(by the ancient lawgiver who threw himself on his blade to satisfy a legal technicality)

625 b.c.e.

Yours is a hard but hardy justice: When
__The Poets weighed their verses on the scale,
Proud Homer saw the Verse of Peace prevail
__Against his wars—But both sprang from one pen:
You lurk in each. The Law is old. So why
__Did I think you new? Your spirit is the same
As stalked Orestes, by another name:
__Blood repays blood. My blindness cost an eye.
Yours is a cold and ancient justice, how
__In the womb of Earth the world’s first law was named
When the Titan Time, made sovereign, proclaimed
__The Rule of the Iron Blade, and that was thou.
Though the heavens tumble, said the God, recall:
__No thing to excess. How does Justice fall?

 

This poem is part of Daniel Galef’s series Imaginary Sonnets. Each sonnet is a verse soliloquy from the perspective of a different historical figure. Previously published installments have taken as subject Lucrezia Borgia, Saint Dagobertus, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, and the sorcerer Pan Twardowski. Besides poetry, Galef also writes fiction, humor, and plays—including the play The Bottomless Pit in the Back Room of Nick’s Speakeasy which is set to premier at the Théâtre MainLine in Montreal in February directed by Alissa Zilber.


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8 Responses

  1. Lew Icarus Bede

    Why do I fight the sonnet? Because I want a longer cadence. And yet Mr. Galef’s language here is powerful indeed. This hybrid sonnet, Italian and English, as in abbacddceffegg, used by poets, like Sidney and Donne, with echoes of Shakespeare and Blake, forcefully brings the theme of Justice to the fore. I am reminded of arguments in “Merchant of Venice” between Portia and Shylock.

    The balance of long and short sentences is excellent. The questions are superb. Though the run-on lines suggest prose, the loose, but dominant metric, holds them firmly in place. The strength and vigour of the lines remind me, in various ways, of Milton, Jeffers, and Faulkner. What I particularly like are the details, the invoking of ancient Greece, Homer, Orestes, Cronos, the dramatic setting, and the octave/sestet echoic break.

    Reply
  2. James A. Tweedie

    This hybrid rhyme scheme (as referenced by Bruce) is the one I was taught in High School. I have used it ever since with the occasional variant, abbacddcefgefg, not fully realizing how unusual these forms were until I became an active member of this site 1 1/2 years ago. I still prefer the form used by Daniel and find it curious that nobody has commented on my frequent use of it. Personally, I find it a solid, lyric alternative to the Shakespearean form. I am glad Bruce pointed it out and glad that he found it to be used effectively in this poem, as I did also.

    Reply
  3. Wilbur Dee Case

    What I appreciated about Mr. Galef’s poem was its quieter message that, like a continuous thread, stitches the poem together with its thoughtful antidote to such crass concepts of Law and Justice, when he brings subtly into his woven artifact in the final line the tempering, Aristotelian phrase “No thing to excess”.

    One can see early in the poem how, where he notes “Homer saw the Verse of Peace prevail”, he introduces this milder motif, though with a Frostian attitude, as he discounts it with “both sprang from one pen”. I am reminded of Vergil, who undoubtedly personally preferred the pastoral, but in looking through epic, though tearful, eyes embraced Homer’s vision of a brutal “Odyssey” and “Iliad” as the Aeneid’s backbone.

    One can be impressed by Zaleuchus the lawgiver of the Epizephyrian Locri in Italy, who did “pen” the first written Greek law code; but one can also see how he stumbled over his own dramatic responses to life as well, when he blinded himself for his son’s error and died incautiously upon his own sword.

    Mr. Bede mentions Portia from “The Merchant of Venice,” and certainly her memorable lines are pertinent here.

    “The quality of mercy is not strained;
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
    ‘T is mightiest in the the mightiest; it becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown:
    His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
    The attribute to awe and majesty,
    Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
    But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
    It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
    It is an attribute to God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
    When mercy seasons justice.”

    Reply
  4. B. S. Eliud Acrewe

    What makes Mr. Galef’s sonnet a hybrid is its very English conclusion with a couplet; but the rhyme scheme of abbacddcefgefg is full-fledged Italian.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Perhaps I am mistaken, but I thought the octet of a “full-fledged” Italian/Petrarchan Sonnet ran abbaabba (as in Milton’s “On His Blindness”). That is why I described abbacddc as a hybrid. Perhaps I should have used the word, variant?

      Reply
  5. B. S. Eliud Acrewe

    Mr. Tweedie is correct; the octave of an Italian sonnet runs abbaabba, as does the French sonnet, a variant of the Italian sonnet, with a sestet ccdede, ccdeed, ccdccd… The Russian sonnet, that practiced by Pushkin, runs ababccddeffegg. I personally am fond of the Portuguese and Spanish tercet divisioned rhyming schemes in the sestet.

    The first American sonnet was developed by Romantic American poet James Gates Percival (1795-1856), using quintet envelopes, such as abba…cdddcefffe or cdedc, etc. Other writers as well have come up with what they call an American sonnet, like contemporary Ernest Hilbert; I think even Mr. Anderson has his American sonnet. Many years ago, in my Postmodernist phase, when I too was more heavily invested in iambic pentametres and sonnets, I created an American sonnet with a rhyme scheme of ababcdecdefgfg, which ran counter to the Anglo-Saxon urge for the sound bite, in avoiding couplets. I also used it as a stepping stone for longer poems with a rhyme scheme wave of ababcdecdefgfghijhijklklmnomnopqpq… But those days are gone.

    When Mr. Tweedie wrote he still prefers “the form used by Daniel”, it took me some time to realize he wasn’t talking about the famous Elizabethan sonneteer Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), who tended to use the English sonnet.

    Reply
  6. C.B. Anderson

    In short, the submissions to this journal have become richer and better as time passed. This was to be expected, but by no means guaranteed, and, Daniel, I hope it registers in your consciousness that you have furthered the hope that inspired the inception of this venue. There is justice, and then there is poetic justice. Don’t fall on your sword; rather, lean on your pen.

    Reply

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