Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”
A fascinating verse form that I learned from Gerard Manley Hopkins is the “curtal sonnet.” It is a condensed version of the Italian sonnet: instead of eight lines and six of iambic pentameter, an octave and a sextet, it breaks down into six lines and five, rhyming ABCABC, and then DBCDC. The last line is shortened to only one or two feet to punctuate the ending. On my first attempts, I added another wrinkle: I made the D rhyme correspond to the penultimate stressed syllable of the first C line, and repeated that line at the end so that it was split across the last line break to create a kind of rounding off enjambment. But it is easier to see it than to explain it.
Three Cities: A Reformation Tryptich
Stained light slanting through the dusty air
Pointed to the alcove in the nave
Where in his silent niche the stone saint stood.
Beneath his cool and quiet marble stare
Passed countless pilgrims marching to the grave;
He never thought to do them any good.
The contrast, sharp as flesh stripped bare to bone:
The bone-white marble, impotent to save;
The flesh flowing past in hopes it would,
Stained red where in his silent niche the stone
Four nails driven deep into the Door:
“The coin into the coffer springs no soul.”
Then. “I can do no other; here I stand.”
Because he’d plumbed the Gospel to its core,
The true treasure of the Church, extolled
God’s grace—for this he had his teaching banned,
Himself, too. In the Wartburg hid for fear,
Translated Scriptures, preached like thunder, told
Katie he would, the Pope he wouldn’t, and
Roared laughing, “I can do no other; here
Luther learned the Gospel in his gut
And taught that Reason was the Devil’s whore.
Calvin fed his mind upon the Book
Until, reformed and sanctified, the slut
Walked saved and singing through the Church’s door,
Where all her former thoughts she clean forsook.
The Lord repaired the eyes of one born blind
In Scripture, and he did it one time more:
And fearfully the Devil’s kigdom shook
When God fixed Luther’s heart and Calvin’s mind
Upon the Book.
Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
Donald T. Williams, PhD