Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shakespeare's Sonnets - a virtual anthology of lyric possibility

A virtual anthology of lyric possibility - in the poet's choice of sub-genres, in arrangement of words, in tone, in dramatic modeling of the inner life, in speech acts...Shakespeare almost never repeats a poet has ever found more linguistic forms by which to replicate human responses than Shakespeare in the sonnets. When lyric poems are boring, it is frequently because they possess only one organizing structure, which reveals itself unchanged each time the poem is read...the poem needs some other principle of interest to sustain rereading.

The fundamental structure of Shakespeare's sonnet is the evolving inner emotional dynamic, the fictive speaker is shown to see more, change his [or her] mind, pass from description to analysis, move from negative refutation to positive refutation, etc. The proffering and hierarching of several conceptual models at once is, as I see it, Shakespeare's main intellectual and poetic achievement in the sonnets...the successive emotional tonalities of the sonnets, from abjectness to solitary triumph, from perplexity to self-loathing, from comedy to pathos. The issue of a good poem must be urgent to the poet.

Most of the sonnets lend themselves to more than one schematic representation...the self-lacerating intelligence in the later sonnets produces a voice so undeceived about reality and himself (his perjured eye) that the reader admires the clarity of mind that can so anatomize sexual obsession while still in its grip, that can so acquiesce in humiliation while inspecting its own arousal, that can lie freely while acknowledging the truth. To represent such a voice in all its paradoxical incapacity and capacity is the victory of Shakespeare's technique. - Helen Vendler

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