In our regular diarist’s diatribe on the sonnet last week, he neglected to expand on its Hegelian dialectic. Not his fault of course, he’s a busy poet-about-town with couplets to polish and commas to scatter, but here in the Archive we like to take the time to split hairs over such minutia. So, briefly, the theory is that a sonnet isn’t a sonnet just because it has fourteen lines, but because it strictly follows the teachings of Georgie Hegel (and also has fourteen lines).
What teachings are these ? His famous philosophical catchphrase of Thesis, Anti-Thesis, Synthesis ! So, the poet lays out their argument in the first eight lines, whether Petrarchan or Shakespearean. But then comes the volta, the turning point where an opposing view is raised, a disquieting thought, a four-line wobble in the calm eulogising of summer day comparisons and remembering of those gone away. How can we possibly resolve such a conflict before we exceed the legal limit of lines ? Have no fear, for in the final couplet all problems are solved, all sins are forgiven, all lovers are married.
No sonnets at this week’s workshop, but in another sense it was full of them. Peter Francis was remembering the many who departed Ireland, bound for the lamp beside the golden door, while Pat Francis has been watching the flight of the sycamore keys, as if by magic grown. For Michael Harris, a volta comes like a ripple through his body, rather like how rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, while Alan Chambers has been in an abstract mood consorting with guttering butterflies, kettling becks and marriages of true minds. Daphne Gloag has been retelling an ancient epic as told to her by a traveller from an antique land, before Doig Simmonds has been marketing his new smart phone prayer app to save our souls when we’d rather forget and smile. Finally, Martin Choules has been bigging-up the latest fad diet – how much does he love it ? Let him count the ways !
And that’s how you write a sonnet. Which also explains why the rose-red city upon the lone and level sands beside the teeming shore are resolutely NOT sonnets. Why ? Where’s the volta ? They are mere fourteen-line odes, unconflicted narraties, non-reflexive travelogues. These are not poems that are challenged mid-flow, there is no creeping doubt in their scansion beyond whether they can really get away with ‘tempest-tost’. Well, we expected some rule-breaking from old Percy ‘The Bysshe’ Shelley, and who the hell is Johnny Burgon anyway, but we must admit to expecting better from Emmy Lazarus. But then again, must a sonnet always pivot ? Ah well, perhaps we can have both kinds. You see, that’s how it’s done !