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1000 Black Lines

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Retreat reading reviews and meditations

For the road, I packed five books to read and have completed three. I may not complete the other two before I return. However, I do have a few thoughts on the first two I finished reading.

[ 1 ]


Sonnets of Orpheus
I completed reading Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus. Two things struck me as a bit odd. Rilke is considered Germany’s celebrated lyric poet and Orpheus is considered the mythologic poet/son of Apollo. The odd part, in my humble opinion, is that the English translation lacks the musicality of lyric poetry. This may be due to the word for word translation of sonnets from German to English. The sonnets themselves contain the essense of Rilke’s imagination, but I felt something was fundamentally missing. At first I thought it was like listening to Handel’s Messiah sans chorus. Next I considered that maybe the spirit of the sonnets was absent or usurped for an accurate, literal translation into English. It is not that I didn’t enjoy the book, but I didn’t experience the rich textures that I did when reading Rilke’s Elegies.

The sonnets themselves are, for the most part, technical sonnets (i.e. four strophes; four lines in the first two strophes and three lines for the final two strophes). Due to the literal translation, many of the sonnets did not feature iambic pentameter nor rhyming lines. This challenged me to view sonnets differently. Sonnets outside the realm of Shakespearian or Spenserian formalism.

Two nights ago, I wrote a diameter, free verse sonnet just for the exercise. The format is much to my liking -- more a syllabic sonnet than a metrical sonnet. I more explore this neoformal sonnet.

[ 2 ]


A Book of Minutes
I completed reading Cathy Smith Bowers’ A Book of Minutes. Organized in the fashion of a medieval prayer book the collection uses the formal poem structure of a minute: 60 syllables in length and three strophes with the following line structure; 8, 4, 4, 4--. I think the original form included rhyming couplet but Cathy Smith Bowers rarely includes rhyming lines. She does include some double minutes (120 syllables, 24 lines, six strophes) and some informal minutes (does not follow the 8, 4, 4, 4-- structure).

The Book of Minutes is divided into the following sections: Martins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Martins, Sext and Vespers intrigue me most. Martins is a collection of herb minutes. Sext is somewhat autobiographical minutes. Vespers collects memorial minutes.

I seem drawn to syllabic poem structures. Between Rilke’s sonnets and Bowers’ minutes I am further attracted to the thematic and formal structure with which to explore ideas. Rilke’s sonnets explore life and death and love in two parts. Bowers’ explores various themes including life and love and loss and memory in eight sections with each section representing an interpretation of an medieval prayer book.

  1. Anonymous Divine Calm | 5:10 PM, July 19, 2006 |  

    We should be like the old scholars who knew at least four or five languages. Then we all could enjoy Rilke in its true glory.

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