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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Monday, December 19

Thanks & Frost Sonnets

I began this blog almost three years ago, January 2, 2009, and I’m pleased that so many people have visited me to read what I have to say. My subjects have jumped all over the place, from personal thoughts and experiences to local, state, national, and international news. And my audience has been surprisingly diverse. I’ve had, for example, 394 page views from readers in Russia. How they stumbled onto my blog I can’t figure out, but to those readers I say, “spasibo, spasibo.” My heartfelt thanks. And to all the other readers from around the world I also say “thank you, thank you.” Another surprise is the number of times people have gone to a blog I wrote on September 25 of this year, a blog on poetic forms, particularly the sonnet. There have been 51 visitors to that blog. I wouldn’t have thought there’d be anywhere near that number of people interested in such a minor subject as the sonnet form. To those who might be interested, on March 6, 2010, I also wrote about that fun form, the limerick, and on March 7, the double-dactyl, rondelet, and cinquain.

And now I’m going to talk about Robert Frost and his use of traditional forms. Frost, in the midst of poetic rebellion against tradition in the early 20th century, stuck to his guns and remained a traditionalist. Possibly the only thing non-traditional about his poetry is his use of common language instead of traditional poetic diction (“thee” and “thou” and “whither,” etc.) He wrote thirty-seven sonnets, he wrote many poems in blank verse, and he even did a cute little thing with rhyme in one of his best-known poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” This last is especially appropriate because in just two days, the darkest evening of the year will be upon us. First, a few sonnets:

“No Holy Wars for Them” is an English sonnet, in strict iambic pentameter and the strict English (or Shakespearean) rhyme pattern. The only non-traditional aspect of it is the commonplace language, no poetic diction here, even a little of the typical Frost irony.
“Acquainted with the Night” at first looks like another English sonnet rhyme pattern, the first four lines going a-b-a-b. But then we see it’s really a terza rima pattern in which the lines break into threes, with each succeeding three lines using the middle rhyme of the previous set as its predominant rhyme. Like this: a-b-a, b-c-b, c-d-c, d-a-d with the concluding couplet using the a-a pattern. Frost once wrote to Louis Untermeyer, "The sonnet is the strictest form I have behaved in, and only then by pretending it wasn’t a sonnet." He loved traditional forms, but he also liked to play his own little games with them.
In “Design,” probably his best-known sonnet, maybe the best-known sonnet in all of American literature, he goes one step further with the terza rima pattern, in this case using only three rhymes throughout the fourteen lines. That’s no mean feat. He's taken the Italian sonnet form and gone it one better. The careful design of the rhyme pattern reinforces his meaning in the poem, that although he may question whether or not there really is a pattern to God’s plan for the universe, the poem itself seems to say there is. That’s a scary premise, that if there is a pattern, doesn’t the pattern of the spider, the flower, and the dead moth present something we’d rather not consider as a pattern? Then, almost as an afterthought, he goes on to say that maybe these three ingredients are too small, too inconsequential, to be part of any pattern. Or for that matter, maybe man and his affairs are also too small, too insignificant in the vastness of the universe to be part of God’s design.

More on Frost tomorrow.

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