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Old 03-12-2017, 09:11 AM
E. Shaun Russell E. Shaun Russell is offline
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Default A Search for Meaning in Parentheses (Part 1)

A Search for Meaning in Parentheses (working title)*

“O thou my lovely boy…” is how it starts,
but how it’s meant to finish, no one’s sure…
though some aver that it’s supposed to end
just how it ends: abstruse and vague, with pairs
of brackets, like two separated rings,
or simulacra of two open graves,
or marks reflecting negative accounts.
Some things we’ll never know. The Quarto text
reflects the poems themselves—ambiguous,
inviting vain attempts to pin them down,
to find a plot or clear chronology,
to learn who all the intimates might be.
Its printing may have been unauthorized,
as evidenced by countless faults throughout,
like doubled lines, repeated words, and these:
one-twenty-six’s dual parentheses.

One-twenty-six is thought to be the last
of all the sonnets penned to the Young Man—
a last goodbye before the poet’s eye
turned womanward to mistresses instead.
Did he intend the brackets as a curse?
An abnegation of the love he felt—
infatuation unrepaid in kind?
Some scholars think that this might be the case,
that, after scores of missives over years,
so clearly unrequited by his “friend,”
he finally abandons him to Time
and Nature, “sovereign mistress over wrack,”
to wither like a fruit upon the vine,
to lose his beauty and vitality,
to feel the absence of a love unearned,
to bear the brutal weight of being spurned.



*N.B. This is the first part of what will be a much longer poem that delves deeper into the textual history of Sonnet 126 and plumbs certain other personal depths as well.
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Old 03-12-2017, 10:09 AM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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Some general thoughts about the idea behind the poem:

It is fascinating. I like this sort of thing because of my interest in punctuation marks and concrete poetry (the sonnet is a concrete poem of sorts, since the blank parentheses can't be replicated in speech beyond silence). I'm curious as to how you will further explicate those mysterious empty lines. The most obvious interpretation to me is that they represent death. The word quietus comes right before them and there is perhaps a pun on quiet. And I wonder if Cummings was alluding to this sonnet in his "death i think is no parentheses"

One potential problem is that not every printing of this sonnet includes the two blank lines. I vaguely remember seeing them before, but my Temple edition of his sonnets does not include them and neither do several versions I've found on the web. An epigraph may be needed.
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Old 03-12-2017, 10:20 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Here's a link to the Quarto edition of the Sonnets: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/L...n/53/?zoom=500 Sonnet 126 is on page 53 of 76.
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Old 03-12-2017, 10:54 AM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
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The subject is undeniably interesting but I find the poem rather lacking in poetry - although I did admire "or simulacra of two open graves".

As a whole, it reads like a carefully arranged prose text, which is almost embarrassed by the surprise of the closing - (only for the moment, apparently) - rhyming couplet. Perhaps I just can't resist the feeling that meeting the challenge of this subject in poetry should result in a response in Shakespeare's own sonnet form - and, if the promised extensions of interest are really required, perhaps in more than one sonnet.
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Old 03-12-2017, 01:20 PM
Max Goodman Max Goodman is offline
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Intriguing.

The language carries me along; I'm never bored. I also don't feel a poetic concision, and to begin with 32 lines about a 12-line poem seems a questionable strategy. What's here might be shortened (though certainly not to under 12 lines--too much would be lost). You might also consider introducing earlier the personal issues the note promises.

If the form is blank verse with couplet ending each stanza, rhymes like chronology/be might be things to avoid.

I'm confused by the ellipsis at the end of L2.
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Old 03-13-2017, 12:49 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Hello, Shaun, I have thought about this poem quite a bit over the last few days.

It is very good blank verse. The style is conversational (and that's good), so "aver" seemed outside the register.

My knee-jerk reaction was to cut it down, but I couldn't find much to cut.

I would suggest contracting the first two lines of the second stanza to one line:

One-twenty-six is thought to be the last
of all the sonnets penned to the Young Man—

to

Last of the sonnets penned to the Young Man—

This way you avoid the repetition of "One-twenty-six" from the end of the preceding stanza.

Best,

Aaron
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Old 03-17-2017, 08:30 AM
E. Shaun Russell E. Shaun Russell is offline
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Thanks, gentlemen. I hope to have two or three more stanzas completed in three weeks or so, and these stanzas, which are closely tethered to Shakespeare's sonnet, will prove to be more of a springboard to a more personal issue. I probably could spend several stanzas just talking about critical reactions to 126 (in all honesty, my scholarly work comes to much different conclusions about the bracketed lines than this poem reflects), but there's something else going on that I'm using the exploration of this particular poem to get at (in part, at least).

As to individual comments...

I will definitely change "aver" (possibly to "assert" or "suggest") and nix the ellipses at L2.

Orwn: that's a good point about the different editions either featuring or not featuring the parentheses...and their inclusion (or lack thereof) speaks to the biases of certain editors: those who don't include them clearly don't think the parentheses were of Shakespeare's design, and were the publisher's / compiler's invention. I'm actually more of this mind myself, despite the fact that the poem explores the "intentional" avenue. I've been fascinated by this issue for years. In any event, I make a point about tying this poem to the Quarto text in particular, but it might be worthwhile to have a line or two about other editions and intentionality in general.

Nigel: not a bad idea, and I had considered composing the whole thing as a sonnet sequence, but it's an open question as to whether 126 can even be considered a "sonnet" at all. Also, since I'll be veering away from direct address to this poem in future stanzas, 16ers feel appropriate. I may have a trick up my sleeve in terms of its ultimate length as well, which will be best served by 16s...

Max: yeah, that's a good point regarding the internal couplet. I might change it for the reasons you suggest. My natural inclination to rhyme wherever possible probably got the best of me there.

Aaron: thanks. I sort of like the doubled reference to one-twenty-six at the end of one stanza and the beginning of the next, but I'll give some serious thought to changing it.
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Old 03-31-2017, 06:12 PM
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William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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Since you mentioned that you hope to have some added stanzas to this, and since we're in the incredibly slow-moving Deep End, I thought I'd add my thoughts.

I almost quoted Nigel's response - since his thoughts are almost exactly my own.

I do find the "conversational" style (as Aaron P. calls it) a bit too conversational for this poem. The whole could be printed out without linebreaks and read well as prose, which, I suppose, according to certain opinion, is a mark of excellence. I believe Ezra Pound even said as much, and in one of his books (ABC of Reading, maybe) lamented that some people assumed they could write good poetry who could not write good prose, and I believe patently stated that writing good prose is as difficult, if not more so, than composing verse. (I think I'd agree with that.)

In his Confucius to Cummings anthology (a must read, IMO), he offers the beginning (50 or so lines) of Endymion, by the mighty Keats. Pound writes:

Read it aloud, noting the punctuation; do not stop at the end of each line.

Yes! Hence my extreme irritation whenever I listen to certain prominent poets read their own poetry. They make that rise in their voice, and that pause, at the end of lines. Grrrr...makes me turn off the recording or video in frustration (I won't go to poetry readings, never have, never will - can't do it). Ironically, when Pound reads his stuff, he sometimes pauses at the end of lines, regardless of punctuation. But I actually like listening to him because of his dramatic flair and that accent, whatever the hell it's supposed to be. "The ant's a centaur in his dragon world..." < epic line there - "Pull down thy vanity, I say PULL DOWN..."

Anyway - while I appreciate the more modern, conversational style, and admire it (as I admire E.A. Robinson, E.L. Masters, Frost, even granddaddy Wordsworth in his finer moments in the Prelude & Excursion, though I don't think Coleridge got it quite the way William did) - I would think, as Nigel says above, that a response to Shakespeare might adopt a more "poetic" style. I don't think you need to do it in the sonnet form. Blank verse works perfectly fine, but perhaps go more concrete, since what you have is mostly abstract, although this:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwith pairs
of brackets, like two separated rings,
or simulacra of two open graves,


Is very, very nice.

But when you do offer an image again, later on, it's somewhat familiar:

to wither like a fruit upon the vine,

^ That's a nice line, but certainly it's been done before?

***

So, essentially, I am echoing Nigel's crit, though I don't agree that you ought to make it into sonnets - or add sonnets (however he meant it!). I'd stick with blank verse, flesh it out, offer more imagery - that's what I'd do, I think.

I hope this is of some interest.

I'm really interested to see your additions.

Thanks for this interesting poem.
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Old 04-02-2017, 12:05 PM
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William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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Just one more note. I didn't notice in your responses that you had written this:

Quote:
...I had considered composing the whole thing as a sonnet sequence, but it's an open question as to whether 126 can even be considered a "sonnet" at all.
In my opinion, having pored over Shakespeare from my earliest days, this is a sonnet, and the last two lines are expressed as "nothing" or "nothingness" by the two "lines" of parentheses.

Shakespeare didn't leave many of the sonnets unfinished (as far as I remember - but my memory is totally untrustworthy), and this seems eminently complete to me.

If the brackets are simply the additions of a copyist, then so much the better, but I doubt it. I believe Shakespeare was just enough of a genius to allow the empty lines to speak as poetry - perhaps the best kind of "poetry", which, when it comes to grief, is sometimes just silence. Words get in the way of conveying grief, more often than not. I posted a poem here a few years ago that began with, "The best poems stop in the throat..." The poem was about the feeling of futility I get when trying to express the inexpressible.

Of course, I am ignorant of the scholarship that surrounds this mystery of 126, so I could be all wet.
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Old 04-03-2017, 05:16 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hello Shaun,

In keeping with others before me, I find this poem both well-executed and touching - the best poem I've ever read on brackets. It repays rereading - I read it some days ago and find renewed pleasure in it on my return.

I had just one thought really: "reflects the poems themselves", runs one line, with slightly awkward scansion. How about "the verse itself", with subsequent its instead of thems?

That's the end of my suggestions. Stet for the rest.

Cheers,
John
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