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Monday 19 November 2007


Since you have introduced me to the Onegin stanza, Alon:

While her husband's in the water
the coxcombs crowd like butterflies.
She weaves the way her mother taught her.
If they hope that with their lies
they can persuade, they're wrong! She'll never
make her choice, for she is clever.
Although she knows her husband strays,
she'll keep within her faithful ways.
With pride she views her work, while hating
the way that she has used her mind
with independence, just to find
herself obediently waiting,
unravelling so craftily
the shroud that could have set her free.


Lynet said...

Okay, I posted that too fast. The fourth and sixth lines are effectively missing an initial syllable as a result of me not paying attention and following the weak syllable that ends the previous line with a strong syllable at the beginning of the next -- but -- that sequence from the third to sixth line has a beautiful, resolute iambic pulse because of that that works really well!

Thoughts, people? Which comes first, the form, or the nice iambic effect? If I hadn't already posted, I'd probably change it. But I have to admit, the current version has real advantages!

The Exterminator said...

I really enjoyed this poem, Lynet: the content and the word choice and the music of it.

It's a non-Shakespearean, non-Petrarchan sonnet. Let's call it Lynetian (to rhyme with Venetian):
abab ccdd effe gg. Each quatrain has its own rhyme scheme. Nice.

The Exterminator said...

I was already writing my comment above before I'd read yours. I don't think the fourth and sixth lines are missing a thing -- not when you read the poem aloud.

I would like to reorganize the way I laid out the rhyme scheme, though. I think this makes more sense: ababcc dd effe gg.

You could claim, particularly because of the punctuation, that the final couplet should be tagged onto the previous quatrain to make the poem a sextet, a couplet, and a sextet. But that's not the way my ear likes it best.

Alon Levy said...

In Pushkin the sharpest divide is between 12 and 2, I believe. But it's really flexible, and he's been known to begin sentences in mid-stanza and continue them into the next stanza.

Lynet said...

Actually, Ext, it has a name already. Pity, because 'Lynetian' sounds rather nice. However, as hinted at by the initial comment, it's called an Onegin stanza. This is because it was first used for Alexander Pushkin's epic Eugene Onegin. I found out about it from a comment Alon left on my previous sonnet.

The Wikipedia page notes, incidentally, the ambiguity you have noted in the way the stanza can be divided. For this poem, I'm entirely in agreement with your reading of six, two, four and two.


Yes the sharpest divide would be between twelve and two -- at least, it would be whenever you have a break between lines 8 and 9. The tetrameter pulse is really strong -- much stronger than pentameter. However, the feminine endings break it up and stop it from getting carried away (rather clever, that, now that I consider it). With a break between the eighth and ninth, we find that the longest stretch without such a break or feminine ending is from lines 10-12, thus making the break between lines 12 and 13 correspondingly stronger.

The Exterminator said...

... as hinted at by the initial comment, it's called an Onegin stanza.

Yes, just today I chastised someone over at my blog for not reading what people had written. I did point out, though, that I was frequently guilty of that myself.

Lynet said...

Well, Ext, you must have read the poem reasonably carefully to have so good a feel for the way it's put together.

I guess you knew how to spot the part of the post that was really important :-)

The Exterminator said...

Hey, Lynet, I don't know if you've ever seen this Web site, but it has a list of quite a few sonnet forms, some of which you might want to explore:
The Sonnet Page at "The Poet's Garret"

Lynet said...

Hm, well, I don't know why I'd want to split up an abbaabba into abbacddc. Well, unless I really wanted to use a word that didn't have many rhymes. On the other hand, the Spenserian looks quite useful. Like a Shakespearean, but more strongly interlinked.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Lynet and company,
Nice poem and interesting conversation. I like it and like in most poetry for me, I need to work a little to understand it. But it has a nice song like flow, and also a nice ambience or atmosphere about it.

You have a gift there. Looks like the possibility of doing more of that and a book down the road?

Lynet said...


'Penelope' is definitely one of my best. I haven't actually been writing poetry for very long. Not good poetry, anyway -- getting the hang of how to use form made a big difference to me. As far as understanding it goes, you know it's a reference to Odysseus' wife?

Alon Levy said...

I didn't catch that... it definitely puts the poem in another context.

Though I contend it still retains some of its meaning if you don't see the title, and assume the husband is any sailor rather than Odysseus.

The Exterminator said...

All good poems should have meanings that stand apart from the works to which they refer. However, this poem becomes truly excellent when you understand how Lynet has taken a specific mythical story and made it universal. Great poems are about the music of speech, but they're also content-rich.

Question: If you didn't catch the reference to the Odyssey in the title, what did you think the title meant? Just curious.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Okay, I'll have to dig a little. My knowledge of the classics is appalling.

But I do enjoy good poetry and form, as you point out, is so important. And as Exterminator says, good poetry is definitely content rich.

L.L. Barkat said...

I like it, even though I haven't the faintest idea what it's about (well, except that there's much tension here). And, yes, Penelope is a great character for bringing that tension forward. Sometime you must reveal its secrets, O wandering Odysseus.

Lynet said...

Though I contend it still retains some of its meaning if you don't see the title, and assume the husband is any sailor rather than Odysseus.

Why, thank you.

Actually, I suspect its meaning might change, a little, when you don't have that extra fact. Not in a bad way, just in a way that applies the central idea of the poem to a slightly different sort of situation. The mythological background brings to the story these facts: her husband is not dead, he will come back, and she won't have changed her mind in the twenty years it will have taken him to do so. None of those things is essential to the basic tension, but they do put it in a slightly different light.

Oh, and the fact that Penelope's choices as a woman in ancient Greece are actually severely limited may or may not be relevant, depending on your interpretation; to me, it's part of the irony that she's probably right to refuse the suit of any power-hungry man who would be likely to kill the son she already has so as to give the throne to his own heirs, etc.


I honestly had no idea it could be difficult to understand at all. Surely it's obvious what it's about, at least as regards the specific mythology in hand?

I apply it to several things about me that are only barely related, to be honest -- but that is my interpretation! For, yes, I can most definitely distinguish between the ideas the poem itself contains and the details in my own life that made me portray those ideas in the first place.

I have given Penelope my own obedience, my own pride, my own independence, and an entirely Lynetian sort of trap to fall into. Beyond that, her story is her own, for others to interpret as they will.

Alon Levy said...

If you didn't catch the reference to the Odyssey in the title, what did you think the title meant?

I didn't think it meant anything, honestly.

L.L. Barkat said...

Yes, I did get the "top" meaning, if you will. Penelope's plight. But I was reading for Lynet. The obedience, the pride, the independence you mention... to what plight do they apply?

Lynet said...


Forgive me, but I'm going to chicken out on that one. There's still a part of me that feels guilty for not liking my obedience, and I'd rather it didn't wake up.

'Scuse me while I go listen to some Queen. That always helps.

Lynet said...

Cross-posted from my comment onThe Raft:

I was a rather strange kid. When I was a teenager, my usual summary of the typical adult reaction was a glumly sarcastic "Everybody come and look: [Lynet]'s got a funny mind."

Oh, wait, that's a Penelope moment. You wanted an example, LL? Well, I used to be oddly proud of the way everyone thought I was special, and at the same time I hated it. On the one hand, I'd be pleased that people (read: adults) thought well of me, and on the other hand I used to hate the way I sometimes felt as if I was playing to their script. I wouldn't know if I'd said something because it was clever or because I'd meant it. And if I
did mean it, then somehow the fact that it was clever would grow large and obscure its reality. So I was playing with full scintillating intellect into a pattern that was crushing me to some extent. Which is something I've done a lot of times, in a lot of ways (I can't resist a competition, sometimes, and I could give a couple more 'Penelope moments' based on that). But I feel bad distilling 'Penelope' into "playing with full scintillating intellect into a pattern that was crushing me to some extent" -- I'm sure it loses a lot in translation and I wish you'd take the real version.

I think there are parts of me that I didn't know were real until I went to [insert name of fairly impressive university], where cleverness wasn't a major factor and I suddenly realised how much of myself I'd been missing.

'Penelope' is also a much, much better version of 'Daughter's Sestina' (look under 'July' in the sidebar if you haven't seen that one and want to) -- it's wiser, deeper, more accurate, and more broadly applicable both to me and to others.

I'd better cross-post this to the 'Penelope' post, hadn't I?