Feb. 6th, 2009

Believe it or not I started writing this post completely on schedule for day 2 of my form-a-day series. But it was not to be, as I was foiled repeatedly in my attempts to imitate the ancient greeks. I may have to stick to limericks until I can catch up.

From page 246 of our trusty handbook:
"The Sapphic line is composed of two trochees, a dactyl, and two trochees, in that order, although certain substitutions are allowed at prescribed places. This is a Sapphic line: `~ `~ `~~ `~ `~ [ed: ` = stressed, ~ = unstressed]. A spondee [``] may be substituted for a trochee in lines one and two, feet two and five; and in line three, foot five."
And referencing back to an earlier section, page 45:
"The Sapphic stanza consists of three such lines plus a line called an adonic, which is a dactyl and a trochee in that order: `~~ `~. It is an unrhymed (blank) quatrain."

Interestingly enough, the song "Love Dog" by TV on the Radio -- which I have been listening to somewhat obsessively over the last few days -- has a few almost-sapphic lines, though the dactyls tend to be accidental and there's always an extra trochee.

lonely little love dog that no one knows the name of
I know why you cry out, desperate and devout
timid little teether, your eyes set on the ether
your moon in bella luna and howling hallelujah.

(More realistically the whole song is in rhyming couplets of trochaic trimeter, grouped into quatrains, with a few substitutions to ease the phrasing -- but even so! Synchronicity! And a useful model for writing anything trochaic, which I can only assume is a little easier in Ancient Greek than it is in English.)


What bell shining blooms

What bell shining blooms in the misty evening?
What of days that slowly went missing together?
Questions bright as porchlights have flowered, singing
songs that forget me.

Go now, paired like hands in the bedsheets. Whisper
each to each, reviving the morning's roses
dew-swept, asking petal by petal always --
where is my lover?

Sit and listen. Time is a street-sign only,
so our hours go -- sidewalk to sidewalk, lonely --
without us, like bulbs untended and lovely, growing
wild in the waiting.


Okay so I cheated -- once! -- and substituted a dactyl at the end of line 2. But it was worth it. (I also totally misremembered the rules for substituting spondees, which I thought I was allowed to use in the first rather than the second foot. But it's not cheating if you do it by accident!) Given how difficult I found this meter I am kind of dreading future metric forms, but of course the challenge is part of the fun.

As usual I invite my (plentiful, literate) readers to make their own attempts.
Time to play catch-up, and what better form to do it with than the endlessly-variable sonnet?

Like the good book says,

"The word sonnet originally meant simply "little song," but it has come to denote a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter measures and rhymed in various ways. The Petrarchan or Italian sonnet has an Italian octave, which is made up of two Italian quatrains (abbaabba), after which a volta or turn takes place, a shift in direction or though, which is pursued in the succeeding sestet, which is either an Italian sestet (cdecde) or a Sicilian sestet (cdcdcd)

The envelope sonnet rhymes abbacddc efgefg or efefef."

An envelope sonnet seemed appropriate for my first chain sonnet, for reasons that should become fairly clear -- I can't seem to find an entry for this particular variation in the book, but the idea is that you write a series of sonnets, beginning each new poem with the last line of the old one.


Chain sonnet #1

Dear sir or madam kindly I entreat
you; heed this sonnet, and make quick reply
to seven of your friends, lest Fortune fly,
and leave you sickly, begging at her feet.
A man in Houston, TX failed to answer
and lost his wife to cancer and divorce
while Charlie, 20, passed it on; perforce
he's rich, and moved in with a belly dancer.

Perhaps you'll scoff, and disregard this plea
because you don't know how to pen a sonnet
or where to start, or what rhyme scheme is meet.
But friend, take heart from this anxiety.
Here's your first line, with so much riding on it:
"Dear sir or madam kindly I entreat"


I would bet good money that I am not the first person to think of that particular conceit. More sonnets (undoubtedly) to come.



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