CXLI

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.”

 

The last poem (CXL, March 31) wasn’t satisfied just to be a sonnet; it wanted to be villanelle too.  When the Muse calls, the Poet must obey.  Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were the first to attempt the sonnet in English, in the early 16th century, before it was perfected by Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare in the latter half of the century.

 

THE ENGLISH SONNETEERS

Villanelle # 3

 

I come to sing the English sonneteers

(Not worthy, I, to emulate their form).

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

Portrait-Wyatt
Sir Thomas Wyatt

For rules our modern bards have only sneers

And honor Chaos as their highest norm,

But I will sing the English sonneteers.

 

Show me the free-verse monologue that cheers

The heart, a battlefield for love forlorn,

Like Wyatt and Surrey, just the pioneers!

 

 

 

The dulcet sequences first reached our ears

From Italy and France, all full of charm,

But I will sing the English sonneteers,

 

For when in Shakespeare’s tongue the thing appears,

We see the first rays of a splendid morn:

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

The great ones—Spenser, Milton, and their peers—

Would follow and the highest truths adorn.

And so I sing the English sonneteers;

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

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

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CXL

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.”

He who would write traditional poetry in this degenerate age treads a lonely path.  One finds oneself looking for companionship in the past.  At least there one can find actual Poets instead of purveyors of fractured prose!

TO MY PREDECESSORS

Sonnet XLV

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

Their glory has not faded!  Though the years

Have been kind to barbarians, and, worse,

Have yielded to their hands the realm of verse;

Though students cannot scan; though I have fears

That Keats may cease to be read by my peers

Except as an assignment and a curse;

Yet still this melody I will rehearse:

I come to sing the English sonneteers.

Portrait-Milton

Their glory cannot fade!  My tongue repeats

The words with wonder, hour after hour,

Of Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats,

Of Wordsworth, Hopkins—tastes within their bower

Rich viands, cates, and soul-sustaining meats:

Each line a world of wit compressed to power.

Hopkins
Hopkins

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

Thoughts on Shakespeare

I have the privilege of teaching Shakespeare this semester–so naturally my thoughts are tending to the Bard.

Shakespeare

I think there is much more of theological relevance in Shakespeare than some people realize. They may miss it because it is never sectarian or in your face. But MacBeth is the most profound exploration of the compounding effects of unrepented sin outside the Bible. Hamlet dies because he chooses revenge over forgiveness or even justice, after missing Claudius’ profound meditation on the power of a repentance of which he is incapable; but he dies in a state of grace as signaled by his response to Laertes’ request “Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet.” That is why the play can end with flights of angels singing him to his rest. Merchant of Venice is about the triumph of grace over law (though its climax is marred by the forced conversion of Shylock.) Etc., etc., etc. Scarcely a single play can be fully understood without reference to Christian teaching familiar to Shakespeare’s audience, though lost to us.

Shkspr-Hamlet-Gibson

If you’re an anti-Semite Racist you don’t write the “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech for Shylock; if you’re a romantic about human nature you don’t show him as genuinely evil. Shakespeare’s greatness lies in the fact that he does both. In “The Merchant of Venice,” we see human nature in all its complexity, including the effects of prejudice. We see Shylock’s evil but also his humanity, and thus we are forced to realize that “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Shylock
Shylock

I’ve said that Lear and Othello are the darkest of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, and they are. But I am more impressed with my latest reading that even in them something good comes from all the apparent suffering and futility, though it may be harder to see. At the end of Othello, Iago, who struts through the play serenely confident in his ability to manipulate anybody and get away with anything is caught and promised a severe punishment. After all the injustice that happens, justice is finally served. And after all his suffering, and only as a result of it, Lear gains self-knowledge. Both these goods come at a terrible price, but the implication could be drawn that, at any price, they are worth it.

Lear
Lear

The older and (I hope) wiser I get, the more I tend to draw that inference. And I think that wisdom consists, not simply in drawing it, but in doing so while being sobered at the high price our fallen nature often exacts, and realizing that our task is to keep the price from being so high when we can, for ourselves and others. The only way ultimately to do that is to believe and proclaim the Gospel, the Good News that the Price has already been paid. Whether he went so far himself I do not know, but because he understood life and portrayed its heights and depths so accurately, Shakespeare seen through the lens of Scripture is a Schoolmaster who points me to Christ.

ShakespeareGrave

For more writing by Dr. Williams, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order his books STARS THROUGH THE CLOUDS: THE COLLECTED POETRY OF DONALD T. WILLIAMS (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), INKLINGS OF REALITY: ESSAYS TOWARD A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF LETTERS (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012) and REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE: ESSAYS IN EVANGELICAL PHILOSOPHY (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).

InklingsofReality5c

 

C

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.”

 

This Sonnet was so much fun!  I wrote it because I could.

 

On the Writing of Sonnets

Sonnet XXXIII

Petrarch, greatest of the Italian Sonneteers
Petrarch, greatest of the Italian Sonneteers

A perfect sonnet must have fourteen lines,

Ten syllables in each, the evens strong

(In French the sonnet uses twelve and shines,

But twelve in English verse is just too long).

In Italy it rhymes A B B A;

A B B A again the Octave makes.

The Sextet then has three rhymes which it may

Arrange diversely when the sonnet “breaks.”

Elizabethan sonnets break three times,

Once after every quatrain, just for fun.

A B A B, and so forth, run the rhymes.

You end them with a couplet; here is one:

This sonnet is not great, but it is good,

A “perfect” sonnet if you’ve understood.

 

Shakespeare, greatest of the English Sonneteers
Shakespeare, greatest of the English Sonneteers

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.

Stars Through the Clouds

Donald T. Williams, PhD

XCIII

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.”

The Shakespearean sonnet lends itself to the standard three points and conclusion format of the essay or sermon. By itself that fact might not be too inspiring, but neither is it to be despised. Here I combine it with the rhetorical devices anaphora and epanodos (in other words, each sentence/quatrain begins just the same except different).

The Master of the Sonnet
The Master of the Sonnet

Ascriptions
Sonnet XXX

The son’s a servant; so’s the Lord a king
Who, when a dragon had usurped his lands
And led his people captive, down did fling
The gauntlet, slew the foe with his own hands.
The Lord’s a king, but so’s the Son a lamb
Led out to slaughter as a sacrifice.
See how the bright blood stains his side! One dram
Were richer far than ten Cathays of spice.
The Son’s a lamb, but so’s the Lord a lion;
The church, the tribe of Judah, is his pride.
He leads them by still waters there in Zion,
But their best drink flows from his hands and side.
King, servant, lion, lamb; he who’s adored
By all these names deserves one more: my Lord.

The Master of the Universe
The Master of the Universe

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

Stars Through the Clouds