Behind the Sonnet

Captain Phil (Phil Merkel) invited me to his radio show recently to discuss my sonnet.  If you were unable to listen in, here is the full text:

HI, my name is Walt Williams, though I write as W. B. J. Williams to keep myself from getting confused with other authors of the same name.  I have a novel in print, The Garden at the Roof of the World, which is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other fine book sellers.  I also have a short story with Abyss and Apex magazine.

Phil and I have been friends since I was sixteen.  When he learned that I’d written a sonnet for my wife on our 29th wedding anniversary, he asked me to share it with you, and to tell you a bit about it.  I jumped at the chance.

First, let me share with you the sonnet itself, and then I’ll talk about it.

Would you walk with me in the soft moonlight

Star strewn sky glimmering, hope in the night

in the shadows we stroll, your hand in mine

hearts dancing to crickets, music divine

Would you walk with me under the hot sun

Sweat clad hands held, over the sand we run

Seeking quiet shady groves and solitude

A fragrant breeze, an echo of quietude

Would you walk with me in the driving rain

Or in the snow like we did so long ago

Memories delighting, ignoring pain

Hand in hand through puddles and hills of snow

We approached the huppah, you took my hand

Our delight worn daily, our wedding bands

 

The poem was inspired while watching twelfth night with my beloved wife of 29 years.  I am always inspired by Shakespeare’s delightful iambic pentameter.  I’ve written Margo poetry for over a third of a century, giving her new poems on valentines day, her birthday, and of course our anniversary.  Finding new motifs and new themes is always a challenge, especially as the core message is I love you and I love that you’re in my life.

I’d never tried a sonnet before, but knew the different versions and how a sonnet is meant to be a discourse that is resolved in the final couplet.  There was no argument or issue I meant to resolve in my poem, so in that lack, the poem fails as a sonnet.  I chose to go with a form popularized by Spensor, as I delight in rhyming couplets.  I once spent two weeks straight talking and writing in rhyming couplets, after reading Orlando Furioso.  I only stopped after Margo threatening divorce if I didn’t stop.  This is why in the sonnet, I break the rhyme scheme in the third verse.

Because the idea of writing a sonnet for her came from Shakespeare, I went to his rhyming scheme for the third stanza, rather than doing homage to the older Italian rhyming schemes, or the more modern ones.  Again, a very subtle reference but one I expected she’d get.

The poem is filled with references to events Margo and I have shared in our courtship and marriage, and even refers back to another poem I wrote about Margo in the Chinese Moon Garden in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  This garden has two names given to it by the Chinese artists who created it.  In translation, these names are “In Search of Quietude”, and “In elegant repose”.   Some of the events are from our courtship, like the beach, others from our life as a married couple, such as the hills of snow, recent – ignoring pain in the rain, to a long time ago, our first walk together at night in New York City on our first date to see Moonstruck.

As the poem didn’t have an argument needing resolution, I resolved the past and the present in our walk to the huppah and in my wearing her ring.

When I presented her the poem, I explained how I broke the rhyme scheme twice, once with a bad rhyme, once with breaking the rhyming couplets.  She asked me to see if it worked better if I tried it formally.  I reworked it, and we both agree, the broken version is better.  Our lives are more beautiful because though lived brokenly, they are lived together.