Monday, September 18, 2017

Chaos in Fourteen Lines

“I will put chaos in fourteen lines” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

The sonnet is known as the “Odysseus’ bow” of poetic forms. Here is a Petrarchan sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay about the art, the challenge, of this remarkable form:

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
And keep him there; and let him thence escape
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
Flood, fire, and demon—his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
Of this sweet Order, where in pious rape,
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Past are the hours, the years, of our duress,
His arrogance, our awful servitude:
I have him. He is nothing more nor less
Than something simple not yet understood;
I shall not even force him to confess;
Or answer. I will only make him good.

For those of you interested in the form and history of the sonnet, I highly recommend the book, The Making of a Sonnet, edited by Edward Hirsch and Eavan Boland. It is worth it for their introductions alone.

Peter Nash