Sentences in Sonnets

I recently had a great assignment–read a bunch of sonnets! This I did, having previously gotten through a discussion of Robert Frost’s syntactically fiendish “The Silken Tent”–it’s one sonnet, where all fourteen lines are just one grammatical sentence. This is not the only one of its type, although most sonnets break it up a little bit. So I made a graph of how many sentences they had.

Four sentences is the mode and median, and the mean is 3.95. This makes sense in the case of a Shakespearean sonnet, say (three quatrains and a final couplet), if each of those sections spaced out on the page happened to be an independent sentence. In this sample of 42 different poems, only one hit double-digits in sentence count (“Delirium in Vera Cruz,” by Malcolm Lowry.) I’m defining “sentence” as “thing ended by a period, question mark, or exclamation point, so something like “Oh!” (Wordsworth’s “London, 1802” counts).

On the other hand…you have me trying to write sonnets.

I glanced through 94 of my sonnets, written over parts of nine years, from five different sets; my Lipogram! Scorecard! output (2009-present), a bunch of lipograms on different letters (2004), some vaguely-related ones that it’d be a long story to explain (2005-2007, and one from 2011), Humbug Journal poems and comments (2004-2009), and some ones I wrote about Chicago (2011). The results are, um…a little different.

Er, so, nine of my 24 Lipogram! Scorecard! sonnets are 11 sentences (and/or fragments!) long. Four are longer than that. I’ve gotten down to two twice, in 2004, and one of those poems was written two days after the other. (One was about baseball. The other was about a spelling bee.) At the upper limit, I got to twenty in 2004 (it was a dialogue thing so it was just two people going back and forth at each other; “Really? Do you think?” counts for two sentences and is only half of a line). The mean, overall, is 8.67, and the median is 9, with modes at 8 and 11.

Three of the nine Chicago poems fit four sentences into the closing couplet.


That Trojan War guy

It will not profit an old languid king
By this still ash, among bland arid crags
Stuck with an cranky woman, just to script
Unjust laws for a group of louts and fools
That hoard, and nap, and drink, and know not him.

I cannot stop voyaging. I will drink
All drops of this world. I had lots of fun
And had a lot of pain, both on my own
And with my good companions. On land and
As rainy stars through scuddding drifts would haunt
A dim bay. Now I am a titular
Man, always roaming with a hungry mind.
I saw and know a lot; towns and harbors
And customs, tropics, councils, and monarchs.
And I was not last among this grand crowd.
I drunk in giddy joy of war with troops
Far on a ringing plain of windy Troy.
I am a part of all I run across.
But all I do is just an arch, through which
To squint at that unfound world. Its margin
Will blur always and always as I walk.
How dull it is to halt, to call a stop,
To rust in a scabbard and not to glow!
As though surviving was living. Just hours
Is all too small, and not a lot is still
Around, but any hour I clutch
From that still that will not stop. It’s a thing
That can bring many things with it. How wrong
Just for four suns to sit and hoard my mind
And this gray spirit craving a long trip
To follow truth as if a sinking star
Until an utmost bound of human thought.

This my son, my own only offspring
For whom I put down this crown and island,
I’m a fan of him, who’ll try to fulfill
This labor, by slow toil to turn mild
A brutal folk, and through soft urgings to
Instil productivity, show what’s good.
Without any guilt, working in a job
Of common duty, kind, happy, won’t fail
In pansy hugging work or stuff, and pay
Fair adoration to our local gods
Ruling on his own. His work works for him.

That is my port; my boat puffs out its sail
A dark broad bay now glooms. My sailors, you
Souls that would toil, and wrought, and thought as I,
That always with a joyful frolic took
Storms and fair days, in opposition to
Brows, scalps and minds–you know I’m also old.
Saturn still has his honor and his toil
And all will pass away, but not right now.
A work of nobility can occur
Fitting of warriors that could fight Gods.
And now lights will start shining down from rocks.
A long day rolls on. A slow lunar climb
Occurs, and many sounds moan round us. Hark,
‘Tis not too hard to look for a far world.
Push off, and sitting all in a row, lash
At sounding furrows, for it is my goal
To sail past that horizon, and all baths
Of all far-off stars, until I cannot.
Possibly distant gulfs will wash us down.
Possibly our boat shall find islands fair
And run across grand champions of Troy.
Though much is fading, much will last, and though,
I am not now as strong as, in old days
I was to push on land and sky, that which
I am, I am. A mix of all of you
Not as strong as in past, but strong in will
To fight, to look, to find, and not to quit.

Dying fish

Shall I compare you to a dying fish
That flops amid wet glass and gasps in air?
On reflection, that would not be my wish.
I think that the comparison’s unfair.

For fish are fit when water wraps their gills
But water blurs you till you’re beyond use.
For you it is not open air that kills
But in a puddle, you lie soaked and loose.

Destruction for the hope of gain, I guess
Can once in a while be justified.
But at observing you, I must confess
The shards and puddle leave me stupefied.

Why would have someone broken glass for thee,
Oh newspaper that was already free?

Bolton 2, Everton 1

New poetic form, as befits the way I heard about this story; every line is exactly 140 characters long.

An American football field is one hundred yards long when measured (as most people would measure it) between the near edges of the endzones.
It is less commonly measured in two dimensions by marching bands. “On the fifty-yard line, eight steps inside the home sideline, trombones.”
Though the director does not speak to us, we take our places, finding our coordinates in tiny text placed in a folder (of the variety flip).
A trending Tweet can be at most one hundred forty characters long, though that is enough for a quote whose context can be inferred, or quip.
If one cannot infer context, of course, it is unclear whether the quoted person is referring to a physical location or a metaphorical place.
But one could find out the story behind the uncelebratory stance, a deflection to credit the wind pushing things in three dimensional space.
So a tie is broken. But sidebar trends tend to lag, and by the time the news breaks somewhere else the tie is restored and a footnote loses.
Playing on another remembered field, the pale numbers beneath unseen, the gold halftime score above unremarkable, the marching band refuses.

Based on certain of yesterday’s events, although coincidentally not the Iowa caucus

I met a traveler from an ancient time.
Translation was tricky, far from her home
But we bonded over meter and rhyme
As she recited some forgotten poem.

She paged through an anthology I found.
We spoke of lines, and where a line should break.
We spoke of how a poem should look or sound;
What was a good start, what was a mistake.

She knew some odes to gems; pearl or obsidian,
That glittered, or had glittered in the past.
She read about ongoings more quotidian
From my peers. Well, her era couldn’t last.

“Did you–” I tried to say, “know more of truth?”
She left. I hid within a voting booth.


Shall I compare you to an icy floe
That floats atop a vast, enormous sea?
Upon reflection, the answer is “no”;
There are no penguins here, nor could there be.

They say eight-ninths of icebergs escape
Our eyes. We but glimpse one great piece of ice.
But below you’s another hue and shape.
I learned your different names. Do they suffice?

We sort by what is useful. What brings hail
Or gentle rain to nourish growing crops?
But I can’t help but wonder if words fail
To classify the hidden forms of tops.

Would wordsmiths have devised the same divides
If they could have looked at clouds from both sides?

Coiled Snake

New year, new idea for poems. I can imagine there being a lot where this came from, but no promises.

Shall I compare you to a coiled snake?
Or perhaps to twin snakes, that both lie tangled?
No, I shall not; serpents seem no mistake.
They’re keen and powerful, not frayed or mangled.

Shall I compare you, then, to a mousetrap
That lies in wait to catch the hopeless mice?
Mousetraps can be improved by skill or hap
They say, but you are regressive, not nice.

Once others stood where you, now helpless, lie
With such aid by my side, I proudly stood.
And now I fumble. Incompetent, I
Scorn you at risk to me. You’re still no good.

How am I ever going to get places
If I do not care about my shoelaces?