Sonnet cycles and Michael Drayton's Idea

2024-01-21 @Literature

Poem cycles, or more specifically, sonnet cycles, once made for a not unreasonable means of chronicling your vicissitudes. At present, unsure if the form sees much light of day in contrast to memoirs, diaries, blogs, phlogs and my personally detestable micro-chronicling platforms. But at least as of the early 20th century, the sonneteering outlet did not exclude plain quotidian expression, be it clever and a tad symbolic.

Shaping a journal entirely of allegorical sonnets used to be the thing, never mind if only among a certain adept elite, if not in court favour. If we’re to limit to strictly sonnets (rather than diverse poetic form), among a handful of famous cases we’ve Shakespeare’s 154, Spenser’s Amoretti (around 90), Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella (around 90 also), or Petrarch’s exorbitant collection (naturally).

Cervantes and Quevedo penned sonnets, though unsure as to how many and if belonging to any cycle. And I desperately want to include the 70-80 sonnets of Baudelaire’s Fleures, though the entire oeuvre sports much varied form. Heavy autobiographical component to all this poetry. Anyway, the list knows no end.

Clearly a sonnet facilitates a vastly varying scope beyond autobiographical. Spenser, probably my favourite sonneteer of the English language, likewise published visions, parables and historical accounts in the sonnet form. As Petrarch. Donne produced holy sonnets.

19th century romantics and decadents sonneteers produced endless romantic and decadent sonnetry. Pushkin wrote Onegin (the picturesque novel in verse not devoid of autobiography) wholesomely in sonnets, never mind that irregular and octosyllabic.

I leave you with that humble survey. Meanwhile …

I’d recently read Michael Drayton’s Idea (1594, revised through 1619), a 64-sonnet cycle full of stylistic diatribes, allegories and symbols. Most of it passionately lashes at a woman, as the numerous cases above. But a range of subjects give manifest under the guise, ie aging, motivation, self rebuke, metaphysics, time, jealousy, criticism, topography, proverbs, and on and on. Entertaining to say the least.

Most of it, despite the heavy metaphors, I found syntactically a notch simpler over the Elizabethan sonneteers aforementioned. That being relative, the sonnets still lent to a deciphering effort that made for anything but a sterile reading experience (this reader’s nightmare).

If Spenser is the McCartney, and Shakespeare, the Lennon, then Drayton falls somewhere along the Harrisons. Most of his sonnets, a tad inferior, but the best competes with the best.

And we compare to the best after all. For essentially Drayton produced an admirable and rarely imitable product which I had great fun in gradually perusing in small daily batches.

Questions, comments? Connect.