History of Poetry – 9 (Drayton & the Sonnet)

Michael Drayton, painted by unknown artist, oil on panel portrait, 23 1/2 ins x 18 ins, from 1599 – courtesy National Portrait Gallery

(Michael) Drayton has a funny kind of S&M scene here in a sonnet called From “Idea”” The whole sequence is “Idea”. It’s a series of, I think, several hundred sonnets. One of which I’ve always liked. It’s for a closet queen – the perfect expression of lack-love – “Since ther’s no helpe..”, “Since ther’s no helpe, Come let us kisse and part” (K-I-S-S-E). [Allen then reads this Michael Drayton sonnet in its entirety – “Since ther’s no helpe..”]. He wants a last chance. That was Drayton. Drayton’s dates, incidentally, are, to keep that straight, 1563-1631.

Student: What’s the number of that sonnet?

AG: The “Idea” – “Since ther’s no helpe..” is LXI, what is that..? What is..

Student(s): Sixty-one

AG: How many of those are there do you know? Does anybody know? In “Idea”? Does anyone know Drayton well enough?

I did that one Shakespeare Sonnet, but there are a couple of others I’d like to get into. Yeah?

Student: Could you talk a little bit about songs. Like, why did the sonnet rise in that time? It would seem like some people could spin off sonnets.

AG: I don’t know enough about it. It’s an Italian form to begin with. Son-net. And I guess it would be for song, to be sung, originally, with a kind of logical division which you may all know of – ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG rhyme, that is, three quatrains and then a couplet at the end, with a rhyme that kind of sums it all up and solves whatever thesis and antithesis were proposed in the quatrains. It could have been a musical form also – setting up the music for some kind of funny musical…I don’t know music well enough to know what that would allow you to do.

Student: Why do you think it was so sympathetic to the time?

AG: Ideas were pretty logical. The surprises, like in that Drayton sonnet… Of the fourteen lines, twelve lines set up this inexorable death of love, and a completely hopeless scene, so you could actually pile it on, if you were a sort of mind-trickster, and then the last two lines pull the rug out from the thought and change it completely, and turn it inside out. People were sort of playful and witty in an innocent way in those days, where you could have a funny black-and-white, opposite, thing going on, a thesis and then an antithesis, and a sort of logical development. People were, I guess, studying classical philosophy, and studying Aristotle, in those days, and things were either “A” or “not-A”, as (William) Burroughs was pointing out, in Aristotelian thinking. Yeah?

Student: Plus instrumentation too . The accompanying instruments

AG: Flutes

Student: Flutes, yeah

AG: Viol, or whatever. But there’s a classic relation between a kind of Aristotelian learning you got with a classical education and the logical development of a sonnet. It might be adapted nowadays to multi-media. multi-dimensional simultaneity, free association, cut-up.(William) Burroughs, I think, has done some sonnets in cut-up, and other people have done… Merrill Moore, in the 20th century, do you know (of) him at all? He was a doctor, and an acquaintance of William Carlos Williams, who wrote nothing but sonnets. He wrote thousands of sonnets and published them and they’re good. I think you can find some of them in the (Louis) Untermeyer anthologies of the (19)30’s and (19)40’s, and certainly in the Oscar Williams (anthologies), I think. That’s where you’ll find some samples of Moore. He was a doctor, and he wrote very plain speech, I think, mostly rhymed, some unrhymed, sonnets about simple medical case histories, like Williams. Parts of his sonnets were like Williams, or flat observation, or observation of the insurance payments – “Since twelve full months have passed since last I got paid, now from my checkbook, my hand will never stray”. Like that. So Moore has done a lot.

Williams came to think that, in our time, the sonnet was such an intellectual falsification, such an intellectually wrong thing, in a sense that the form of the sonnet falsified, or transformed, or changed, the actual nature of mental thought – that people didn’t think in terms of a statement in the first four lines, a counter-statement (as, generally, in Shakespeare), a twist combining the two, and, finally, a capping two-line, couplet, that would resolve it, or take it to another dimension. People don’t necessarily think that way. It might have been that people in Shakespeare’s time did think that way, because their minds were conditioned to a classical education, and to thinking in terms of the kind of simple logic of Aristotle, or, as Al (sic) here said, the music of certain simple instruments.

Student: Also the sounds of.. Petrarch was the first…

AG: Yeah. Vaguely, I remember..

Student: ..And they were used as “courtly love”. They were usually very emotional, and…(indecipherable) is extremely popular, and I used to.. indecipherable

AG: Astrophel and Stella

Student: Yeah, right. They were immensely popular.

AG: Well, it’s a popular form. Do you know anything about the origin? the origin, the genesis of something. (Sir Philip) Sidney?

Student: Surrey translated Petrarch

AG: (Sir Thomas) Wyatt translated Petrarch

Student: I think Tyco Brahe had been visiting…

AG: England…?

Student: England, right. They had…

AG: Who was Tyco Branche?

Student: He was an Italian astronomer and alchemist

AG: So a Gnostic astronomer?J

Student: Major, though, orbits.. He had a little study-group..(studying with) Sir Philip Sidney, in the area of Judaica, and they mutually visited back and forth.

AG: So actually the sonnet is a sort of logical astronomical form for people who were doing that kind of logical thinking, I guess. – (to student) Before you came, Lewis MacAdams, asked why was the sonnet so, then, popular?

Student: A manifestation of the harmony of the spheres

AG: The sonnet?

Student: Yeah

AG: That form?

Student: Well, that form and other forms – quatrain…

AG: Yeah

Student: But particularly that, because it has a.. (it’s a) manifestation of Medieval cosmology

AG: Of the music of the spheres?

Student: The harmony of the spheres, yeah. This is what (William Carlos) Williams talks about in his essay about Einstein, where he says another reason for dispensing with this is that since.. (bound and unbounded at the same time).. poems should have the shape of a field, rather than the shape of this preconceived form from Medieval cosmology.

AG: So the form comes from Medieval cosmology, which makes some sense, I think. In other words, if you have a little planetary… In Medieval cosmology, was the Earth at the center still?

Student: Yeah, yeah

AG: Earth is at the center still

Student: As far as anyone could say in public

AG: Yeah. So you’d have to have a logical center, whereas for open form poetry, as we practice it in this century, like (Charles) Olson, or Williams, or Pound, that assumes that everywhere is the center, everywhere in the universe is the center, and everywhere in the poem is the center, so, in a sense, it’s like opening and turning on the tap of the mind, and the language gushes out, and then you turn it off again, but it’s the same water all the time,

Student: Do you know if all of this is sung?

AG: No I don’t. I know some of his work, but not his sonnets

Student: The sonnet is a large collection of, I think, maybe 200 sonnets. , ancenter and it seems you could put them all together and then cut them into fourteen-line parts, but there is no observation of the octet and sestet (8/6) division, or whatever.

AG: Yeah that’s right. There was an octet and a sextet. I was just talking about the four-four-four and then two (but) then there’s also the eight lines and six lines, up to fourteen. So, another logical form. There’s a couple of logical forms.

I think those (of you) that are in Anne Waldman’s class probably examined some of Ted Berrigan’s sonnets (which are “cut-ups”, actually, cut-ups of Williams and other things, put together.

There are a couple of nice Shakespeare sonnets that I always liked. It’s not necessarily the whole sonnet, it’s one or two lines that stick in my head and are, like, really perfect pieces of sound (Allen then reads, by way of illustration, Sonnet 18 – “Shall I compare thee to a Sommer’s Day” – I like the “Nor shall death brag thou wandr’st in his shade”, and also “Rough windes do shake the darling buds of Maie”, That’s really sweet Shakespeare mind, the fairy Shakespeare, “the darling buds of Maie”.

There’s another thing on time, “though lips and eyes/ Within his bending sickles compasse come”. A very funny line. I don’t know what sonnet it’s in. [editor’s note Sonnet 116“].”Though rosie lips and cheeks/ Within his bending sickles compass come” – speaking of time as a scythe -“..though rosie lips and cheeks/ Within his bending sickles compasse come” – it’s like the line “on purpose lay’d to make the taker mad”.

(Allen then proceeds to read, in its entirety, Sonnet 73 (“That time of year thou maiest in me behold”)

The one – “on purpose lay’d to make the taker mad” – here’s the two (the other one) of them, “bending sickles compasse” (Allen reads Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true mindes”) – “If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ, nor no man ever loved”).

Well, I suppose when everything is totally wiped out then he’ll never have writ and he will be in error. When you go over the edge of doom, when the entire universe disappears, goes down the next quasar asshole, then he will not have ever writ, and so the love wlll have bent with the remover to be removed.

The other, which has ““on purpose lay’d to make the taker mad”, again, like that other earlier poem that I was reading about putting down love – “love is a sickness full of woes”, Samuel Daniel, same tune again, same mental tune. (Allen reads Sonnet 129 (“Th’expence of Spirit in a waste of shame..”).,I thought that line ““on purpose lay’d to make the taker mad.. A guy I knew in Columbia, who was a very intelligent English major back in 1946, who had read all of (William) Shakespeare and all of (Michael) Drayton and all of (Edmund) Spenser, said that was the most intelligent line in the English language – just for sound, or just for wit, logopoeia. The total simplicity of it., ““on purpose lay’d to make the taker mad”, and the funny kind of assonance in ”ur”,”ayd”,”ake”,”ake”,”ad”.- “on purpose lay’d to make the taker mad”. Like a tongue-twister, except such a funny mind Shakespeare had, a funny ear, a funny mind, funny tongue.”Genius is funny” in that way – ““on purpose lay’d to make the taker mad”,

Student: What number is that one?

AG: CXXIX, what is that? Who’s a Latinist?.. The “Lov’s not Time’s foole, though rosie lips and cheeks/ Within his bending sickles compasse come” is CXVI. So that’s what ? One hundred and six?. No, wait a minute, one hundred and sixteen. So, onward. Onward.

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