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.”
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.