WHAT'S IN A WORD ?

On her twentieth birthday, I gave D. a sonnet written with my own hand in calligraphic script on imitation parchment; real parchment would have been impossibly expensive and, anyway, I wouldn't have known how to use it. But at least the sentiments in the verse were not an imitation of reality. Ten years later I gave her a second sonnet, and a practice was established which has continued; 1973 (if I'm spared) will see the sixth of such verses, and I hope to live long enough to add more, though in the nature of things it will be remarkable if it happens. I now have her permission to show you the first five. Be aware of the privilege - she doesn't show them to everyone.

The present verse, I seem to recall, had its birth in the strangely satisfying experience of seeing her eyes fill with tears on reading those sonnets. Why, I asked myself, should joy and sadness both give rise to such a response ? Is a puzzlement . . . The verse itself is an unrhymed sonnet, if such a thing exists. I have an old-fashioned liking for "the ring of words" as exemplified in rhyme, so this verse was something of an experiment. I'm not at all sure that such a departure from customary practice is justified, but the reader must judge.

What is there in a poem to make me weep ?
And how can words, mere words, so wring the heart ?
For take one up and weigh it, cast its spell,
And say in what it seems remarkable.
This one here, see; it is the very same
That yesterday sold heifers at Smithfield,
And has today bought liquor in a pub,
And may next week be dead as this week's news.

But place it thus, and give it company
Of fellows, like itself rude fustian men,
And speak them fair, and see what they will do
When their small force shall batter at my door,
How soon the walls will crack and let them through
To overwhelm me with their bitter joy.

W. G. S.
December 1972


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