As my project, I attempted to queer themes found in Astrophil and Stella, and instead rediscovered my hatred for creating poetry! It was an adventure, to say the least. Below, there are two poems I wrote after pulling apart the common themes between Nic’s selection of Sidney’s poetry, followed by a discussion of how that went and the choices made.
For her, the moon itself, which pales
to compare to her heav’nly beauty. Graced
by her, even the written word, fault-less, fails;
Ava, whose attention cannot be replac’d,
by naught but sorrow, or mourning wails.
Oh, to be fled from once more, a taste
of her lingers on lips still spinning her praises,
golden threads woven through her dark hair
in the hopes that mine Ava would but raise
her hand, again, to my cheek; her brown skin, she fair
tenderly caresses me, making mine heart weak.
The moon for her love; in missing her, death I seek.
Words are water in these hands; where others find
rich clay, mine eyes seek only Ava – Muse –
heav’nly idol and ever-striking serpent; whose
velvet tongue lingers ‘cross seas of memory, behind
eyes burnt by angelic images of her. I, left blind,
stumble toward her shape in a crimson river
where sound meets taste. Ex-sanguine, I quiver,
Ava’s halo slipping, her piteous stare penetrates the
shell of mine corpse. Voice empty of her sovereign smile,
whisper her name and slip into the abyss. “Without me,”
Muse spurns, “your words become wretched; vile.”
Though I pulled out plenty of themes to play with, I did want to redirect some of the major themes of the original pieces. I tried to work more on the idea that Ava, the “muse” of the poet (who, yes, is named Avid for the sake of trying to mirror the vibe of Sidney’s poem title), was once in a relationship with the poet and chose to leave her. Avid isn’t over it, and is going through depressive episodes in which all she can consciously think about is her ex-lover.
I randomly selected the themes of Romanticism, Masochism, Consent, (Metaphorical) Death, and Idolization to work around, and pulled the rhyme schemes from two separate Sydney poems and cut them apart into two new rhyme schemes to try to emulate in my own poems. Having a guideline like that was much of the driving force behind getting these poems done, though it made editing more difficult than it had any right to be. It’s difficult to make quality assessments about poetry, especially when you made them, so editing them is a whole separate bag of worms to that of prose and one I had forgotten about having to dig into.
Something Nic said in class struck me hard while I was working on my project. He asked if Mary Sidney Herbert managed to break the genre restrictions of the sonnet in her writing. Being so concerned with being true(-ish) to the sonnet form, I completely spaced the restrictions of the genre, which wouldn’t have allowed me to intentionally work against them. Research would have been crucial to adding more depth and subversion, but, too caught up in storytelling, I didn’t do a whole lot of that. I think my work fell short of the mark, dredging up old sonnet themes where the subject of the poem is a woman who endures the objectification of idolization. When one becomes an idol, their character, their personality, their subtleties – all are lost to the idolatry.
It’s unclear as to whether or not the goal of the poems was a success. It allowed me to pay more attention to Sydney’s poems (whether they be deserving of close attention or not), and to delve into what aspects appeared to be crucial to the making of a Romantic-era sonnet from the perspective of one author’s creations. But I’d need the keen eye of a poet to pull them apart and make something new and improved rather than a feeble attempt to add some representation to the styles of dead poetry (here is where I’d call on Quinn if I remembered his username. Sorry about that, Quinn).
Why does literature matter?
Literature was, is, and will continue to be a living, breathing entity. It shapes, and is shaped by, culture, and so it should matter to those in that culture. It can give readers a glimpse into the past while also providing cautionary themes to be mindful of in the present. But in the way that I care about it most, literature can give hope for a brighter future. If it shapes culture, that is what it must be coaxed to do, and it must constantly be moving forward. Literature matters because representation matters. Literature matters because people matter, and how they feel is relevant. Text, subtext, language – it can all work to make the world safer through bringing understanding and representation through literature.