Sonnet VI. Fiona Zheng

Violinist Fiona Zheng and her father spent part of their lives fleeing communist authorities in China after her mother and grandmother were killed for refusing to renounce their peaceful practice of Falun Gong. She is currently touring North America.

Oh the sumptuously sorrowful sound
Heaving tales of the years on the road:
Torn from mother and ransacked abode,
Waking up in some place on the ground.

When she rises and looks all around
At her luggage, a scant little load,
It’s as if she has broken a code,
For she sees her violin has been bound

In an energy, hope for the future—
Such a meaning she’d not seen before
Midst the burden of practicing’s bore.
Soon she sheds an invisible suture

On her flawlessly flying fine fingers,
Leaving marvelous music that lingers.

 

 

 

Sonnet VII. Prince Fortinbras

When Hamlet is performed or made a movie,
Almost always they leave this prince out.
Directors simply say, “Since it behooves me,
Cut it. The play’s too long and fine without.”

Or is it? Denmark rots but he does not;
While Hamlet asks, “To be or not to be?”
He raises men who’d die upon the spot—
An army with poetic bravery

And in the final scene when “this fell sergeant,
Death” arrives to claim his cold reward,
From Heaven’s grace, comes he, a vital agent,
Who wields a regal hope and peaceful sword.

To cut out Fortinbras is thus quite tragic;
He shows the wider scope of Life’s grand magic.

 

 

Evan Mantyk is President of the Society and teaches English literature and history in the Hudson Valley region of New York.

 

 


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12 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    Dear Evan –

    I admire the way in which you have championed this gentle violinist, who has suffered so much.
    Unfortunately, there are some places where, to me, the meter is flawed – not many, but perhaps what I will write below might make for a smoother ride through your lines and stanzas.
    This is my version of the one that bothers me most:

    Sonnet VII. Prince Fortinbras

    When Hamlet is performed or put on film
    Most always they ignore him; leave him out.
    Directors simply say, “Since it behooves me,
    Cut it. The play’s too long, and fine without.”

    Or is it? Denmark rots but he does not;

    I hope you will not be offended by my effort to make a good poem better.

    Sincerely,
    Sally

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Evan, Thank you for putting a face onto the suffering people in China. Fiona Zheng’s story is one worth telling, just as her music is worth hearing.

      As for the Fortinbras sonnet, I’m afraid Sally’s suggestion falls short on at least two counts: 1. The first and third lines no longer rhyme, and 2. the first line is now a masculine ending while the third remains a feminine one.

      Although I see her point, I affirm what you have written for the following two reasons:

      1. Line two begins with a trochee, which is something I often do myself when following a line with a feminine ending. This is, I suppose, a matter of opinion and open to debate, but Shakespeare does this very thing in Hamlet (among other places) where the first line of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy ends with a feminine “question” and the following line begins with a trochee “Whether.”

      To be, or not to be–that is the question:
      Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer . . .

      (Note: this also illustrates Dr. Salemi’s comment in support of word stress over syllabic beat).

      2. The fourth line of your poem also ends in a trochee, but I find it effective insofar as it dramatically underscores the Directors emphatic call to “CUT it!” (not to mention that it also follows a line with a feminine ending.

      I suppose the matter could be settled by rewriting the opening stanza as follows:

      When Hamlet is performed or made a movie,
      Prince Fortinbras is frequently left out.
      Directors simply say, “Since it behooves me,
      Who cares? The play’s too long and fine without.”

      But (in my opinion), this would not make it a better poem, only a different one.

      Reply
  2. Leo Zoutewelle

    I thought both poems were marvelous, like a fresh air for the spirit.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  3. James Sale

    Fortinbras made me laugh out loud – very funny. One never tires of these kind of ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ observations about the seemingly minor characters, but who have a life of their own if can but observe it. Very well written.

    Reply
  4. Evan Mantyk

    Thank you all for your comments!

    Sally, Mr. Tweedie has precisely explained what I was thinking metrically. I’m glad you enjoyed the first poem at any rate.

    Mr. Sale is right; this is indirectly a testament to the sticking power and genius of Shakespeare. Out of curiosity, do you find the Earl of Oxford (De Vere) authorship explanation convincing? I had occasion to look into it recently and found myself completely agreeing with it.

    Best wishes to all of you!

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Evan, Although it appears that you directed your question to Mr. Sales I will presume to respond. Although I have previously parodied the Shakespeare authorship matter in my poem, “A Shakespeare Reverie,” I fully support his authorship based on three points. 1. Occam’s Razor, being that the least complicated explanation is most likely correct. 2. Other than convoluted 20th century readings/interpretations of a handful of hand-picked, obscure Elizabethan poems and bookplates, there is no evidence that any of Shakespeare’s contemporaries called his authorship into question, nor does the question even arise until the early 19th century, 200 years after his death. 3. Read any poem ascribed to Bacon, Marlowe, or de Vere (while noting that there are no known surviving examples of anything written by The Earl of Derby) and then compare it with the worst example of a poem credited to William Shakespeare and you will immediately see the impossibility that any of these men were capable of writing anything comparable to what we find everywhere in the plays and sonnets ascribed to Shakespeare.

      There are many other arguments that can be made in defense of the Bard’s authorship but this will serve as a first response.

      Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Evan:

      Hank Whittemore, to whom I dedicated my sonnet chapbook and the sonnet section of Jesus and Eros, has written two books on the subject of Shakespearean authorship: 1. The Monument: Shake-speare’s Sonnets by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and 2. 100 Reasons Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford. The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship published my two poems to Shakespeare/de Vere, one of which was published by the SCP (“Sonnet for the Sonnet-Maker”). Their publications include their website, The Shakespeare-Oxford Newsletter, The Oxfordian, and Brief Chronicles. There is a documentary film available on Amazon video entitled “Last Will and Testament” about the authorship issue, as well as one entitled “Nothing is Truer Than Truth”, and “The Shakespeare Conspiracy” (with Sir Derek Jacobi).

      I thought you might be interested.

      Reply
  5. James Sale

    Hi All, It is true that I am close to completing a review of two volumes of Theresa’s poetry for SCP and I hope to have it to Evan very shortly. There are many fine poems in her two collections, but – alas – I am going to point out the blot of her subscription to the Oxford Heresy! James Tweedie is absolutely correct in his assertions and the idea that Shakespeare did not write the plays is frankly preposterous. I have read over 100 books on this topic, including those advocating Marlowe, Bacon and Oxford. The two definitive text completely rebutting this nonsense are, from the UK, Jonathan Bates’ The Genius of Shakespeare, and from the USA, New York’s own Professor James Shapiro in his magisterial ‘Contested Wills’ which is a riveting read. We need to understand, as JT says, nobody till the mid-C19th ever suspected that Shakespeare was not the author – how could that be, given how public the stage was? How is it possible that we know 300 years after the event what those of the time didn’t? And here’s the thing: Ben Jonson was a close personal friend of Shakespeare, a great playwright himself, an envious and pedantic man, almost autistic in his obsession with detail, a man of formidable courage, who killed a man in single combat, a man not easily intimated by authority, and a man who stood for truth. A man too who mocked Shakespeare for lines and improbabilities he considered laughable; and a man who said Shakespeare should have ‘blotted a thousand lines’ because they were so bad. And yet, finally, confessing that he loved Shakespeare ‘this side of idolatry’ and went on to write in his ‘To the memory of my beloved, the author, Mr William Shakespeare’ – that Chaucer, Spenser and Beaumont could not compare, nor Lily, Kidd or Marlowe, and then decisively the great Greeks, Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles to stand aside before the greatness of Shakespeare’s writing. This testimony carries far more weight than anything written by Bacon, Looney and all the rest since the C19th. And the question that remains is simply this: why have they done this? Why have they generated this heresy, this falsehood? (It is no coincidence I think that these ideas coincide with the rise in the C19th of a huge number, some still surviving, of religious cults (e.g. Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness-ism, and many more beside that ‘re-interpreted’ the Bible just as Shakespeare was being re-interpreted). There is one simple reason for the majority of this error: elitism and snobbery. The inability to accept that a non-university, tradesman’s son who became the greatest fictional writer the world has ever known. Heck – he never went to Oxford (or Cambridge), so how could he have done it? People who argue like this (from theories rather than history or experience) ignore two points. First, that the most highly educated people in the world are not people who go to Oxford or Cambridge or Princeton or Harvard, sadly for those graduates; no, they are always students at the University called ‘autodidactic’ – they are self-taught. History is full of these people – Einstein for example. And the Oxonians don’t like it. Second, history has plenty of other ‘uneducated’ Shakespeares! Take Keats – a major English poet, dead at 26, mocked for being ‘uneducated’, a cockney. So he couldn’t have written the great Odes, could he? I am afraid this is where very stupid ideas take one – to deny history in the service of a fraud. It’s really important we resist these pernicious ideas because we have to stand for truth. Yep, Shakespeare is Shakespeare.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      I remember reading a book in my school library, long since out of print, by a writer called Durning-Lawrence with the snappy title that allowed for no doubt in the matter “Bacon is Shakespeare”. One of the proofs he cites is a rearrangement of the longest word in Shakespeare, honorificabilitudinitatibus. If you rearrange the letters it reads “F Baconis ntuiti orbi”; These plays, F Bacon’s offspring, are presented to the world. Now this affords me, and no doubt the rest of the Flat Earth Society, conclusive irrefutable proof of Bacon’s authorship. I only have one problem: that sesquipedalian vocable antedates Shakespeare by several centuries, being found in several early English manuscripts.

      Reply
  6. Peter Hartley

    Sorry – F Baconis nati … A bit of asinine predictive text half corrected.

    Reply
  7. James Sale

    Thanks Peter, the trouble with all these ‘cypher’ arguments is that they prove nothing anyway; it appears as if you can make them say whatever you want if you make certain starting ‘assumptions’ as to what the code is in the first place. And in any case, they carry nothing like the weight of historical evidence, which all points to Shakespeare’s authorship.

    Reply

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