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Italy is considered to be the homeland of sonnet. The first sonnet was written by Sicilian poet Giacomo da Lentini. The term was derived from the Italian word “sonetto”, i.e. ‘a little song’. Petrarch and Dante, Chaucer and Shakespeare made the genre of lyric. The peculiar features of the genre include strict number of lines and stanzas, strict rhyme scheme with few modulations. There are usually fourteen lines and two stanzas – two quatrains and two tercetes, written in iambic pentameter, though it is as far as English language is concerned. There are cases of tetrameter- and hexameter sonnets as well (Miller, 1). This is the structure of classical Italian sonnet, or so-called Petrarchan sonnet. The rhyme scheme, characteristic to Italian sonnet, goes as follows: ABBA ABBA CDE CDE or ABBA ABBA CDC DCD. That means that in both quatrains the cases of enclosed rhyme occur. The point is, actually, that quatrains build up a solid structure – an octave pattern. Tercetes build up a flexible structure – a sestet, having two or three rhyming sounds that can be arranged in many different ways. (Miller, 1)
The spencerian sonnet is the creation of Edmund Spencer. The rhyme scheme of the sonnet of that kind goes like this: abab bcbc cdc dee. (Miller, 2) The English or Shakespearean sonnet is built up of 3 quatrains and a couplet. It has the easiest and most flexible rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg. (Miller, 3)
First of all, what really attracts attention is the graphical form of the poem. I believe that in case with Cycle Sonnet one deals with calligramme. The term calligramme was introduced by Guillaume Apollinaire, French avant-garde writer. By the look of it, the text of the poem is arranged, I believe, in the form of a pell. As for the rest, it is a traditional sonnet, written in iambic pentameter with vowel (masculine) rhyming. The text flourishes with alliteration and assonance. The repetition of sounds and certain morphemes (blur-, blear- etc.) has the effect of suggestion. Contrasting epithets (revolving door, crawling hours, blurring world etc.) make stress upon the contrariety of entity of things and events. So to say, it is a kind of Aristotelian and Joyce’s notion of “ineluctable modality of the visible” and the way it works in poetry. The title of the poem has to do with its theme: the flow of the time in human life at the different ages. The poem is accordant to a well-known riddle: who walks in the morning on all fours, on two in the sun and on three in the evener. A man, and to whom time is the only judge.
Judging from the background of the sonnet, hardly we can know for sure what kind of person the lyrical hero is. Somehow I believe this to be a masculine poetry. Still, it does not matter if one deals with a person, who is nostalgic about the childhood, past pleasures and happiness, which can be regarded as a symbol of a light heart. Persona is, definitely, an adult, pensive about his life, being at the point of reversal, caused by some striking, remarkable, disturbing occurrences. The idea is that life is cyclic and in course of time only the good rings the bell, although a man is given to sentiments.
To a persona of ‘On Retiring’ sonnet the chain of events, a cycle, is a kind of a vicious circle. Tranquillity means peace and serenity, deliberate rhythm of life. That is what the hero seeks for. The sonnet is written in traditional form. The meter of the poem is iambic pentameter with pyrrhic. The poem has vowel (masculine) rhyming. Repetition of words, derived from their transposition from one part of speech to another (e.g. mean (as a verb) – meaning (a noun), dream (verb) – dream (noun) etc.). There are lots of metaphors (to live livelihoods, we’ll wake to dream etc.), metonymies (journey’s end, the road be paved with gold or yellow brick etc.), simile (more near each day than far), oxymoron (old lives die) etc. There are cases of alliteration (repetition of consonants b, d, l, r, m) and assonance (repetition of vowels e, i, u). The theme is accordant to that of the ‘Cycle Sonnet’ but it is considered from another perspective. The positivism of the first sonnet is opposed to the morose knowledge and understanding of life. The idea is that hereafter will come after the old stepped aside. This observation, though, is salted, but cruel. This is the essence of time, actually. The lyrical hero is pensive about past and future at the moment of present, life and death, being adult, the persona descants upon youth and age.
In both sonnets life is deprived of its limits. It is either chain of transformations, a vicious circle, or a boundless cycle. Life is a road, limited but miraculous. Life is breathing and one has infinity to die. The very idea of trying to explain all these in prose is nonsense. Life, friendship, love, kindness, God (as well as things they are opposed to) have undergone immense degradation. They are sacral, consecrated. “Ars longa, vita brevis” an ancient proverb goes. Oscar Wilde admitted once (and it became a well-known paradoxe), that: “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Art” (Wild, The Decay of Lying – An Observation, 1889). On the other hand, “Art never expresses anything but itself” and “Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art”. (Wild, The Decay of Lying)
Nowadays the truth is that art remains to remind people of sanctity of life. But there are very few of those, who commit themselves to music, painting or literature. The number of those, who open a book, visit concerts of classical music or perceive visual arts, is decreasing as well. Self-containment is a curse for both. Poetry indicates the state of human soul. As soon as people who need poetry might have disappeared, poets will no longer exist too.
To wind up with the analysis of the poetry, it necessary to say that the very choice of the genre is testimonial. It indicates the trends in literature, namely the revival of classicism, i.e. canonicity in literature through the eye of the world.