Note from Erin: While I’m slogging away on my third draft, my brother-in-law Pat has graciously agreed to guest-blog for me! He had the idea to do a series of poetry discussions, so I am beyond ecstatic (I hope to finally learn something about poetry!). Alas, the blog is refusing to indent lines, so I can’t share the poems exactly as they should be written. This is my fault (well, I prefer to blame it on WordPress), not Pat’s. Please join Pat in the comments and help him feel welcome! *applause for Pat* [End note]
Hello, and welcome to the first of four blogs about poetry. The next several weeks we’re going to examine four different types of poems (sonnets; odes; lyrical; free form), taking special care in noting how the poets use the major tropes, or devices, of poetry, if they do. Hopefully the discussions that follow will center around how we also can write poetry and use these devices. Our introductions will be necessarily short so that we can fit in the poems we’d like to discuss.
The major tropes of poetry are – metaphor; metonymy; synecdoche; personification; and irony. First off, we would do well to remember that not all poems consist of these devices, nor do they need to, but many of the greatest poems do. Metaphor is comparing one thing to another. Metonymy uses a characteristic to represent something, or vice versa (ie. a dove symbolizing peace; or calling military leaders ‘brass’). Synecdoche uses a part to represent the whole (ie. ‘The Prince’s right hand’). Personification gives human characteristics or feelings to things that are not human. Irony gives us the opposite meaning, or intention, of the words used, in a facetious way.
The first type of poem that we’re going to examine is the sonnet. There are different types of sonnets, the most famous being the Shakespearean, but all have several things in common – they consist of 14 lines; follow specific rhyming patterns; typically have a rhythm of 5 beats (or 10 syllables) per line, though they can have more; and usually, though not always, have some sort of twist in the final two lines. The four sonnets chosen here are famous, and some of my favorites. More than anything else, I hope you enjoy reading them. If you’d like to join in the discussion, then please take note of Shakespeare’s brilliant use of irony; that Milton uses several of the devices in one sonnet; that Elizabeth Browning appears not to use any at all; and Sydney’s use of personification and metaphor. Also note the twists that are found at the end of each sonnet.
When I Consider How My Light Is Spent
by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Sonnets from the Portuguese #43
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, – I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
by William Shakespeare
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
From Asphodel and Stella
by Philip Sydney
Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe:
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain,
Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburned brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay,
Invention, Nature’s child, fled stepdame Study’s blows;
And others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write.”