Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sonnet (1979)

(American Treasures: Gee's Bend, Alabama, Quilts, U. S.
postage stamps, 2006)

In her review of The Complete Poems (1927-1979) of Elizabeth Bishop, the poet Adrienne Rich wrote that “Bishop left behind, in the last unpublished poem of the last year of her life, her own last word on division, decision, and questions of travel.”

Bishop’s own title for this poem (below) insists it is a sonnet.

It may not look like a sonnet. It is much too narrow. The lines are short, without the traditional iambic pentameter of five pairs of short/long, unstressed/stressed meters, of ten syllables per line.

It may not sound like a sonnet, either. The rhyme is eccentric, with only three pairs of rhymes, each irregularly spaced between the rhyme of one line and its mate. For example, the word “level” of line 2 rhymes with “bevel” of line 11.

And its two stanzas are reversed, with the sestet preceding rather than following the octave.

But its length is the required fourteen lines. Most important, it does follow the structure and intention of a sonnet in establishing its theme, in this case first posing the problem, “Caught,” then proposing an answer, “Freed.”

SONNET (1979)

Caught — the bubble
in the spirit level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
Freed — the broken
thermometer’s mercury
running away;
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
flying wherever
it feels like, gay!

~ Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), American poet


As promised, here are the answers to yesterday’s sonnet-riddle.


by R. S. Gwynne

A man is haunted by his father's ghost.

Boy meets girl while feuding families fight.
Romeo and Juliet

A Scottish king is murdered by his host.

Two couples get lost on a summer night.
A Midsummer Night’s Eve

A hunchback murders all who block his way.
Richard III

A ruler's rivals plot against his life.
Richard II

A fat man and a prince make rebels pay.
Henry IV

A noble Moor has doubts about his wife.

An English king decides to conquer France.
Henry V

A duke learns that his best friend is a she.
Twelfth Night

A forest sets the scene for this romance.
As You Like It

An old man and his daughters disagree.
King Lear

A Roman leader makes a big mistake.
Julius Caesar

A sexy queen is bitten by a snake.
Antony and Cleopatra

No comments: