relations.

Metaphor has 2 parts:
Tenor or the real subject
Vehicle or the imaginary thing to which the tenor is compared or claimed to be.

All things distinguished as ‘things’ have attributes central to their definition.

A metaphor finds overlap between the sets of attributes called the GROUND i.e. the same.

The opposite of the ground is the TENSION i.e. difference.

Finally we’ll see some numerology inherent in the sequence of sonnets as we have them and as Elizabethans liked to play with them…

There was an Ancient belief that the body alters its constitution.
7 = a climacteric number.
8 = octave
12 = hours of the clock
13 – the first declaration of love happens in l.13 of sonnet 13. is it doomed?
26 = envoi to the first 25. 100 more to go.
Climacteric numbered sonnets 49 63 81 = death and finality at their heart.

154 poems = multiple of 7 and 11
i.e. 22 x 7, 11 x 14.
1-126 = 7 x 18. Also 2 x 63
127-152 = 7 x 4 (+2)

If the whole sequence is one giant sonnet the turn is between 88 and 89. A fibonacci number that relates to the golden section.

As Don says about numerology: It’s all rubbish, but still.

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