Scorn not the Sonnet -- a belated Poetry Friday post
Well. Crap. I tried to set this up to post yesterday, and it so didn't. I can't find it on anyone's friends lists, etc. Grr. So here's a replay, if you've seen it, or a little something new if you haven't.
For this week's post, a sonnet by Wordsworth. In the past, I've posted part of his Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood and It is a Beauteous Evening.
Scorn Not the Sonnet
by William Wordsworth
Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
Mindless of its just honours; with this key
Shakspeare unlocked his heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch's wound;
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camöens soothed an exile's grief;
The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned
His visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp,
It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faeryland
To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains--alas, too few!
In these 14 lines, which he claimed were "composed, almost extempore, in a short walk on the western side of Rydal Lake," Wordsworth has provided a brief bibliography of the masters of the sonnet, beginning with Shakesepare, moving throughout Europe, and ending with John Milton.
Francesco Petrarch was a Renaissance man -- literally. He's known as the father of humanism, in addition to being a scholar and poet. He fell in love with a woman named Laura from afar (while in church, no less), and wrote 366 poems about her, eventually collected by others and called Il Canzoniere. He used a form of the sonnet inherited from Giacamo da Lentini, which became known as the Petrarchan or Italianate sonnet. (Poor Lentini.) I covered the different types of sonnets in an earlier post.
Torquato Tasso was a 16th-century Italian poet most famous for his epic work, Gerusalemme Liberata, an epic poem about the battle between Christians and Muslims for Jerusalem in the First Crusades. He was welcomed by many royal patrons, but suffered from mental illness that prevented his enjoying it. Based on modern psychology, it would seem he was schizophrenic.
Luís de Camões, usually rendered in English as Camöens, was Portugal's greatest poet. Born in the 16th century, he wrote an epic poem called Os Lusídas about the glory of Portugal, along with a significant amount of lyrical poetry, including a great number of sonnets, ranging from a paraphrased version of the book of Job to poems about ideas (akin to what Wordsworth excelled at).
Dante Alighieri's life spanned the transition between the 13th and 14th centuries. His masterwork, La Commedia ("The Divine Comedy"), continues to be a source of inspiration for artists, authors and poets, even seven centuries later. The Commedia was broken into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, and features in part his beloved Beatrice, who was immortalised in another work, La Vita Nuova, from which I quoted in a post after my grandmother's death. (My guess is that the name Beatrice was chosen by Daniel Handler to be Lemony Snicket's unrequited love based on Dante's writings.)
Edmund Spenser was Poet Laureate of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. His most famous work is The Faerie Queene, which was essentially a huge sycophantic poem for the Queen and her Tudor ancestry. He was venerated by Wordsworth, Byron and others alive at the turn of the 19th century. For those fans of the 1995 movie version of Sense & Sensibility, the lines which Colonel Brandon reads to Marianne near the end are from The Faerie Queen.
John Milton was a 17th-century poet known for his epic poems written in blank verse*, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. Milton was opposed to the monarchy, and supported the republican ideas of Thomas Cromwell, which went swimmingly for him until the Restoration, when he was forced to go into hiding. He emerged after a general pardon was issued, only to be arrested. He was eventually released, and died a free man. During the course of his life, Milton went blind, probaby from glaucoma; as a result, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes were all dictated to others. Although they are frequently construed as religious works, Milton was writing about the revolution and restoration; his religious beliefs were outside the bounds of Christianity. In addition to his work in blank verse, Milton wrote a number of excellent sonnets, which were revered by Wordsworth and others.
*blank verse is the term for unrhymed iambic pentameter, used by Milton in his masterworks, by Shakespeare in his plays, and by many others as well. It remained quite popular as a means of composing verse until at least the late 19th century.