PAGE INDEX   DRAFTING A SONNET
 
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New Poems
Vern Barnet


I tried to stop writing and focus simply on promoting my book, 
but more sonnets have happened, and other verse, too.


A FRESH SONNET

A friend asked me about enjambment, a technical term in poetry for the continuation of a thought without a pause beyond the end of a line or other section of a poem. Since it has been so long since I wrote a new sonnet, this one sprang forth, in the context of a friend's interest in science. The octave is free of enjambment, but each pair of lines in the third quatrain illustrates gentle enjambment such as Shakespeare frequently employed in the Sonnets.

A Lover Undresses His Beloved
with apologies to John Donne
"Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare."
--Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
IF EUCLID surely looked on beauty bare,
and Kepler heard the music of the spheres,
with Newton's moon and apple one affair,
and Einstein saw in space what we call years,
If Mendel saw how traits succeed and pass,
and Darwin taught us how what lives evolves,
If Higgs gave gauge bosons their certain mass,
and helix men have proof all doubt dissolves,

Then what of St Teresa and that thrust
repeated till she quivered with God's zeal,
or Rumi's longing for the one whose trust
made in him all the gloried world congeal?

Let us discover what is now and dear
when we behold what present is bare here.

____

John Donne, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, dubbed a 'metaphysical' poet by Dr Johnson, used odd scientific conceits in many of his poems, including the sexy ones.The epigraph is the first line  from one of Millay's most famous sonnets.The puns are obvious, and I hope enjoyable. The "helix men" are, of course Watson and Crick of DNA fame. 


ANOTHER FRESH SONNET

I've been reading about the "neo-baroque" style of literature, thinking about the historic baroque period in the arts (such as Don Quixote, Las Meninas, Bernini's David, Bach -- perhaps the English "metaphysical poets" can be considered baroque) and in what little I know of the neo-baroque in recent Spanish literature. And, as I write this, Holy Week approaches.
 

A Neo-Baroque Easter

“I was a hidden treasure and I yearned to be known. 
Then I created creatures in order to be known by them.” —Hadith

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. --  John 1:1

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change.
-                           --"Pied Beauty," Gerard Manley Hopkins

Now Person’s words that here appear diffuse,
dissolved, absorbed, like terrorists who hide
among civilians whose conditions bruise
distinctions (fore- and background coincide)
and any person's words, endeavors, dear,
disguised by past forgotten caves and days,
obscure the matter with a face of cheer,
will still God’s wrath and grace with one clear phrase.

Then shines the sun and that one Person’s raise
to God (for He is God) forth colors bloom
and with this Easter power does still blaze
raised hope from every person’s inward tomb.

Who speaks these words (perhaps a lonely God)
creates a lovely world that’s even odd.


A THIRD FRESH SONNET

I woke up Apr 19 with the scroll in my mind and wrote the following sonnet. Although it is based on a Western fascination with history and thus distorts the intent of the painting, part of the collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (you can find an image at the UChicago site and a text from the Nelson here)  and a commentary here mainly on the First Prose Poem. I record my sonnet here for what it might be worth simply as a piece of writing. (During his exile, Su Shi and his friends in 1082 visited the site of the historical battlefield, the Red Cliffs (Battle of Chibi), 208/209 led to the end of the Han dynasty, some twelve years before the Three Kingdoms period. Still, the scroll is really about nature and not history, so I intend to write a more correct sonnet to redeem this initial effort.
 

An American Looks at Su Shi's Night

On viewing Qiao Zhongchang’s 
Illustration to the Second Prose Poem on the Red Cliff
 

You left your friends to be alone,
unsettled into nature's rocks and streams,
familiar trees were changed as moonlight shown
into mystery and history’s regimes.
The overgrowth and tangles trip your voice
to shout into the cliff which echoes out
a question charged, Do we have fate or choice?
By crane’s sharp cry your quiet boat marks doubt.

I see you dream immortals in your home,
but what is space and time and really real?
How much environment, how much genome?
Should we decide by facts or what’s ideal?

So Han, or Gettysburg, or World Trade plots—
In God's great gambling house, are such just slots?



A FOURTH FRESH SONNET

I woke up early one morning after the day before I learned that the results of a CT scan revealed a spot on my pancreas. I was determined to complete my work as best I could in what time remained to me, and to enjoy each moment as fully as possible. The story below was vivid for me. Then I wrote the sonnet. (A follow-up CT scan suggests the spot is merely a benign cyst, through another scan in a year is recommended.)

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
     Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted! 

--Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, p22-23.
The Berry

A young Zen guy by tiger chased to edge, 
to cliff, to precipice, to fringe, to end, 
now fleeing, forced. he falls from final ledge;
no lifting angel saves; he must descend. 
Below a further beast awaits with jaws 
slobbering to taste this saintly meal 
assured by gravity and nature's laws 
he'll not defeat sure death, nor time repeal. 

He spies and grabs a berry as he spills 
below, and from that twig tastes heaven's best: 
delicious! in this briefest second, thrills! 
Then body torn asunder finds full rest. 
     The Fall is certain danger; I spy Christ, 
     a berry so delicious, sacrificed.
  My pancreatic cancer spies me Christ,
        a berry so delicious, sacrificed.


A FIFTH FRESH SONNET
I had  no intention of writing, but this spilled out quickly as I looked out the counterfactual window, imagining my summer youth on an Iowa farm.
The Farm

The snow was falling, summer leaves now wet,
their green glistening; no polarized lens
extracts their weather magic; no, not yet;
and livestock shiver in their sudden pens.

The wet turns green to glaze, ablaze in lights
the red truck throws while engine fails to click;
so unprepared, the cold, the silence frights
so still, so unforecast, this nature's trick.

And yet sublime: this helpless scene, this farm
of art construed by chance and cortex curl
drafts purest gold if what we thought was harm
calls forth this precious moment in snow's swirl.
     This treat of dying slows the mind to see
     a shattering drift of black eternity.


A SIXTH NEW SONNET

A clergyman friend of mine suffered a stroke. I wrote this for him as he was hospitalized and recovering with therapy.

 
The Stroke

When what befalls is furnished with a stroke
with plans thus banged aside like broken beams 
and dreams disintegrate as if one woke
while cream is mixed with stone or so it seems —
When pleasant glass instead becomes a glare
with child’s play now confounding as a chore
and what was full is focused on the spare
while precious are what empty shelves still store,

Then I pray Thanks that glory may be found
in even a position that’s been crossed,
for any mishap may with care be crowned
and more be gained than what’s been lost.
     Our God casts all times sacred, every place,
     and kisses all conditions with His grace.



 
A SEVENTH NEW SONNET

In Another Universe, Isaac Newton Falls in Love 

"The fitful tracing of a portal" --Wallace Stevens


We sense transcendent presences will last, 
yet all tight windings soldered in the brain, 
gesticulations now, shaped by the past, 
distrust such intimations, disdain, feign. 
For our anesthetizing, digital 
reality is commerce more than creed; 
we see our lives played out as fictional, 
a flat identity, procumbent greed. 

Though quantum nothingness quakes minds aghast, 
here is this tree, this soil, this sky, this you
and me in this fine kiss, eternal, fast, 
delicious, bold, our end and our debut. 

This waking tremble world makes us its guest; 
it radiates, tumbles words, breath to rest. 

For earlier versions, visit drafts
 


NEW SONNET EIGHT
Slightly better than doggeral, it served its purpose.
("Feet" is a triple pun, in case anyone is counting.)

Poetic Feet

Apollo in disguise, you are my friend:--
the Appalachian Trail's poetic feet 
in epic time you gather and transcend 
becoming bard and spiritual athlete. 

Some music, ancient art, and food we share, 
though parking was a scraping, crunching turn, 
reminding us that life requires repair: 
young you, old me, we both are here to learn. 

I hope at last you got a good night's rest 
and find today's delights include your pen 
to tell the story of your trek with zest 
to bring to present what was glory then. 

I celebrate your love of nature's art 
with words that trace a beauty in your heart.
 
 


 
NEW SONNET NINE

Descartes's Vortices

There is a  disk, a spot, a sphere of me
that rotates, twists, dissolves, and reappears
a mirror scene or pixel play to be
time's Clorox on my paper face and years.
This is, or was, or what will be, is tense,
a light beam's history held choking tight
constructing what we humans construe sense
and dense patterns: you or me, wrong or right.

Beyond the dual-illusion, the not-two,
the worldless, wordless sun will set and shine
and make our era's shadows somehow true:
The lining prism's colors spread, divine.
     The void that is the bathtub's swirl and drain
     can mystery export but not explain.
 
 




#drafts
Writing a Sonnet
Each appearance* of the muse is different.
Then the workmanship begins.

Read the latest version at the top first
or start at the bottom to see how the sonnet formed.

As I reflect on these drafts, 
I see how critical it is to get the sound right.
And the proper title, in this case

9. 
In Another Universe, Isaac Newton Falls in Love 

"The fitful tracing of a portal" --Wallace Stevens


We sense transcendent presences will last, 
yet all tight windings soldered in the brain, 
gesticulations now, shaped by the past, 
distrust such intimations, disdain, feign. 
For our anesthetizing, digital 
reality is commerce more than creed; 
we see our lives played out as fictional,
a flat identity, procumbent greed. 

Though quantum nothingness quakes minds aghast, 
here is this tree, this soil, this sky, this you 
and me in this fine kiss, eternal, fast, 
delicious, bold, our end and our debut. 

This waking tremble world makes us its guest; 
it radiates, tumbles words, breath to rest. 


8. 
In Another Universe, Isaac Newton Falls in Love

We sense transcendent presences will last,
yet all tight windings soldered in the brain,
gesticulations now, shaped by the past,
distrust such intimations, disdain, feign.
For our anesthetizing, digital
reality is commerce more than creed;
we see our lives played out as fictional,
a flat identity, procumbent greed.

Though quantum nothingness quakes minds aghast,
here is this tree, this soil, this sky, this you 
and me in this fine kiss, eternal, fast, 
in what is real, our end and our debut. 

This waking, tremble world makes us its guest;
it radiates, tumbles words, breath to rest. 


7. 
In Another Universe, Isaac Newton Falls in Love

We sense transcendent presences will last,
yet all these windings soldered in the brain,
gesticulations now, shaped by the past,
distrust such intimations. What's to gain?--
For our anesthetizing, digital
reality is commerce more than creed;
we see our lives played out as fictional,
a flat identity, procumbent greed.

Though quantum nothingness quakes minds aghast,
here is this tree, this soil, this sky, this you 
and me in this fine kiss, eternal, fast, 
in what is real, our end and our debut. 

This waking world (words tremble, tumble, rest)
radiates, a breath given to each guest. 


6. 
No universe, no kiss

We sense transcendent presences will last,
yet all these windings soldered in the brain,
gesticulations now, shaped by the past,
distrust such intimations. Do we strain?--
For our anesthetizing, digital
reality is commerce more than creed;
we see our lives played out as fictional,
a flat identity, procumbent greed.

Though quantum nothingness quakes minds aghast,
here is this tree, this soil, this sky, this you 
and me in this fine kiss, eternal, fast, 
in what is real, our end and our debut. 

This waking world (words tremble, tumble, rest)
radiates, a breath given to each guest. 
 

5
We sense transcendent presences will last,
yet all those windings soldered in the brain,
gesticulations now, shaped by the past,
distrust such intimations. Are we sane?--
For our anesthetizing, digital
reality is commerce more than creed;
we see our lives played out as fictional,
a flat identity, procumbent greed.

And so this tree, this soil, this sky, this you
and me in this fine kiss (eternal, vast)
is what is real, our end and our debut;
the quantum everywhere is always cast.

This waking (where words tremble, tumble, rest)
radiates, a breath given to each guest. 

There could be nothing, but the guize of time
and space is ours to share and find sublime.
and space is ours to mime and stay sublime.
and space is ours to claim sublime and mime.


4.
We sense transcendent presences will last,
yet all those windings soldered in the brain,
gesticulations now, shaped by the past,
distrust such intimations. Are they sane?

For our anesthetizing, digital
reality is commerce more than creed;
we see our lives played out as fictional,
a flat identity, procumbent greed.

And so this tree, this soil, this sky, this you
and me in this fine kiss (eternal, vast)
is what is real, our end and our debut;
the quantum everywhere is always cast.

kiss bliss

This waking, where words tremble, and we kiss
and breathe the cosmic fact within our bliss.

words tremble, tumble, rest)
radiates, a breath given from God's Guest. 


3. 
We sense transcendent presences will last,
yet all those windings soldered in the brain,
gesticulations now, shaped by the past,
distrust such intimations. Are they sane?
For our anesthetizing, digital
reality is commerce more than creed;
we see our lives played out as fictional,
a flat identity, procumbent greed.

And so this tree, this soil, this sky, this you
and me in this embrace, eternal, vast,
is what is real, our end and our debut;
the quantum everywhere is always cast.

Words tremble, tumble from their places and breath stops

kiss
bliss
This waking where words tremble, tumble, stop

radiation


2. 
We sense transcendent presences so vast!
yet all those windings soldered in the brain,
gesticulations now, shaped by the past,
distrust such intimations. Are they sane?

when our anesthetizing, digital
reality is commerce more than creed
and see our lives played out as fictional.


1. FIRST DRAFT

We sense a transcendent presence so vast
when our anesthetizing, digital
gesticulations run out at last
and see our lives fictional.

     Idea: The sacred is at the periphery of our awareness, and the distractions of our commercial culture push it further from our consciousness. Yet moments arise when we sense its grandeur and we are grateful to behold this mystery, for there could have been nothing, no universe, no being, at all.

[*Seldom does the muse appear to me first with an idea; usually the muse is simply an itch; but I don't have documentation of such to offer. I also came to realize how Wallace Stevens was influencing the kind of play between abstractions and concrete images as the writing progressed.]


WORKING

I woke. A dream insinuating ease 
erased my ignorance. Resolved to self, 
a character whose unrehearsed degrees 
like action toys arrayed upon a shelf 

by accident or storm or blindfolded god, 
 

I live, and I believe that I will die,
before the Singularity thinks all,
and all in all, and never wonder why,
with silicon, not carbon, protocal.
Then flesh, if digitized to every port,
will breathe a ghost of soul, consuming thought

transformed to quantum

O thou Total Universal Robot,
 



TOTAL ECLIPSE  (c) 2017 Vern Barnet, Kansas City, MO 

O mighty music of the spheres, now sigh!
     and hush your circling song as day turns still;
     your majesty must modest be, and shy,
     for rare impairment's danger plays with thrill. 
The sun, the faithful king of age and day, 
     whose yearly and diurnal journeys count,
     the eye by which the world can work and play,
     is dark! -- and yields to stars his full amount.

Those frightened ancients played to Einstein's clue
     when Sol's own tune gapped, gasped, in orbit's race:
     A rest in music amplifies the view
     of sacred patterns perfectly in space.
This pause, short dark, now foreground, plays our sight,
     refreshes usual ground -- and gives delight.

---
The sun's Latin name is Sol (often pronounced "soul") which is why we call the arrangement of bodies around the sun the "solar system."  Beginning at least with Pythagoras and through the Renaissance, musica universalis was part of a unifying picture of the cosmos, an arrangement of spheres described in terms of music, mathematics,  and astronomy. As musical tones vary according to the length of the instrument's strings (or tubes or slats or such), so the orbits of celestial bodies were thought in proportion to generate a heavenly harmony too great for human ears. The musical theme is insinuated in each stanza with "play."
     Data from the 1919 total eclipse, observed by Eddington, was an early verification of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. "Rest" and "ground" include musical meanings and confound hearing, vision (background), and other sensibilities. 
     With variation, calling the sun the eye of day has been a poetic convention at least since Sophocles. And "Sol" is, of course, a delicious paronomasia, pun, for us stirred by the eclipse.
     And with the couplet's "gives delight," I tried for a Shakespearean ambiguity since background and foreground create each other.
     And for literary folks: gratitude to Helen Vendler who discovered the "couplet tie" in Shakespeare's sonnets. Mine should be easy to spot.

Thanks to actor Walter Coppage, called by The Kansas City Star "an actor for all seasons," for reading the sonnet -- twice -- during an eclipse observance.


 
 
 
 
 

Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire

Summer Recess

While the second printing of the book is in progress,

please enjoy

YouTube videos of many folks reading from the book,

Two interviews (one very long) about the book

the blog about dozens of presentations,

including earlier this year Candlemas,

and a Lenten series.
 

AND

contribute your comment on the book or on a particular sonnet!

Write vern@cres.org

Thank you.