systematic deviation

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sonnet Series to Heroine

[This is one of several successful assignments that will be posted here. All the posted assignments received an A- or above, and all demonstrate different ways in which the chosen question could have been addressed. The following sonnet series is by Luke MacNeil:]


My heroine, that saviour pure of soul,

Whose love doth pipe throughout my wanting chest

To feed the hungry tips of body whole,

Afore returning calm to sated breast.

Her dark embrace doth wrap me in a cloud,

Like liquid warm, a plume leaked out from lips,

That settles on my soul like soothing shroud,

And in such coaxing spells my reason slips.

All time and thought this spirit doth consume,

Her absence wroth doth leave me wanting more;

In such a void my life I'd loath resume,

Mere shadow to that one whom i adore.

Yet 'tis no woman seen that holds these reins,

For she my heroine rides in my veins.


This truthful verse is for my heroi'd love,

The cankered sore that moulds and rots my life;

That viper black against whom long I've strove,

Who's caused to me a sea of endless stryfe.

How much I hate her cold and plastic frame,

That vile face where love and hate doth mesh;

Whose hollowed tubes do whisper out my name

As they depress into my haunted flesh.

Her poison spewed through long and metal fangs

Doth cloud my thought and ill pollute my veins;

A cure I know not for those rotting pangs,

That horrid joy doth ever cause me pains.

And yet I've not immuned her charms of ill;

Her poison yet ensures I'll see her still.


I bound abound toward the streetlight dim

Where oft I buy my sweet addiction pure;

And to my shock, my merchant Jungle Jim

Is nowhere found; he was arrested sure.

Thus off I go to search 'mongst other men,

So that I might yet sate my large desire;

And yet the blacks do chase me out of den,

And bold latinos do send me off with ire.

And thus I skulked to damn'd and dirty Dwight,

A desperate choice, and one that I shall rue;

For I was not his only guest that night -

A squad of cops chose then to visit too.

And thus my short and ill-bred search did fail,

For seven years I'll spend in public jail.

Few poetic forms can match the short and intimate power of the sonnet. Originally developed in Italy, it came to England in the 16th century, where it was given it's own structure and name: the English sonnet. And while it's popularity has fluctuated since the Renaissance, it nevertheless remains a relevant poetic form. Indeed, the presented sonnets show that it is a viable format for creating poetry on a contemporary subject.

The presented poems display all of the structural characteristics of a typical English sonnet. They are written in iambic pentameter, with ten syllables per line, and a stress on every second syllable. They each consist of three quatrains, and end in a rhyming couplet that displays a sharp thematic change from the rest of the poem. Also, the rhyme scheme is a standard a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g, which is typical for an English sonnet.

The poems also display another characteristic that was common in Renaissance poetry - they comprise what is known as a sonnet sequence. A sonnet sequence is a group of sonnets that contain a similar thematic element. They might be written on the same subject, for instance, or devoted to the same person. These sonnets can be read together as a longer work, or separately as individual poems. Shakespeare, for instance, wrote 126 love sonnets to a person known as "the fair youth," and a further 26 love sonnets to "the dark lady," many of which stand on their own as celebrated poems. The unifying theme in the presented sonnet series is (similar to Renaissance sonnets) love, albeit of a very different kind than Shakespeare wrote about. In this case, the love is not for a lover, but rather for the drug heroin.

This love for heroin is represented differently in each poem, and each of these depictions find their basis in the traditional English sonnet (where love was portrayed as being positive, negative, humourous, etc.). In the first sonnet, heroin is compared to a "heroine," a woman (and saviour of sorts) that holds some sort of enchanting power over the author. The tone of the poem is wistful and yearning, and the author seems to relish this love. This is in sharp contrast to the second poem, where the heroin is compared to a viper (and to add a third layer, it could even be compared to a vindictive woman). Just as a heroin needle would inject heroin into a vein, so too would a snake inject it's poison, and a woman (metaphorically) her love. In this case, the love is reviled and hated, and yet a sense of hopelessness pervades, as if (despite recognizing the evil of the love) the author is resigned to it. The third sonnet in the sequence is very different in tone and style from the first two, being more of a straightforward narrative than the metaphorical sonnets. It also presents another common element from the English sonnet: the chase. Usually, these poems involve the author searching for a classical subject, such as a lover, or a hunted animal (the animal being representative of the lover). In this case, the subject of the chase is heroin. While there is very little metaphor or subtext in this final sonnet, it effectively takes the concept of the chase, and updates it with a modern theme.

The English sonnet reached the height of its popularity during the Renaissance, and because of this it is sometimes considered a classical and slightly outdated form of poetry. Yet the presented sonnets show that it is still a viable form of poetry that can be used to discourse on a more modern subject, love or otherwise. Indeed, the English sonnet remains a vital part of modern poetry.

Works Cited

Black, Joseph, ed. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Renaissance and the Early Seventeenth Century. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press. 2006. LXXVII-LXXX.

Jones, Miriam. Class Lectures. Saint John Campus, University of New Brunswick, Saint John, NB, 10/12/24 October 2006.


At February 02, 2007 4:52 a.m., Blogger Tom van Haerlem said...

Good morning, Dr. Jones,

You posted an interesting example of traditional poetic form to express emotions experienced in modern times. So I do agree in general with the concluding sentence of your analysis. However, the chosen example introduces two concerns:

First, the chosen cycle of three love sonnets uses more than exceptionally language/expression forms of the Spenserian period, especially the first sonnet :
Whose love doth
doth wrap me
this is not functional and should be avoided, unless no modern words/expressions can substitute the chosen ones. On the contrary, such language adds an old-fashioned flavour.

A second concern, is that -in order to have true impact in the field- language as well as content of the cycle should be original and innovating. Making a toxic drug the heroine of these love sonnets is original perhaps. The alternating sequence of adoration and vilification in a sequence of love sonnets is not original at all (Dante, Shakespeare).

The two points of concern in this example create the impression of copying or just prolonging a tradition. Like other traditions that are prolonged, the process will fade out or stop unless innovation makes the expression form alive as it evolves to modern language and modern society. Although the heroine as a drug is interesting, especially the first sonnet makes an old fashioned impression.

Therefore, I think that the English Renaissance sonnet may still have an impact on modern poetic expression on condition that both language and content are innovating ingredients of a surprising meal served on a traditional plate.

Tom van Haerlem


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