When I was still at primary school, my parents bought me a book entitled ‘A Pageant of History’. It was a child’s guide to kings and queens (mainly English) and national heroes and heroines (Churchill, Drake, Nelson and the like). Each topic was covered in a couple of pages, and the general thrust of the publication (coming as it did only a few years after the Coronation of Elizabeth II) was to reinforce the superiority of ‘Britishness’ and glorify the ‘New Elizabethan Age’ as it was then being dubbed. It was very much of its time, and in keeping with what was being taught in schools.
One of the iconic figures described was William Shakespeare. His background and writing career were briefly summarised, and at the foot of a page, almost as an afterthought, his Sonnet 116 (‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds / admit impediments . . .’) was printed in full. I found it fascinating.
I could not understand much of the meaning, other than that it was about love, but the strange language and the rhythm of the poem held my attention and were like a puzzle to me. I even went to my elder brother, who had recently finished secondary school, and asked him what it meant. He told me that it was very complicated and meant for grown-ups, and that I would understand it when I was older. Consequently, the poem endured as an enthralling mystery, eventually committed to memory and its meaning struggled with over the years.
It also left me with a fascination with sonnets: the variety of structures applied in the form, the differing subjects for which the form has been used over centuries. It was almost inevitable that I would come to attempt to use the form in my own writing, and I have been delighted to have had a couple published. My early fascination with one particular sonnet also led me to play around with its ideas and language.
The poems below were both published online in Allegro Poetry 24, in March 2020.
The Bonfire of The Collected Works
The final straw, that last rejection slip.
Its savagery left me in no doubt
as to the weakness of the works. Found out!
The editor, whose words cut like a whip,
was right to deal his harsh but honest blow,
despite the hours I’d spent, relentlessly
struggling to give my words integrity.
So ended all my hopes; they had to go.
One last read-through, then thrust into the fire.
Sometimes odd lines still drift into my mind,
nothing of substance, nothing to admire.
I try to grasp them, sensing on my hand
a chill, like memory of dead desire,
or flakes of ash on a November wind.
Response to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116
Tumbledown, an ancient house to let,
this fabric that endures of you and me
attracts no offers; not for rent, not
even as investment to
guarantee us comfort in frail age. The
beams and rafters, bricks and roughcast of a marriage
now show decay, the wear and tear of
time; what once was regular, now out of true.
Still, we try to show that neither of us minds,
and even to best friends will not admit
that love and trust surrender to impediments.
Copyright © Gordon Gibson