Thursday, October 30, 2008

Satisfying Imbalance of Structure

In his introduction to The Oxford Book of Sonnets, John Fuller makes an interesting observation:

"The sonnet is a dualistic structure, formalizing the essence of drama in statment and response. In its origin in thirteenth century Sicily, the sestet [the final six lines] of the Italian sonnet may have had a different and answering music to that of the octave [the first eight lines] (typically abbaabba cdecde or cdcdcd). Certainly its defiance of the expectation of a second stanza complementary in length to the first is crucial to the satisfying imbalance of structure (8:6)."

He is quite right, there is a change of tone, and often a change of voice in the second section of many sonnets. Sometimes the latter portion answers the first, sometimes it intensifies it, or contradicts it. Perhaps it merely changes perspectives slightly (yet significantly) in the thought process. Such is Wilde's SANTA DECCA; with the change in thought in the final sestet comes a dramatic softening of the voice and intensifying of the emotion.

Oscar Wilde

The Gods are dead: no longer do we bring
To grey-eyed Pallas crowns of olive-leaves!
Demeter's child no more hath tithe of sheaves
And in the noon the careless shepherds sing,
For Pan is dead, and all the wantoning
By secret glade and devious haunt is o'er:
Young Hylas seeks the water-springs no more;
Great Pan is dead, and Mary's Son is King.

And yet--perchance in this sea-tranced isle,
Chewing the bitter fruit of memory,
Some God lies hidden in the asphodel.
Ah Love! if such there be then it were well
For us to fly his anger: nay, but see
The leaves are stirring: let us watch a-while.

Shakespeare more often made his shift in the final couplet rather than in the whole six lines. Yes, I will finally get around to Shakespeare; I am seeing how long I can bear to ignore him in this series on sonnets.

Please, look at yesterday's post. I am inviting anyone who reads this to compose a sonnet and email it to me and I will try to write one myself. I'll post any that I get in about two weeks.

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