Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Limerick Pub Song

No one really knows how Limericks got their name. One legend says that they originated from a song brought back from France by the Irish Brigade returning to their native Limerick after fighting in Europe in the 18th century. It was often sung as a game in the pub after everyone had a drink or two. As the song went around, each person had to make up a verse about the adventures of persons from various Irish cities, rhyming the verse with the name of the town. If they failed to meet their associates' expectations, they had to take another drink. The chorus of this song was "Will you come up to Limerick?"

Thus the Limerick gained its reputation as an obscene barroom ditty.

The limerick is furtive and mean;
You must keep her in close quarantine,
Or she sneaks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk, and obscene.

The lim'rick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Weekly Writing Challenge--The Limerick

Join me for an easy and fun writing challenge this week--write a limerick! Yes, the limerick is a bona fide form of poetry. The limerick generally snubbed by poetry purists because of its often bawdy subjects, and its relatively late appearance on the scene. Other than through random occurences of its peculiar rhyme and metre, the limerick does not appear prior to the 1820s when nonsense rhymes that we would recognize today as limericks began appearing in children's books. But the limerick is great fun to write and to read. The rhyme scheme is usually "A-A-B-B-A". The first, second, and fifth lines are 9 syllables; the third and fourth are 5 or 6 syllables. The foot used is usually the amphibrach, a stressed syllable between two unstressed ones. Here are some examples I have enjoyed:

There once was a lady named Cager,
Who as the result of a wager,
Consented to fart
The entire oboe part
Of Mozart's quartet in F-major.

There was a young lady from Kent
Who said that she knew what it meant
When men asked her to dine,
Gave her cocktails and wine.
She knew what it meant but she went.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sky Song

Constructing constellations dot by dot,
We never agonize o'er what is not.
Say a leg is missing, or an arm--
We draw it in the picture, what's the harm?

They sky is quite forgiving, won't you say?
The galaxies and planets far away;
They do not need attention, care, and love,
They watch us from a silent place above.

But here the little things upon us press,
We live our lives in pain, we oft transgress;
Important things are lost that we might need,
We miss them, though to heaven we may plead.

I do not know exactly what to say.
I think I've lost myself along the way.
When I look high, sometimes I just see bars,
And parts of me are strewn amidst the stars.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Moon by Sappho

The above is a fragment of a poem by the Greek poetess Sappho. (Click on it to see it better!) You'll love what happens when several poets try their hand at translating this lovely piece:

THE stars about the lovely moon
Fade back and vanish very soon,
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space
Edwin Arnold

The stars around the lovely moon
Their radiant visage hide as soon
As she, full-orbed, appears to sight,
Flooding the earth with her silvery light.

Planets, that around the beauteous moon
Attendant wait, cast into shade
Their ineffectual lustre, soon
As she, in full-orbed majesty arrayed,
Her silver radiance pours
Upon this world of ours.
John Hermann Merivale

The stars about the fair moon in their turn hide their bright face when she at about her full lights up all earth with silver.
H.T. Wharton

Stars that shine around the refulgent full moon
Pale, and hide their glory of lesser lustre
When she pours her silvery plenilunar
Light on the orbed earth.
J. A. Symonds

Awed by her brightness
Stars near the beautiful moon
Cover their own shining faces
When she lights earth
With her silver brilliance
Of love ....
D.W. Myatt

The moon rose full,
and as around an altar, stood the women.
J.B. Hare

Now rose the moon, full and argentine,
While round stood the maidens, as at a shrine.
Edward Marion Cox

Awed by her splendor
stars near the lovely
moon cover their own
bright faces
when she
is roundest and lights
earth with her silver
Mary Barnard

Sappho of Lesbos

Sappho, a poet of ancient Greece, is known through her work: ten books of verse published by the third and second centuries B.C.E. By the Middle Ages, all copies were lost. Today what we know of the poetry of Sappho is only through quotations in the writings of others. Only one poem from Sappho survives in complete form, and the longest fragment of Sappho poetry is only 16 lines long.

The poems of Sappho are more personal and emotional than political or civic or religious, especially compared to her contemporary, the poet Alcaeus.

Sappho lived in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, where women often congregated and, among other social activities, shared poetry they'd written. Sappho's poems usually focus on the relationships among women.

Follow this link for some wonderful images from the Sappho Art Museum.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Choose Something Like a Star

Choose Something Like a Star
by Robert Frost - 1947

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

This poem has been one of my favorites since the time a choral group I belonged to sang Frostiana.

The following biographical information on Robert Frost was taken from poets.org. And check out the pic! He's actually a pretty good-looking guy!

Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874. He moved to New England at the age of eleven and became interested in reading and writing poetry during his high school years in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was enrolled at Dartmouth College in 1892, and later at Harvard, though he never earned a formal degree.

Frost drifted through a string of occupations after leaving school, working as a teacher, cobbler, and editor of the Lawrence Sentinel. His first professional poem, "My Butterfly," was published on November 8, 1894, in the New York newspaper The Independent.

In 1895, Frost married Elinor Miriam White, who became a major inspiration in his poetry until her death in 1938. The couple moved to England in 1912, after their New Hampshire farm failed, and it was abroad that Frost met and was influenced by such contemporary British poets as Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Graves. While in England, Frost also established a friendship with the poet Ezra Pound, who helped to promote and publish his work.

By the time Frost returned to the United States in 1915, he had published two full-length collections, A Boy's Will and North of Boston, and his reputation was established. By the nineteen-twenties, he was the most celebrated poet in America, and with each new book—including New Hampshire (1923), A Further Range (1936), Steeple Bush (1947), and In the Clearing (1962)—his fame and honors (including four Pulitzer Prizes) increased.

Though his work is principally associated with the life and landscape of New England, and though he was a poet of traditional verse forms and metrics who remained steadfastly aloof from the poetic movements and fashions of his time, Frost is anything but a merely regional or minor poet. The author of searching and often dark meditations on universal themes, he is a quintessentially modern poet in his adherence to language as it is actually spoken, in the psychological complexity of his portraits, and in the degree to which his work is infused with layers of ambiguity and irony.

In a 1970 review of The Poetry of Robert Frost, the poet Daniel Hoffman describes Frost's early work as "the Puritan ethic turned astonishingly lyrical and enabled to say out loud the sources of its own delight in the world," and comments on Frost's career as The American Bard: "He became a national celebrity, our nearly official Poet Laureate, and a great performer in the tradition of that earlier master of the literary vernacular, Mark Twain."

About Frost, President John F. Kennedy said, "He has bequeathed his nation a body of imperishable verse from which Americans will forever gain joy and understanding."

Robert Frost lived and taught for many years in Massachusetts and Vermont, and died in Boston on January 29, 1963.

A great link to Frost's poems is found at Robert Frost: America's Poet. I recommend that you spend a few minutes browsing this site and reading some more of his poetry.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Weekly Writing Challenge--The Sky

The heavenly orbs have been in my thoughts all week, as we've watched the convergence of the new moon and Venus. I'm working on a poem to express the wonder and majesty I've been observing.

This week's challenge: write a poem celebrating the sky. Planets, stars, asteroids, mythology, whatever strikes you as you gaze upward. Please share it with us in the comments!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Summer Sonnet

This is probably my favorite form of poetry. I've always used the Shakespearian rhyme pattern, but this one is my first using the Petrarchan pattern. And don't worry--I'm not expecting again! It's just my device to celebrate the fecundity of the earth and Deity.

My heavy shovel turns the dirt aside
The clods of grass are severed by the roots,
While scurry by some beetles, ants, and newts
And creatures that within the earth do hide.
As I survey this ground, my plot so wide
I see the furrows rise beneath my boots,
Bare buds secede to flowers, then to fruits--
My vision for this garden spot untried.
I place my hand where curves my middle part
And feel to hum a lullaby quite low.
I feel a movement deep below my heart
Such beauty strikes my soul, and I am shown
that One who in Creation has a part
The gracious Gardener makes good things to grow.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Petrarchan Sonnet

The first and most common sonnet is the Petrarchan, or Italian. It is named after one of its greatest practitioners, the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch. The Petrarchan sonnet is divided into two stanzas. The first eight lines, the octave, have a rhyme scheme of abba, abba. The final six lines (sestet)usually rhyme with a cdecde or cdcdcd pattern. This type of sonnet is especially suited for the rhyme-rich Italian language. Often the octave presents an argument, observation, question, or some other answerable charge. A turn, or volta, occurs between the eighth and ninth lines which marks a shift in direction of the foregoing argument or narrative. The sestet gives the counterargument, clarification, or whatever answer the octave demands.

The Petrarchan sonnet was introduced to England in the early sixteenth century by Sir Thomas Wyatt. He translated many of Petrarch’s sonnets into the English language as well writing his own. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, a contemporary of Wyatt’s, whose own translations of Petrarch are considered more faithful to the original though less fine to the ear, modified the Petrarchan, thus establishing the structure that became known as the Shakespearean sonnet. This structure has been noted to lend itself much better to the comparatively rhyme-poor English language. There are, however, many fine examples of the Petrarchan sonnet in English.

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

Henry Howard was born in 1517 in Hertfordshire, England. He was the oldest son of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and Lady Elizabeth Stafford, and so was descended from kings on both sides of the family. He was educated at Windsor Castle, the British royal residence with Henry Fitzroy, King Henry VIII's illegitimate son, who later married his sister. Thus he was brought up in all the virtues and practices of chivalry, which find a large place in his poems. He continually bragged of his royal descent and thus was imprisoned on several occasions. Once he was charged with breaking windows in the city with a crossbow, to which he answered that he was “a figure of the Lord’s behest,” sent to warn the sinful city of her doom. Henry was eventually convicted of treason, and executed January 13, 1547.

Henry Howard introduced blank verse to English in translating two books of Virgil's Aeneid. Along with his friend Sir Thomas Wyatt, he adapted and popularized Petrarch's Italian sonnet form, bringing it over into English. Wyatt's and Surrey's poems were among the first lyrics from the courtiers' manuscript tradition to find their way into mass-production print in the form of the poetry collection traditionally called "Tottel's Miscellany" (1557).

Surrey was held in great literary esteem. The following is an example of a sonnet written by Surrey and published in the Miscellany.

Love that doth reign and live within my thought
And built his seat within my captive breast,
Clad in the arms wherein with me he fought,
Oft in my face he doth his banner rest.
But she that taught me love and suffer pain,
My doubtful hope and eke my hot desire
With shamefast look to shadow and refrain,
Her smiling grace converteth straight to ire.
And coward Love then to the heart apace
Taketh his flight, where he doth lurk and plain
His purpose lost, and dare not show his face.
For my lord's guilt thus faultless bide I pain;
Yet from my lord shall not my foot remove:
Sweet is the death that taketh end by love.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Spenserian Sonnet

The Spenserian sonnet, invented by sixteenth century English poet Edmund Spenser, cribs its structure from the Shakespearean--three quatrains and a couplet--but employs a series of "couplet links" between quatrains, as revealed in the rhyme scheme: abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee. The Spenserian sonnet, through the interweaving of the quatrains, implicitly reorganized the Shakespearean sonnet into couplets, reminiscent of the Petrarchan. One reason was to reduce the often excessive final couplet of the Shakespearean sonnet, putting less pressure on it to resolve the foregoing argument, observation, or question.

Sonnet LXXI
Edmund Spenser

I joy to see how in your drawen work,
Yourself unto the bee ye do compare:
And me unto the Spider that doth lurk,
In close await to catch her unaware.
Right so youself were caught in cunning snare
Of a dear foe, and thralled to his love:
In whose straight bands ye now captived are
So firmly, that ye never may remove.
But as your work is woven all above,
With woodbine flowers and fragrant Eglantine;
So sweet your prison you in time shall prove,
With many dear delights bedecked fine.
And all thenceforth eternal peace shall see,
Between the spider and the gentle bee.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Weekly Writing Challenge--The Sonnet

A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem in iambic pentameter with a carefully patterned rhyme scheme. The English or Shakespearean sonnet, developed first by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), consists of three quatrains and a couplet--that is, it rhymes abab cdcd efef gg. A very favorite and familiar sonnet is Shakespeare's "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?" Observe the elements of this sonnet in the figure below: (click on the figure to see it more clearly)

Now try writing your own sonnet. Share your results with us in the comment section, or leave a link to your poetry blog. This week we'll be posting more information about the sonnet, and sharing some great examples of this form of poetry.