Category Archives: Sonnets

TNH birthday sonnet

We stand between the darkness and the light:
The balance-point, when coming day reveals
Details that the darker time conceals,
And watch the sunlight overtake the night.
This equinox marks more than balance struck
Between the darkness, velvet cloak swept back,
And gold-robed daytime, mirroring the black.
This is the coming of the light. What luck
This luminiferous date also brought
Our hostess forth, whose writing more than glows:
Her fractal grasp of language yields prose
That’s filigreed with sunlight, finely wrought.
So happy birthday. May your day be bright.
From me, and all of us on Making Light.

Written in honor of Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s birthday, and originally posted on Making Light.

Containing Knowledge II

All knowledge is contained, but not in words.
The sparrows cannot tell the mice below
The art and joy of flight. The things they know
Just fit inside the hollow bones of birds.
And so it is with books, although I try
To case in words the things that only hands
Can truly hold. The body understands:
I love to bind as sparrows love to fly.
The feel of book blocks in the nipping press,
The fragrances leather, glue and glaire,
The paring of a hide, the ways that papers tear –
The body knows things language can’t express.
My books contain so many things I know –
Some things they say, and some they simply show.

Originally posted on Making Light, part of a meditation on books and knowledge (starting at comment 135).

Containing Knowledge I

All knowledge is contained. Each box enclosed
By bone, or paper, or HTML
Constrains the facts inside it all too well,
And separates things better juxtaposed.
For knowledge is inert until it’s mixed,
Until the facts spill out, and we compare
Our unrelated notions, stop and stare,
Assumptions overturned, at truth unfixed.
The way papyrus rolled and vellum curled,
The spread of trade as social classes changed:
These unrelated facts, when well arranged,
Can show us not just books, but all the world.
And thus the knowledge that appeals to me
Is uncontained, and unconstrained, and free.

Originally posted on Making Light, part of a meditation on books and knowledge (starting at comment 135).

How to Make Your Husband Cry

A week or two ago, one of the commenters on a weblog I frequent quoted a line from one of her dreams: “Sometimes the petal is as effective as the flower.”

And I felt the tug I feel sometimes, when there’s a sonnet somewhere inside me, waiting to come out. It took about half an hour from tug to completion, but when I read it to M, he thought it was so sweet he cried.

So, for Valentine’s day, a love sonnet.

He knows me well, and so his slightest glance
Conveys a sonnet’s worth of loving thought.
He speaks my mind so often it’s not chance
And I say what he’s thinking, like as not.
I brush his shoulder as I pass his chair,
Or as he drives, reach out and tap his knee.
He leans his head back as I stroke his hair
Then turns back to his work, away from me.
We could say more, but other things intrude,
And evenings are too short to get things done.
Our common terseness might be seen as rude
But one word’s wealth, when there is need for none.
A word, a touch, our deepest feeling shows:
The petal is effective as the rose.


The inevitable fate of a knitting blog

The threads on Making Light are known to drift —
In that, it’s just like any other place.
But they do more. They tangle, twist and lift,
Then knot and unknot, twine and interlace.
We spin threads out to unexpected length
And tug them sideways till they interact.
The intersections give the site its strength:
It stretches when it’s stressed, but stays intact.
And if our needled comments don’t create
Harmonious intarsial designs,
Our crotchets still keep threads from running straight,
Since we prefer to write with crooked lines.
When topics tangle, we rejoice. We’d whinge
If threads hung straight, since all we’d have is fringe.

Originally posted, astonishingly enough, on Making Light.

Caffeinated I

The two contenders joust with poetry:
A caffeine-fueled SF sonnet slam.
Fragano takes the part of honest tea
And Will is coffee’s advocate. Hot damn!
The verses fly. Will has the grounds to show
His drink produces forceful, urgent verse.
Fragano’s meditative sonnets go
To prove that tea leaves poets none the worse.
Now me, I drink them both, but take up arms
Against the two as well, if they’re not bought
From sources where the people on the farms
That grow them are rewarded as they ought.
So write your verse and drink your drinks, you two,
But just make sure it’s Fairtrade when you brew.

Part of a post to a caffeine poetry slam on Making Light (starting at about comment 79).

The Monkey Kings

This is a dark one. It came out of a conversation in mid-December, which strayed into a conflation between the three wise monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) and the three Wise Men. Everyone else was very lighthearted, but I have never found the monkeys joyous. That kind of denial of the world around them always saddens me.

O Melchior, you brought me gifts of gold
To make a crown that you refuse to see:
You hide your eyes lest kingship make me bold,
Seduce me on the heights, corrupting me.
And Balthasar, who gave me frankincense,
Is deaf to my pronouncements. Are your fears
That I’d usurp my Father so intense
That cowering, you cover up your ears?
My Caspar, bringing myrrh, forsees such loss
And closes fast his mouth, unreconciled
To thoughts of death, the shadow of the cross:
A monstrous gift to bring a newborn child.
Dear kings, this all was planned, and you might trust
I’ll do not what I choose, but what I must.

Technically, I am not very satisfied with this poem. The language is strained – I should have rewritten it a few times before posting it, but I doubt I will ever go back and do so. It’s a rare example of a sonnet where I haven’t used an octave and sestet structure, but rather three balanced quatrains summarised by a couplet. It fits the three-part structures of both of the stories that converge in this sonnet.

In content terms, I found it very easy to map the three kings to the three monkeys. Caspar, in particular, works well as the wise man foreshadowing the death of the infant receiving his gift, struck mute by the horror of what he has to convey. The others hide out of fear, but he does so out of pity. The point of the poem, of course, is that none of them have the full picture, which is deeper and more frightening than they can possibly imagine.

I do think, before I start doing these in my Christmas cards, that I will have to choose more cheery themes.

What to Name the War?

I wrote this in November, on a thread about what to call the war. It’s actually the second — the first was silly, and I am not minded to post silliness today.

Before I’d name the war, I’d ask to know
What I was calling “in” and calling “out”,
And how this situation’s like to grow.
It’s clarity we’ve been too long without.
New York, Afghanistan, Madrid, Iraq,
Guantanamo and London, Bali too;
Iran and North Korea, from the talk,
And then Peoria? and me? and you?
We move in darkness, as it seems to me
Not of fear only, but the shades of lie
That hide the places we become less free
And trumpet out the ways that we could die.
Until we get so used to constant strife
That we don’t call it war, but normal life.

This sonnet quotes quite extensively from one of my favourite poems, Mending Wall, by Robert Frost. It was one of my attempts to recast another poem into sonnet meter and rhyme. Both the octave and the sestet start off with Frost quotes, like a touchstone:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.


He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

I have always used Frost’s poem as a metaphor for the intellectual distinctions we make to parse the world, and the need to make those distinctions intelligently and thoughtfully. It is only now, writing this entry, that I realise that he wrote it in 1915, when the First World War was already underway. Though that conflict is far from his verse, I find this interesting.

Bench in the Botanics

Written today, for a picture taken yesterday.


Taken 9 January 2007

Beyond the hut, the gravel path turns right
To meet a branch that leads across the bridge.
And, nestled in its curve, a pleasant sight:
The wooden bench sits sheltered by its ridge.
Like half a hundred others in this place,
The seat’s a gift, and labeled with a name:
Our hostess here, whose memories still grace
This place she loved, and hoped we’d do the same.
Her unobtrusive presence here receives
Me with no ceremony, and we share
The silence as I sit and watch the leaves
Drop in the pond, and brush and braid my hair.
She is a gracious hostess, and her guest
Appreciates her gifts of peace and rest.

The only technical point I would make is that the transition between the octave and the sestet is, in this case, the transition from setting the scene to my entry onto the scene.

O Take Me

Some of my sonnets are not written rationally. It was not an easy autumn.

O take me where the Douglas firs don’t grow
In rows, but as they please. The roads will be
Awash and muddy now, but I’d still go.
As always when I fail, I long to see
The woodsmoke drifting from the chimney pipe
Above the cabin set amongst the trees;
Across the path, a dancing golden stripe
Of lamplight beckoning with warmth and peace.
O take me from this cold, uncompromising place
Built up with stone and weighted down with years.
Perhaps at home I’d rediscover grace
And find the heart to overcome these fears.
I’ve lost the sense of who I want to be.
O take me home, while there is still a me.

Technically, this sonnet uses the transition from octave to sestet to move from the dream, the longed-for forest (and this is a specific forest, with a specific cabin) back to the city where I live. Thus the pessimism – swap the order and make it present first, then dream, and the poem becomes much more imaginative, less dark.

I am a bit bothered by the false rhyme of “trees/peace”, but I’ll live with it.

Emotionally, the content is what it is. I love Edinburgh deeply, but sometimes I do get homesick.