Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sonnets from the Portuguese--XXXV

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange
And be all to me? Shall I never miss
Home-talk and blessing and the common kiss
That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange,
When I look up, to drop on a new range
Of walls and floors, another home than this?
Nay, wilt thou fill that place by me which is
Filled by dead eyes too tender to know change
That's hardest. If to conquer love, has tried,
To conquer grief, tries more, as all things prove,
For grief indeed is love and grief beside.
Alas, I have grieved so I am hard to love.
Yet love me--wilt thou? Open thy heart wide,
And fold within, the wet wings of thy dove.

* * *

I just finished the letters of the Brownings today. Elizabeth Barrett wrote to her future husband, Robert Browning, every day, and sometimes twice. Her life was a sad one before her marriage: her father refused to allow his daughters to marry, and her own ill health kept her in her room almost constantly. When Robert was, after much pleading, allowed to meet her, he wrote her a letter declaring his love. She destroyed the letter and urged him never to speak to her of love again. But after a long correspondence, she finally did accept his love.

In this poem, she speaks of her fear of leaving her home and family to marry Robert. This was a very real fear--when she ran away from home to Italy with Robert, her father cast her off completely, returning her letters unopened.

Here Elizabeth expresses her hope that Robert will fill the empty place in her heart from her family. Since her mother, to whom she was close, had died some years before, she feels much of what she would have possessed in home-life is already gone. She hopes grief will be easier to conquer than love has been--since, try as she might, she has not been able to drive away love. Grief, however, may well be passing.

I am tempted to go on strike until I get more ballades--but I won't. I'll just warn you that time is running out on that contest!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Ballade Contest

All right, here it is: the long-awaited ballade contest. Now is the time to let your entries come pouring in--or to scratch your head and hope for inspiration.

I'm posting some examples of the ballade form, written by Chesterton and Belloc, in another post. That should give you an idea of what ballades are all about. But here are the basic characteristics.

1. The rhyme form is ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC. That is, three stanzas of eight lines, and one of four. The final capital C stands for the refrain. Rhyme is continuous throughout the poem--all a's rhyme throughout, and all b's--fourteen b rhymes altogether! So pick an easy-to-rhyme word to end your second line. "Orange" simply will not do.

2. The refrain: this is a catchy little bit to end each stanza. It has to sound the same in each line--but you may change the punctuation, swap in a homonym here or there--just so long as they sound the same.

3. The Envoi. This is the final four line stanza. Chesterton, Belloc, and company would address this to the prince. As we have none, do as you will, but please address it to somebody. You can just say "Prince" and let us guess who you mean, throw in the President, or address it to your mother. But the Envoi is meant to be a sending-forth or farewell stanza--as Byron's introduction to Don Juan:

"Go, little book, from this my solitude;
I cast thee on the water: go thy ways!
And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
The world will find thee after many days."
When Southey's read, and Wordsworth understood,
I can't help putting in my claim to praise--
The first four rhymes are Southey's, every line:
For God's sake, reader! take them not for mine.

So, send your poem out to somebody. It could be me. I don't care.

4. On some study, it looks like iambic pentameter is the thing for ballades. If another foot suits you, that's fine with me, but pick a solid medium-length line. For examples of what I mean by iambic pentameter, see the sample ballades. Or just say, "ba-DUM ba-DUM ba-DUM ba-DUM ba-DUM." Or read some Shakespeare aloud. You'll be able to hear it.

5. Any subject will do.

Just leave it in the comment box or email it to enchiridion1 at yahoo dot com. I'm looking forward to the submissions--if I get any. Be brave and try one! They're easier than they look.

Two ballades

"A Ballade Of Suicide"

by G.K. Chesterton

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall.
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours - on the wall -
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me.... After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay -
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall -
I see a little cloud all pink and grey -
Perhaps the Rector's mother will not call -
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way -
I never read the works of Juvenal -
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H. G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
Rationalists are growing rational -
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
So secret that the very sky seems small -
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall -
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Untitled ballade

by Hilaire Belloc

I like to read myself to sleep in Bed,
A thing that every honest man has done
At one time or another, it is said,
But not as something in the usual run;
Now from ten years old to forty one
Have never missed a night: and what I need
To buck me up is Gilbert Chesterton,
(The only man I regularly read).

The Illustrated London News is wed
To letter press as stodgy as a bun,
The Daily News might just as well be dead,
The 'Idler' has a tawdry kind of fun,
The 'Speaker' is a sort of Sally Lunn,
The World' is like a small unpleasant weed;
I take them all because of Chesterton,
(The only man I regularly read).

The memories of the Duke of Beachy Head,
The memoirs of Lord Hildebrand (his son)
Are things I could have written on my head,
So are the memories of the Comte de Mun,
And as for novels written by the ton,
I'd burn the bloody lot! I know the Breed!
And get me back to be with Chesterton
(The only man I regularly read).

Prince, have you read a book called "Thoughts upon
The Ethos of the Athanasian Creed"?
No matter - it is not by Chesterton
(The only man I regularly read).