On one of Sir Philip Sidney’s great love sonnets
Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnets often shut closed neatly and satisfyingly with a snap. They build towards their conclusion, and although Sidney uses the Petrarchan sonnet form (which doesn’t usually conclude with a rhyming couplet), his last lines tend to have the ring of finality about them, ending his poem with a bang rather than a whimper. ‘Nymph of the garden where all beauties be’, which is the 82nd sonnet in his sequence Astrophil and Stella, is a fine example of how well Sidney took the relatively new sonnet form (in English) and made it his own.
Nymph of the garden where all beauties be,
Beauties which do in excellency pass
His who till death looked in a watery glass,
Or hers whom nak’d the Trojan boy did see;
Sweet garden-nymph, which keeps the cherry-tree
Whose fruit doth far the Hesperian taste surpass,
Most sweet-fair, most fair-sweet, do not, alas,
From coming near those cherries banish me.
For though, full of desire, empty of wit, Read the rest of this entry
A commentary on Shakespeare’s 129th sonnet
When we reach no. 129 in Shakespeare’s Sonnets (‘The expense of spirit in a waste of shame’), we come across a rarity: two classic sonnets one after the other (we’ll come to Sonnet 130 next week). This first one is famous for its analysis of the psyche (particularly the male psyche) after sexual gratification has been achieved. What explains the feeling of sadness, and even self-loathing, which often ensues? Before we take Sonnet 129 in hand and proceed to analyse it, here’s a reminder of the poem.
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream. Read the rest of this entry
A commentary on one of Hopkins’s ‘Terrible Sonnets’
The mid-1880s was not a good time for Gerard Manley Hopkins. Lonely in Ireland, the poet fell into a black pit of depression, out of which came the ‘Terrible Sonnets’ which represent, after his flurry of creativity in 1876-77, the most productive time of his poetic career. ‘Carrion Comfort’ is perhaps the most famous of these sonnets. Before we proceed to a commentary on the poem, here’s a reminder of it.
Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee? Read the rest of this entry