One of the books I was going to give to the English Department at Dysart High School is called Patterns of Poetry, An Encyclopedia of Forms. I say, “going to give” because the teachers all told the department chair they didn’t need any more books. Okay, their loss. This book says just about everything anyone could ever want to know about the forms of traditional poetry. How could any English teacher tell me he or she doesn’t need it? They must be a different breed of teacher than those in my day. Wow, doesn’t that sound exactly like something a frustrated old English teacher might say?
”An Aeronaut to His Love” is one of the poems I loved to use to teach the sonnet form as well as to show the propensity of modern poets to try to escape the bonds of traditional forms.
The poem follows the rhyme pattern of the Italian sonnet: a-b-b-a a-b-b-a c-d-c-d-e-e, with an octave and a sestet, the opening eight lines stating a situation and ending with a question, with the closing six lines answering the question. But the poet has blown away the other requirement of the traditional form, the length of the lines. Tradition requires them to be ten syllables of iambic rhythm. Here, each line consists of a one-syllable word. A neat example of a modern poet’s sticking with tradition in one way, breaking free in another way.
More on this tomorrow.