The Sonnet: A Brief Examination

a writing by John Starks

Due to Shakespeare's penchant for the sonnet (a form of poetry originating in Sicily, and ascribed to Petrarch, a poet of that province) it has long been revered, loved, and appreciated. It has stood the test of time as both a literary gem, and a poetic delight. Few, examining one of beauty, would question its elegance, for it is self evident,
as it is so codified by the inherent sense of aesthetics, which appears peculiar to human's per se. Today, though poetry has reached its apparent extremity, essence devoid of body, i.e., a recognized prosodic structure, it, the sonnet, remains popular. "Modern Poetry", briefly put: that having no discernable rhythm, and, of course, no rhyme, is difficult to distinguish from poetic prose. Such a postulation not infrequently evokes the ire of its practitioners; however, I presently have no better way to put it. One need but put "'Twas The Night Before Xmas" in some "modern poetic form", and to auditorily juxtapose it with the original, to discover its differential impact on children and adults alike. One may well argue that historical familiarity may well account for this outcome, but, should one read it to children and adults who have remained unacquainted with it, interesting conclusions may be drawn. The anapestic rhythm and phonetic puntuation of rhyme delight children and adults alike. Have I proffered compelling evidence? You decide!

Herein, however, I would neither bash "Modern Poetry" nor aver its validity. Rather, I would bring to bear, upon the sonnet, consideration of its remarkable longevity and noted renaissance, for many of today's poets are familiarizing themselves with its beauty. and predictable unpredictability.

Barring some acceptable, albeit infrequent irregularities, to the sonnet's characteristic iambic rhythm (a cadence which, in my opinion, entrances the soul as it hypnotizes the mind) it is, at least, in terms of rhythm, predictable. The same is true with respect to its measure, that syllabic one, of course. Here, though modest variations are permitted, also, it, too, is rather predictable. Too many allowable aberrations in relation to its prescribed prosodic structure, compormises or destroys its inimitable beauty. In the hands of a skilled sonneteer, the execution and the development of the sonnet, too, is unpredictable with respet to content and direction.



CONTINUED 11-27-2012

Though I emphasize the sonnet, what I say is applicable to other metered poetry; and to a lesser degree to blank verse,
as blank verse puts the onus of rhythm on the composer, though it excuses the composer from the bugaboo of rhyme. I shall look at meter (rhythm), for I would but explore that briefly. Metered, i.e, measured rhythm, occuring in a repeated, identifiable, sufficiently protracted pattern, induces trance. (Trance induction can doubtless be explored via the internet.) To the extent that trance is induced, (at least within the scope of my theoretical postulations) the part of the brain that processes images is maximally activated. The thus burried poem, metaphorically a seed, takes root and grows into consciousness. Without referencing my academic or experiential backgrounds, I have, from listening, to readers of sonnets (those virtually having no familiarity with structured verse) been told that initially they could understand nearly nothing of the poetic expression. They, however, over a two or three month period of time, (without any promting from me, but after reading poetry several times a week) spontaneously related to me that their understanding opened up and deepened. One reported, to me, that her junior college gardes jumped from a "C" average to an "A" average. She attributed her growth to sonnet reading. This data is anecodotal in nature; however, if may be suggestive of needed research. We sometimes forget that infants come here with little language awareness. Yet their in-womb-hearing may predispose them to greater linguistic facility. I, too, have noted in a professional context that adult males, functioning at the 6th grade level when tested, rapidly gained verbal facility when, frequently over time, exposed to language ostensibly above their mastery. This is probably an obvious outcome, as humans simply learn. By no means am I suggesting that sonnet reading is the only way to rapid incremental development; however complex, abstract formal poetry is a potent cerebral stimulant. A healthy heart keeps rhythm; our brains emit rhythm in terms of alpha, beta, and theta waves. Perhaps poetic rhythm is primordial and integral, and mystical.

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