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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: August ::
Sonnet 89
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1520  Thursday, 12 August 2004

From:           Jack Hettinger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Aug 2004 23:11:46 -0400
Subject: 15.1511 Sonnet 89
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1511 Sonnet 89

Bill Arnold says, "OK: inasmuch as we have *some* evidence in the
sonnets by Will. S. of his authorial intent to construct them
autobiographically, does it not behoove scholars to consider the fuller
question?"

Anthony Hecht, in his chapter "Shakespeare and the Sonnet" in Unheard
Melodies (2003), puts I think a better case:

"But we may approach the question in another way, one that centers on
the nature of poetic form and the demands it makes on the materials it
must employ and put into artistic order. The raw materials of poetry can
be recalcitrant; the demands of form can be severe. How are these
conflicting elements to be reconciled? Here is W.H. Auden's especially
persuasive answer to that question:

"'In the process of composition, as every poet knows, the relation
between experience and language is always dialectical, but in the
finished product it must always appear to the reader to be a one-way
relationship. In serious poetry thought, emotion, event, must always
appear to dictate the diction, meter, and rhyme in which they are
embodied; vice versa, in comic poetry it is the words, meter, rhyme,
which must appear to create the thoughts, emotions, and events they
require.' [from Auden, ed., Selected Poetry and Prose of Byron]

"If what Auden says is right (and it seems to me almost indisputable),
then the question of the documentary nature of the Sonnets is largely
irrelevant. This will no doubt leave some readers feeling cheated. But
the Sonnets are, first and last, poems, and it should be our task to
read, evaluate, and enjoy them as such. Devoted attention to each of
them in its own right will yield striking discoveries.... They contain
puzzles which will probably never be wholly answered, and this may be a
part of their enigmatic charm. But most of all they speak with powerful,
rich, and complex emotion of a very dramatic kind, and we cannot fail to
hear in them a voice of passion and intelligence" (49-50).

That Auden's remarks come from his introduction to Byron, who throws off
his mask in the later cantos of Childe Harold, seems most appropriate,
but even Byron is hard to sift, especially in his masterpiece Don Juan.

Through the years beginning in college, I have felt that, except in
cases of literary revenge and roman or poeme a clef, and even then only
when something especially juicy or profound is afoot, biographical
rooting-around leaves us with nothing, no pleasure, no charms, no
feeling of being intensely human, just voyeuristic and gossipy. As I
prep my modern lit course for the fall, I wonder how my notion will go
over when we come to the likes of Yeats, Robert Lowell, Ivy
Compton-Burnett, Plath, and others who are catnip to assorted causes.

Hardy, if I continue a pre-voyage thread that we should have snipped in
your absence, forgive me, but I forgot what was what while you were away
from these shores.

Jack

[Editor's Note: I do think this thread has reached its useful conclusion.]

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