Without counting, I suppose the most common form of poem that I have posted on this blog is the sonnet, that incredibly versatile and powerful, elegant and intellectually satisfying 14 line verse form. Well, as they say, every new generation of creators and innovators is standing on the shoulders of the giants that went before, so here is Verlaine, writing as the nineteenth century rolled over into the twentieth, paying tribute to those giants. And, of course, it is a sonnet.
So from Petrarch to Verlaine to the present day, poets use the sonnet to compose some of their finest verse. Here is Verlaine looking back to Petrarch and reminding us of the continuity of this poetic tradition.
A la louange de Laure et de Pétrarque
Chose italienne où Shakspeare a passé
Mais que Ronsard fit superbement française,
Fine basilique au large diocèse,
Saint-Pierre-des-Vers, immense et condensé,
Elle, ta marraine, et Lui qui t’a pensé,
Dogme entier toujours debout sous l’exégèse
Même edmondschéresque ou francisquesarceyse,
Sonnet, force acquise et trésor amassé,
Ceux-là sont très bons et toujours vénérables,
Ayant procuré leur luxe aux misérables
Et l’or fou qui sied aux pauvres glorieux,
Aux poètes fiers comme les gueux d’Espagne,
Aux vierges qu’exalte un rhythme exact, aux yeux
Epris d’ordre, aux coeurs qu’un voeu chaste accompagne.
Paul Verlaine, Jadis et naguère
The first two lines immediately bring out the universality of the appeal of the sonnet. The “chose italienne” is, of course, the sonnet form itself, as developed by Petrarch, but then we go straight into Shakespeare and Ronsard, two of the masters of the form, as we have seen in a number of posts on this blog. Lines 3 and 4 relate the form to the great basilica of St. Peter, both immense and concise – the sonnet dominates poetry as St. Peter’s in Rome towers over the Catholic church.
We then go back to Petrarch – in the fifth line “elle, ta marrraine” is Laura, the great Italian poet’s muse and “Lui qui t’a pense” is Petrarch himself. The sonnets indeed comparable to religious dogma, enduring over time, robust to being used by many different poets, and cumulatively yielding a massive treasure.
The power of the sonnet is captured in the final six lines – its enduring appeal, its ability to enrich poor and miserable lives, its rhythm and order which can be brought to bear by many different poets.
The sonnet is indeed one of the wonders of human creativity, like the pyramids, the steam engine and the paper clip.
The Poetry Dude