Archive for Petrarchean Sonnet

On His Blindness

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on May 11, 2013 by telescoper

As I often do when I’m at a bit of a loose end, I just picked up a book of poems and dived in at random, which took me straight to the following sonnet by John Milton. I therefore stumbled upon a phrase “(“they also serve who only stand and wait”) which is is such common usage that I had never really thought about where it might have come from. Anyway, this is as nearly perfect an example of a Petrarchean (or Italian) sonnet as you could wish for, although the meaning is often been misinterpreted simply as an encouragement to be passive. Seen in its proper context, it seems to me that what Milton is saying is more like “Don’t be frustrated by what you can’t do, because God also knows your limitations, just do whatever you can – even if it’s not much”. As far as I know the poem is undated, but was presumably written after 1644 when Milton began to lose his eyesight. It could even be as late as 1655 by which time he was completely blind.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

by John Milton (1608-1674)

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A Sonnet in Autumn

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on October 8, 2011 by telescoper

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Sonnet No. XLIII by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

A Sonnet of Significance

Posted in Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on August 3, 2010 by telescoper

Inspired by Dennis Overbye’s nice article in the New York Times about the plethora of false detections in physics and astronomy, and another one in Physics World by Robert P Crease with a similar theme, I’ve decided to relaunch my campaign to become the next Poet Laureate with this Sonnet (in Petrarchean form) which I offer as an homage to John Keats. I’ve slavishly copied the rhyme scheme of one of Keats’ greatest poems, although I think I’ve made all the lines scan properly which he didn’t manage to do in the original.  Nevertheles, I’m sure that if he were alive today he’d be turning in his grave.

Much have I marvell’d at discov’ries bold
And many gushing press releases seen
But often what is “found” just hasn’t been
(Though only rather later are we told).
Be doubtful if you ever do behold
A scientific “certainty” between
The pages of a Sunday magazine;
The complex truth is rarely so extolled.
So if you are a watcher of the skies
Or particle detection is your yen,
Refrain from spreading rumour and surmise
Lest you look silly time and time again.
Two sigma peaks – so you should realise –
Are naught but noise, so hold your tongue. Amen.