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Archive for May, 2008

I Knew a Woman

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
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So far, we have looked at examples of the Italian sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and a sonnet variation by Berryman. Here’s an example of an English sonnet by Shakespeare with an a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g pattern. The turn happens in the final two lines.

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You will only expect a few words, what will those be?

When the heart is full it may run over, but the real fullness stays within.

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Beloved, my Beloved, when I think
That thou wast in the world a year ago,
What time I sate alone here in the snow
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink
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The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
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My letters! all dead paper, … mute and white ! —
And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee to-night.
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When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curvéd point, — what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
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The Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) is a collection of 44 love sonnets written in the period of her life leading up to her marriage to Robert Browning. She wanted to protect the couple’s privacy and was hesitant to publish them. At Robert’s urging, she published them under a title disguising the poems as translations of foreign sonnets.
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When people think of a sonnet, they think of a 14-line poem with a strict rhyme scheme and meter. But with the advent of free verse, modern poets like John Berryman continued to use the form in a contemporary way.
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The Abbey

I could sit silently in one place
and know by the smell on their black robes
which nun took a seat behind me.
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