Living a Sonnet

I’ll never forget my first encounter with the sonnet.  While adequate, my schooling was not typical, and as I have settled into adulthood I have decided to fill in some of the blanks on my own.  Poetry as a whole was rather overlooked, unless one was reading the Psalms or Old Testament Prophets.  I didn’t know what a sonnet was until I was 28, and it took me another year to learn the distinction between English, Italian, and Spenserian sonnets.

That first glimpse of 14 lines of iambic pentameter was entirely by accident.

I was catching up in another arena of literature altogether: children’s fiction.  Throughout my childhood, reading fiction was discouraged.  Though I read Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and Marguerite Henry by the time I was 10 without much fuss, beyond that my reading tastes were directed more towards the “reality” of history, biographies, and non-fiction.  Fortunately, the realization that I was in control of my own reading diet came when I was surrounded by serious bibliophile friends.  Their suggested reading lists in the form of off-hand recommendations and group excursions to used book stores have opened my eyes to delights heretofore unknown.

So it was that I found myself reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Newberry Award-Winning classic, “A Wrinkle in Time.”

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A single afternoon was all the time I needed to devour the grace I found in that book.  My journal entry from that day says “my eyes weren’t dry at all” as I drank deeply of the beauty I found.  Fear had kept me away from L’Engle for a long time, but as I read I encountered only grace and beauty.

“We want nothing from you that you do without grace, or that you do without understanding,” Mrs Whatsit says to Meg, the young heroine of this sci-fi/fantasy series for children.  It was theology and physics mixed up in a way that made sense to me, though I had never studied either.  And then a glimpse of something I could have never guessed: perfect freedom within strict form, free will within predestination, art illustrating life.  The Sonnet.  “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.  What you write is completely up to you,” Mrs Whatsit says.  She’s talking about living life well without knowing how things turn out.  Somehow, the words got through to my heart.

And so I began to live my sonnet.

I don’t know what it says yet.  I’m not even sure I know the theme.  But I am listening, and I am writing, and I am learning to rest and wait and pause until the right words come.

Inspiration and Beginnings

When once poetry has pierced my soul, I cannot shake it off.  When once a shaft of light has entered my mind, I cannot close my eyes to brightness.  When once I have begun to feel, I cannot ask my heart to keep silence.  This is my journey unfolding.

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Where is the land of Luthany,
Where is the tract of Elenore?
I am bound therefore.
 
‘Pierce thy heart to find the key;
With thee take
Only what none else would keep;
Learn to dream when thou dost wake;
Learn to wake when thou dost sleep.
Learn to water joy with tears,
Learn from fears to vanquish fears;
To hope, for thou dar’st not despair;
Exult, for that thou dar’st not grieve;
Plough thou the rock until it bear;
Know, for thou else couldst not believe;
Lose, that the lost thou may’st receive;
Die, for none other way canst live.
 
‘When earth and heave lay down their veil,
And that apocalypse turns thee pale;
When thy seeing blindeth thee
To what thy fellow-mortals see;
When their sight to thee is sightless;
Their living, death; their light, most lightless;
Search no more–
Pass the gates of Luthany,
Tread the region Elenore!’
 
Where is the land of Luthany?
And where the region Elenore?
I do faint therefore.
 
‘When to the new eyes of thee
All things by immortal power,
Near or far,
Hiddenly
To each other linkéd are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star;
When thy song is shield and mirror
To the fair snake curléd pain,
Where thou dar’st affront her terror
That on her thou may’st attain
Perséan Conquest; seek no more,
O seek no more!
Pass the gates of Luthany,
Tread the region Elenore!’

– Francis Thompson