The Shakesperian Sequanza
872 AD : Colga mcConnagann abbot of Kynnetty, the best and elegantest Poet in the kingdome, and their cheefest chronicler, died.
The Annals of Clonmacnoise
Of all the poetic forms we moderns have inherited, it is the pretty little fourteen lined sonnet that offers the poet keys to the kingdom, so to speak, for within its myriad possibilities lie the secrets to the esoteric nature of the art. As these lectures progress, I shall reveal these wonderful mysteries one-by-one, but for now let us examine what should be the goal of all prospective sonneteers.
Ever since the Tuscan poets brought the sonnet out of Sicily, there has been a penchant among certain poets to place their sonnets in a sequence. Of these, the English senate has declared that Shakespeare’s collection of 154 sonnets is the finest, thus it is perfectly natural to use this model as our benchmark.
It is clear from a reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets that his sequence is actually a collection of seceral sequences, written over the span of three decades. Published in 1609, we can trace at least one of them to the early 1580s;
Those lips that Love’s own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said “I hate”
To me that languished for her sake.
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that, ever sweet,
Was used in giving gentle doom,
And taught it thus anew to greet:
“I hate” she altered with an end
That followed it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away.
“I hate” from hate away she threw,
And saved my life, saying “not you.”
In 1971, Gurr proposed this sonnet was actually written for Anne Hathaway, noticing a possible pun in ‘hate away’ & hathaway, while ‘and saved my life’ was a phonetic match to ‘Anne saved my life.‘ The editor of Gurr’s essay, FW Bateson, suggets that phonetically, ‘in Stratford in 1582 Hathaway & hate-away would have been a very tolerable pun,’ & Shakespeare really did love his punning. With Shakespeare’s name appearing elsewhere as ‘Shagspere,’ pronunced with a short vowel like the ‘a’ in cat, we can see how the Warwickshire vowel lengths were interchangeable, & how Hathaway could easily have become Hate-away. If Shakespeare is writing this sonnet to Anne, we can see how he had developed a teenage crush, after which he ‘languished for her sake.’ Was this indeed the very ‘woful Ballad / Made to his Mistress’ Eye-brow,’ that Shakespeare alludes to in As You Like It.
Other sonnets in the sequence are written to William Stanley. Leo Daugherty, in his brilliant book, ‘William Shakespeare, Richard Barnfield & the Sixth Earl of Derby’ declared that he had made ‘conclusions of some enormity,’ & actually ascertained the identity of the Handsome Youth;
A few years down the road, & increasingly mindful of Haines’ caution to Buck Milligan that Shakespeare’s sonnets are, ‘the happy huntingground of all minds that have lost their balance,’ I nonetheless came to conclude from the evidence I accumulated that not only was Barnfield’s Ganymede the sixth Earl of Derby, William Stanley, but also that Barnfield’s published poems from 1594 (including over twenty homoerotic love sonnets) were in dialogue with some of Shakespeare’s own homoerotic sonnets to his Fair Youth… we hardly have reason to be very surprised if, after all, Shakespeare’s beloved & revered male addressee might turn out to be William Stanley
If Shakespeare did accompany Stanley, then one of these amorous encounters could have been played out with the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, of whom Aubrey Burl writes; ‘After so many centuries and after so many people have searched the records for her identity, to those seekers she has remained… the mysterious woman of darkness.’ Things can never be so cut & dried as this, however, & a simple read-through of Stanley’s Garland, a ballad describing his travels on the continent during Shakespeare’s ‘lost years,’ throws up a natural candidate;
Sir William was taken prisoner,
And for his religion condemn’d to die.
A Lady walking under the prison wall,
Hearing Sir William so sore lament,
Unto the Great Turk she did go,
To beg his life was her intent
A Boon, a Boon, thou Emperor,
For thou’rt a Lord of great command ;
Grant me the life of an Englishman,
Therefore against me do not stand,
For I will make him a husband of mine,
Whereby Mahomet he may adore ;
He’ll carry me into his own country,
And safely thither conduct me o’er.
The Lady’s to the Prison gone,
Where that Sir William he did lie ;
Be of good chear, thou Englishman,
I think this day I’ve set thee free ;
If thou wilt yield to marry me,
And take me for to be thy bride ;
To take me into thy own country,
And safely thither to be my Guide.
These events are said tohave taken place in Constantinople , today’s istanbul, & if Leo Daugherty was correct in identifying Stanley as the Handsome Youth of the Sonnets, then it is in the ‘half-year’ or so after he was released from prison that he found himself in the company of a Turkish noble lady who had fallen in love with him. This story contains elements of the ménage a trois between Shakespeare, the Handsome Youth & the Dark Lady, & all that remains is to place Shakespare in Constantinople at the same time, where he would have marveled at the Turkish Lady’s non-Aryan beauty;
In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,
Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland’ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
The back-story as provided in the Garland is a perfect fit for that found in the sonnets, from which we must presume that a Stanleyan Grand Tour seems not only possible, but probable. Returning to the sequanza, we can then see the Rival Poet archetype found in the sonnets as Richard Barnfield, dating these particular sonnets to the early 1590s. The picture I am painting is of a Sequanza being a collection of sequences, an overall umbrella in which to place the similarily-themed & formed writings of a poet. In the same fashion, following the plan of the Divine Comedy, a Dantean sequanza would consist of 100 cantos, subdivided into three books of 33 cantos & started off with an introductory canto. The Shakespearen sequanza is more of a metaphysical beast, less linear than the Dantean, it works with archetypes, onto whose essence a poet’s particular mood & style may pin his creativity. With Shakespeare, I believe the ‘Handsome Youth’ archetype was used for both William Stanley & Henry Wriothesley, the young Earl of Southampton to whom he dedicated Venus & Adonis. Similarily, when creating my own Shakesperian Sequanza, The Silver Rose – which you can read here – I comblended the love sonnets I had written to various women into a paean to an idealised female figure I named Sally Cinnamon.
(for Elinor Dickie)
My love, as our love is spreading wider than the morning
Together, with waking day, in the wake of night
Let us settle in silent ecstasy
Observers of cities below Watching
From this high advantage Developing
On heath, up hill, Enveloping moments
As one For like a flight of swallows lift
On ocean winds, above the isles We touch
Soft spirits sail higher Eyes comitting
Pleasure beckons Mercurial kisses
We smile As kitten paws a mellow mouse
The lion roars inside these feral souls
& we are born again, the music of the morn
Accompanies these energies love’s mysteries supply
(for Glenda Rome)
(for Katie Craig)
Come with me to my bed, so that in love & sleep we may learn to trust one another Circe – The Odyssey Book X
As every maid Odysseus posess’d
Pinn’d Telemachus, home now, to their breast…
I want to wake beside you every day
Tell you I love you, ask if you’re OK
Give you a kiss if you’re going to work
Or hide if you’re menstrual & going bezerk
For ye are the one thing I crave here the most
Ycamped on the crest of this ocean coast
Where under me sea nymphs whisper your name
& above glitter stars with your eye-light’s flame
As an eagle glides by me as deft as you do
All these & this singing reminds me of you
For you are the music that livens my drumming
Be patient, my love, I am coming…
The first of my Silver Rose sonnets were written in 1998, with the last being etched indelibly only last year. Inbetween I had written literally thousands, some in epic sequences & some were simply individual ones that flew into my mind. A few years ago I realized that to place 154 of my sonnets in a fresh sequence would be an excellent thing to do, & after doing so I have slowly preened & pruned the bush, adding any new sonnets that ‘made the grade,’ which inevitably meant the weakest sonnets would have to be removed. Finally, at the close of last year, I felt the sequence had been brought to perfection, & if any sonnet were to be removed, the whole sense & structure of the sequanza would suffer. In short, the Silver Rose was complete.
My personal immersion in the sonnet form has coincied roughly with my own bardic training, & because of the merits I have discovered of the sonnet in teaching me all aspects of the art, I believe that a Shakesperian sequanza should be placed upon any curriculumnof the new bardic school – perhaps to be read out towards as the bard approaches graduation to his happy classmates. For those poets just setting out, if you are going to write a Shakesperian Sequanza, you must write your first sonnet – & keep writing them over many years to come. Record your life through its little lens, & as you approach your twentieth year of training, really work hard on creating your very own sequanza – you really only get one chance at this, for you only get one life & only the very best of this life’s sonnets should find their way into your collection. Good luck!