A Love that Never Dies

Writers Ink continues our series of blogs on poetry: sharing & examining, analyzing & interpreting.

February is Love, and poetry is my particular love. ~ M.A. Lee

While I love experimental poetry–free verse and the like, carefully crafted pure verse can amaze. The sonnet with its required length of 14 lines, rhyme scheme and meter length, all written to propose and answer a question, is just one example of poetic skills.

Llike the villanelle and other required structural poems, the sonnet exhibits a poet’s fluency with words and deftness with structure.  The majority are actually poetic arguments, as the poet presents a conflicting problem and works to a solution.

Several poets have exceptional skill with the sonnet form:

  • Any sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay but especially “Time Does not Bring Relief, You all Have Lied”
  • Robert Frost’s “Once by the Pacific” which alludes to William Blake’s “The Ancient of Days”
  • Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet”
  • Octavio Paz’s “The Street”
  • and the master, William Shakespeare, especially his Sonnet 18, which serves as the focus for this blog.

In Sonnet 18, the persona’s love has asked the perennial question that contains a trap: “Do you think I’m pretty?”

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

The trap part of that question holds the following, waiting to sink the unwary:  Do you love me because I’m pretty?  Will you still love me when I lose my prettiness?  What do you find my prettiest feature?

Shakespeare’s persona sidesteps the question with a question of his own:  The prettiest thing in his mind would be a summer’s day:  hot as love without burning up, clear of troubling clouds, no problems on the horizon, everything blooming and growing and fruiting.

And then he answers:  you are better than a summer’s day, not just for its beauty but also for being “temperate”, moderate.  Smart man:  he just said her personality is as wonderful as her appearance.

The next two lines and the new two quatrains of the sonnet present evidence in support of the persona’s statement.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Clever, clever persona:  Everyone loves May, the first true month of warm weather, filled flowers, lacking the April showers.  Remember, though, that May still have lingering showers and the flowers won’t stand up to the bad weather . . . while Summer’s growth—and therefore their love—is strong enough to stand up to storms.

The problem with Summer, however—and the reason that she is better than a summer’s day—is that it never lasts long enough.  The poem continues in the second quatrain to present additional problems with Summer.  And he infers that she does not have any of those problems. 

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or Nature’s changing course untrimm’d.

A clever man appeals to his love’s intelligence as well as her emotions.  He admits when things are not perfect—and then reminds that perfection is not what he wants because it’s not real.

  • Summer days get too hot (and he’s already called her “more temperate”).
  • Clouds cover the sunshine, sometimes for days on end. (She, therefore, is never so dimmed.)
  • Every fair wonderful things can never been constantly fair.  At some point it will “decline”.  No relationship, he suggests, is always perfect, whether a problem occurs through accidental chance or through an action we take by mistake.

The best time in the natural world are only temporary.  She’s more than temporary to him.

So, his love says, “You love me.  You think we’re going great.  But what happens when we get older?  Will you still love me?  Or will you go after some other young pretty thing?”

“Ah, sweetheart,” he replies, “have you forgotten?  I don’t love you because of your appearance alone.  That may have attracted me, but your personality caught me.”

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st

“Will you love me when I’m gone?  Or will you forget about me?”

Clever, clever man with your poem:

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade

When in eternal lines to time thou growest.

Death may have you, but I will always remember you.  See, sweetheart, this poem will remind me even when I am in my decrepancy.

“But—.”

“No, sweetheart, look.”  And he gives her a revelation in the poem’s closing couplet:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Their love is immortalized.  Now everyone will know, for all eternity, that he loves her for herself, her soul, not for any temporary consideration.

The English sonnet (or Shakespearean sonnet, if you prefer), is a simple three quatrain and one couplet structure.  This poem maintains without much twisting the required ten syllables, but a strict iambic meter is not maintained—nor necessary. 

Rhyme is not necessary to tie a poem together, but this one rocks not only an abab scheme but also four additional methods to “couple” them even more closely:

  • Repetition >> summer, more, sometime (and yes, that is sometime, not sometimeS), fair, long, and life/lives.
  • Alliteration >> “fair from fair”, chance / changing, long / lives
  • Internal Rhyme >> “lines to time”
  • Anaphora >> 3 lines that start with “and” (with two of those coupled) then a 4th that starts with “but”, 2 coupled lines starting with “nor”, and the last two lines coupled with “so long”.

Sonnet 18 is a lovely poem for lovers in a lasting relationship.  Attraction may have drawn them together.  Compatibility may have formed the relationship.  Yet it’s devotion to the individual, our personality, that holds together the relationship through chance and changing times, through times better and worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

Thank you for stopping by. Return on the 25th for the most beautiful love poem in the world.

Simple Counting

For poetry lovers, we have a series of blogs, Poetry Lessons.  Visit our page on the 5ths (5, 15, 25) to see which poem has inspired a lesson in thinking and writing.  We’ll intersperse with news about the newest books from Writers Ink.

We have a simple poetry lesson this time, Lynne Alvarez’ “She loved him all her life”.

She loved him all her life

and when she thought he might die

she tied her wrist to his at night

so that his pulse would not flutter

away from her suddenly

and leave her standed

No punctuation;  it’s not needed.

No special repetition or figurative language;  it’s the simple story of long love.

What makes this worthy of a poetry lesson, even a short one?  Count the syllables per line.

6 / 7 / 8 / 8 / 7 / 5

A syllable goes missing.  It departed.  As he departed and left her half complete (the symbolic meaning of 5).

This poem always brings tears to my eyes.

And the value to poets:  the use of simple numbers to create a revelatory structure. That’s all that’s needed.

Questions about writing your own poetry? Try Discovering Sentence Craft, which focuses the metaphorical and interpretive skills as well as inversion, opposition,  repetition, and sequencing. Find it here:

Tigers to Be Tamed ~ Power of Inference

We’re at our third blog for the Poetry Lessons series, which focuses on “Clocks,” written by Chris Martin et al. / performed by ColdPlay. This song presents the power of inference, everything we can understand by bringing our personal knowledge to the bits and pieces that the poets reveal.  If you are not familiar with the song, please visit this link: Go on. I’ll wait.

Verse I ~ Inferring with Images of Trouble

The poem opens with images of trouble, letting us know immediately that the relationship is on the verge of break-up.  No lights can guide him back.  The tide is taking him out, away. and no amount of begging on his knees will stop the break-up.

What started the break-up?  “Things unsaid. . . . A trouble that can’t be named.”  What did he neglect to say?  What trouble can’t be named?  Oh, that kind of trouble, the one that someone never wants to name:  a sin he is responsible for but enjoyed too much to avoid it at the time.  And now it’s there, between them, not mentioned but still festering.

How do I know he’s the one responsible for the sin?  It’s in the allusion of “Shoot an apple off my head”:  He’s the boy in the William Tell story:  the apple of desire / of lies is on his head, placed there by himself, waiting for it to be shot off.  But she hasn’t shot it off.  Instead, she refuses to talk about it.  It’s still there for both of them to see, because neither of them will mention it and get it out of the way.

That’s the tiger, the thing that needs to be tamed, but it won’t be.  They refuse to acknowledge it, even though it has thousands of stripes.  The stripes are all based on the same sin, in variations every time his sin comes between them.  Black.  Obvious.  With claws and fangs that rip them apart.

Chorus ~ Inferring an Argument / an Accusation / What?

Such a simple chorus, repeating the words “You are”.  Is it an accusation?  Is it her accusation of him–unfinished because it can’t be named?  Is it a wish?  We don’t know at this point.

Verse II ~ Inferring the Cause of Cracks in the Relationship

Part one of this stanza shows his reversed thinking:  he’s taking actions too late.  He’s knowing what to do too late.  He’s suffering the consequences not that she’s gone, too late to stop her leaving.

So we begin with the last line of the first part of Stanza II: “I could not stop that you now know” although he obviously wanted to.

But she’s gone now, and he wants to bring her back to the home they were supposed to be creating:  “Gonna come back and take you home”.

When he walks through the place they lived, the place that he wanted to call “home”, he feels oppressed, claustrophic (closing walls) and time passes so slowly (“ticking clocks”).  He has no escape now from what he’s done.  He has to live with it.  Nothing to distract him.  His thoughts, in constant revolution like a clock.  His actions, putting him in the cage of his own making.

Could he have stopped it?  That must be his constant question without an answer:  “Confusion never stops.”

His “seas”, the ones that have the “tides that [he] tried to swim against”, are drowning him.  He can’t escape that what he did broke them up.  Now he curses “missed opportunities”.  Now he realizes what he should have done, every step along the way.  The words he should have said.  The little details of life that he could have helped with.  The tasks he could have taken on.  The devotion he should have given.

The verse concludes with an antithesis:  “Am I a part of the cure?  / Or am I part of the disease?”  Can he get her back?  Can he “cure” their relationship?  Or is there something inherently wrong with him?  Has he a cancerous sin that infects him and prevents him from succeeding at a relationship?

Chorus ~ Inferences becoming Clearer

Again “you are”.  This time, we know what it is:  he misses her.  She was everything, but he realized it to late.  “Nothing else compares” to her and to the life they were trying to build together.

How do I know?  She represented “home” to him:  “home, home where I wanted to go.”  That was his dream for the relationship: together they would make a home. 

Not now.  So he sings his lament with its obsessive repetition.  Too late.  She is gone.  The dream is gone.  And he is alone in that echoing house.

Questions? Trouble with your own poetry? Check out Discovering Sentence Craft, covering ideas both figurative and interpretive as well as structures like inversion, opposition, repetition, and sequencing. Find it here:

Paradox: Dream vs. Reality

This lesson is about “Counting Stars,” written by Ryan Tedder and performed by One Republic. We’re at the second blog in our Poetry Lessons series. Enjoy!

“Stars” symbolically means “goals that we hope to accomplish, goals we cannot reach.”  To count stars is to look at the dreams we have and contrast it with the reality we face.

The full lyrics for “Counting Stars” can be found here. If you’re not familiar with the song, head off now to read the lyrics. (The music video, while “interesting”, defaults to the trite Hollywood criticism of religion.  This song is not about religion—unless it is how we can become so devoted to dreams or materialism that we don’t focus on reality.)

The opening chorus presents that the young couple is just starting out.  The persona is “dreaming about the things that we could be”.  The goals that they have set are money-based;  this is the reason he wants to abandon “counting dollars”.  They need to re-cast their goals into something that is not dependent on money.

Verse I ~ Paradox Begins

Dreams are like a “swinging vine”, one of those that we jump on to send us into the river of life–life, not mere existence, freedom, not slavery to the dollar.  The persona wants to jump on that vine, but “flashing signs” are warning him to stop, re-consider, change.  The biblical allusion of “seek it out and ye shall find” serves as a prod to pursue the dream he wants.

As the verse continues, he reflects that he is “old but I’m not that old”.  This contrast seems impossible, yet it presents the mistakes he’s made.  He is experienced (old) but young in years;  life has tossed him around, yet he’s still trying.

“Young but I’m not that bold”:  his turbulent experiences that matured him at such a young age also have warned him not to continue ahead recklessly, an idea reinforces with the practical wisdom of others: “I’m just doing what we’re told”.

Should they follow that practical wisdom?  Counting dollars has helped others get close to something that somewhat resembles their dreams.  Should they continue?  Or should they count the stars and cast off their original dream?  The line “I don’t think the world is sold” appears to say “yes” to the second question.  But “thinking” doesn’t mean reality;  the world is corrupted by the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Which leads us to the three paradoxes that make this song so clever:

I feel something so right by doing the wrong thing
I feel something so wrong by doing the right thing
… Everything that kills me makes me feel alive.

How can we feel such excitement when we do the wrong things while feeling “wrong” (saddened, depressed, caged) when we do the right things?  That adrenaline rush we get when we break society’s rules makes us take risks to “be burned up with beauty”, as Don Marquis informed us in “The Lesson of the Moth” (previous blog).  We want to feel alive, so we recklessly abandon good sense to pursue that beauty.

These paradoxes are his truth.  He could lie to himself and to her, but he won’t.

Verse II ~ Paradox Everywhere

The paradoxes help us understand that the couple must abandon “counting dollars” and a practical existence in order to achieve their starry goals.  And they have to pursue those goals actively.

Which leads us to “Hope is our four-letter word”.  Four-letter words are curse words;  to this couple, hope is a curse.  If they merely “hope” instead of taking action, if they merely dream instead of believe, if they merely dream instead of taking action, their dreams will gradually fade in their pursuit of the dollars that they mistakenly think will lead them to their goals.

And that leads us to the new paradox:  “Everything that drowns me makes me wanna fly.”

The daily pursuit of dollars drowns us, drowns our dreams, drowns our souls.  He recognizes the crisis they are in, and he realizes they must flee from any practical goal that society approves.

The repetitive lines of the bridge serve as the final reinforcement to abandon society’s perspective:

Take that money watch it burn / Sing in the river the lessons I learned.

The Truth of the Paradox

Pursue a life of personal goals, not society’s goals.  Give up the drowning focus of practical living.

This isn’t logical, but . . . where is logic in the pursuit of dreams and love?  Jump into the river.  Pursue life.  Stop hoping and do.

Having trouble with your poetry? Check out Discovering Sentence Craft, covering ideas both figurative and interpretive as well as structures like inversion, opposition, repetition, and sequencing. Find it here:

Resolutions

For poetry lovers, we have a blog series called Poetry Lessons, guest-hosted by M.A. Lee.  Visit our page on the 5ths (day 5, 15, and 25) to see which poem has inspired a lesson in thinking and writing. We’ll intersperse news about titles from Writers Ink as necessary.

Our first lesson is Don Marquis’ “Lesson of the Moth”.

The New Year:  a time of reflection, of re-charging, of resolving.

Whenever we analyze our lives, we consider our dreams and strive to turn those dreams into goals.

On my wall I have these Resolutions: “Dream.  Believe.  Do.”

What are Your Resolutions?

In “Lesson of the Moth,” the philosophizing bug archy also considers dreams.  As a bug, archy can’t use the shift key to create capital letters, and he ignores punctuation.  Read on to see what archy learned from another bug.

The Lesson of the Moth

i was talking to a moth

the other evening

he was trying to break into

an electric light bulb

and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows

pull this stunt i asked him

because it is the conventional

thing for moths or why

if that had been an uncovered

candle instead of an electric

light bulb you would

now be a small unsightly cinder

have you no sense

plenty of it he answered

but at times we get tired

of using it

we get bored with the routine

and crave beauty

and excitement

fire is beautiful

and we know that if we get

too close it will kill us

but what does that matter

it is better to be happy

for a moment

and be burned up with beauty

than to live a long time

and be bored all the while

so we wad all our life up

into one little roll

then we shoot the roll

that is what life is for

it is better to be a part of beauty

for one instant and then cease to

exist than to exist forever

and never be a part of beauty

our attitude toward life

is come easy go easy

we are like human beings

used to be before they became

too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him

out of his philosophy

he went and immolated himself

on a patent cigar lighter

i do not agree with him

myself i would rather have

half the happiness and twice

the longevity

but at the same time i wish

there was something i wanted

as badly as he wanted to fry himself

                                              archy

Don Marquis’ Resolutions with Free Verse

The structure of this poem helps to emphasize Marquis’ words.  And I’m not talking about his gimmick with archy.  Sometimes writers resort to gimmicks to get their ideas to the public, and Marquis certainly caught the public’s attention with his buggy archy and unusual capitalization and punctuation, much as e.e. cummings did.

What structure am I talking about?

The beauty of free verse is how lines can be manipulated to focus on certain words.

In stanza 2, the anaphora for “and crave beauty / and excitement” helps emphasize the moth’s desire.

Touches of alliteration throughout keep us focused on that desire: “close / kill”, “be / burned / beauty”, “live / long” and “be / bored” and “better / beauty”.

The reversed anastrophe “come easy go easy” reinforces the moth’s backward thinking:  he doesn’t think like humans do now but as humans “used to”.

Contrasting “half the happiness and twice / the longevity” through the math of the line returns us to the logical human way of looking at things.

Yet look at the last stanza, specifically the two lines that end with “i wish / i wanted”.  Here is archy’s own desire, cast at the end of the line.

“Lesson of the Moth” looks simple, but it is carefully crafted.

Play with anaphoras, alliteration, and anastrophes as you write both free verse and pure verse.  Your poems will tighten up structurally as well as begin to focus your ideas.

Having trouble with your poetry? If you swore a resolution to improve your writing style, do check out Discovering Sentence Craft. This handy guidebook covers ideas both figurative and interpretive as well as structures like inversion, opposition, repetition, and sequencing. Find it here: