September 04, 2003


This following is what I wrote for my second assignment for ENGL 325. We were asked to respond to a selection of sonnets that we were asked to read for homework. Again, we were given two options for doing this: we could either write our own sonnet or we could discuss the way the content of one sonnet of our choosing plays off the particular limitations or confines of the form of the sonnet. I decided not to write my own sonnet.

I cannot limit myself to discussing only one particular sonnet out of the seven we were asked to look at because they each have made an interesting and worthwhile contribution to my overall understanding of the self-imposed confinement sought after in that rigid form.

I have come to recognize a certain virtue in confinement, like the noble nuns that William Wordsworth titles his famous sonnet after, "Nuns Fret Not." This author explains that constraints don't necessarily serve to bind. Rather, they have the capacity to open up a whole realm of possibilities. Sometimes it is harder to be entirely unlimited. Sometimes it is a challenge to willfully pose upon oneself some constraint.

To that John Keats adds in his "On the Sonnet" that you can impose a structure on poetry, but inherently, poetry has a structure of its own. To look at what he says in a slightly different way, poetry is constrained, but not consistently in a way befitting the words. Simply, if you are going to constrain poetry do so in a way that is indicative of the poetry itself and not of the constraints you've placed on it.

When I read "The White House" by Claude McKay I got the immediate sense that the author was being shut out of some opportunity, perhaps a job. Looking at the year this was written I determined that it was during the Great Depression. As I read it a second time through it sounded more like he had been recently fired. It seemed like he had ample reason to be externally angry about whatever it was that happened, but instead he maintained composure. He was confined by his morals to behave in a way that he would much rather not be limited to, but he constrained himself despite that. Comparable to the act of writing a sonnet, constraining oneself is also voluntary.

In "When I Consider How My Light is Spent" John Milton tells his readers that he writes poetry that he basically regards as useless, but it is all that he can do for God (this is pretty obtuse and 350 years didn't do much to help matters). He asks if God expects him to spend his entire life working while denying him any personal life (a life that is not entirely in service to God). Patience answers so Milton won't begin to doubt his relationship to the Almighty and explains that he doesn't need to exercise God's gifts. All that is expected of Milton is that he acknowledge the presence of the Lord and when demands are made upon him from high that they are fulfilled. God effectively has a whole bunch of people working constantly for him and so you can best serve him by waiting for his command. Milton had been questioning God's plan for his life and expressing the constraint he was feeling due to it. Milton thought he had to spend his entire life hanging on for God to utilize his talents. He learned that he could live his life however he chose to and just respond to God whenever he is needed. What I learned is that you have to be careful in determining what your constraint is. You are not always limited by what you think you are.

Author Gwendolyn Books in her sonnet, "First Fight. Then Fiddle" tells us not to be concerned with art and war at the very same time. Music is not the appropriate thing to concern yourself when you are going into battle, and conversely, fighting is not the appropriate thing to be concerned with when you are creating musical harmony. Don't try and do everything all at once. It is important to concern yourself with the right thing at the right time. In building a sonnet you may be concerned with the limitations that the sonnet places on you, but that is not the appropriate thing to be thinking about.

In "Range Finding" by Robert Frost we read of an observation of the battle field shortly before the battle ensues. Everything is calm and normal. The battle wasn't meant to involve the creatures that inhabited the area and so they proceeded on with their activities and accommodated it; they didn't break routine.

When I read "Joy Sonnet in a Random Universe" by Helen Chasin, I looked to the date it was written for some explanation as to what possible influences the author wrote under. All I could come up with, upon learning that it was written in 1968, is that she was potentially on some sort of drug. She abandoned rhyming structure and meter, but kept to the traditional fourteen lines. Chasin's design yielded a square-shape poem. What I determined the author was trying to say is that even when she is happy and doing her own thing she still has this tendency to delineate.

-- CrystalShiloh @ 10:55 AM