Thank You Sonnet

This thanking you in sonnet form might seem
Somewhat unusual, but I think it best,
Simply to show how simply lines are stressed
Without a trace of guilt or silly squeam-
ishness; or worry modern critics deem
Your work invalid when it’s not compressed.
Rather, let gathering words stream to the test:
In fullness say precisely what you mean.

An ocean, then, of thanks for last night’s meal;
The hospitality, generous and given,
So necessary to human contact—
So prone, because we love ourselves, to fail;
That in success makes manifest the fact
Our real communion’s like our real heaven.

 

 

Mr. Adam Writes

I’ve had this cold six thousand years—
No antidote can cure its ill:
The snivelling, wheezing, coughing plight
That plagues the body till it’s still.

I wish that I could find the pill
That stops the bloody mindless tear
That forms within the mind from sight,
And issues in a human care.

But it’s too late; the quest is vain;
I’ll never find the life I seek,
Or rid myself from living pain
Because the strength I have’s too weak.

Only and lonely, dying’s all:
But there—good God!—reversed the Fall.

 

 

James Sale, FRSA is a leading expert on motivation, and the creator and licensor of Motivational Maps worldwide. James has been writing poetry for over 40 years and has seven collections of poems published, including most recently, Inside the Whale, his metaphor for being in hospital and surviving cancer, which afflicted him in 2011. He can be found at www.jamessale.co.uk and contacted at james@motivational maps.com. He is the winner of First Prize in the Society’s 2017 Competition and Second Prize in the Society’s 2015 Competition.


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15 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    James, I liked the first (Petrarchan) sonnet especially for the recursive element it suggests regarding the interplay of form and content

    In the second (Salean) sonnet, if I understand it correctly, the reader is invited to identify with First Man, and thus become an iteration of Perennial Man. Strangely, and perhaps perversely, I am heartened by the thought that life might be a fate worse than death.

    Reply
    • James Sale

      Thanks CB for these interesting comments. I am glad you like the first poem and its structure. As for the second, I love the word Salean – that is high praise indeed; I only wish it were true! I take it that the innovation that you are spotting which makes it Salean is the fact that it is in sonnet form but uses tetrameter lines rather than pentameter? This idea was suggested to me by Shakespeare’s sonnet 145 beginning: Those lips that Love’s own hand did make …and which ends ”I hate’, from hate away she threw,
      And saved my life, saying ‘not you’.” This is generally considered a pun on Hathaway, and so is considered an early sonnet in praise of his wife. And you are right about the identification in that it is a dramatic monologue from the perspective of Adam or Mr Adam – to you and me. Whether life is worse than death is a really interesting thought, but I would draw attention to my own intentions in the poem by pointing out one small linguistic detail: the title Mr Adam Writes is a pun on ‘Rights’, as in a ship that rights itself in a storm. In other words, re-achieves balance – so in the last line I hope that ‘good God!’ is like that sudden bobbing surprise of we’re about to go down but we don’t! However, whether any reader finds that convincing is an altogether different question. As you know yourself from your own fine poems, we might think we are doing something technical, but readers don’t always rate it! Thanks again.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        James, I appreciate the painful introspection revealed in the second poem (which I assume was written some time ago when your dramatic transition from terminal hopeless pain to near-miraculous remission—ie. your release from “inside the whale”—was still fresh in your mind). I liked the blunt terseness of the tetrameter but was tripped up by the jarring reversal appearing out of nowhere in the final line of the final couplet. Ordinarily there would be movement towards this either beginning in the third set or at the very least, the first line of the couplet. If your intent was to capture and convey the surprising joy of finding—after being reconciled to endless pain and imminent death—that you were going to survive and live after all, then I would say that delaying the resolution in the sonnet to the last moment was, in fact, a master stroke; wonderfully underscored by the double meaning of the words, “Good God.”

        As for the “Thank You” poem: In the far-distant past this was once a common practice among poets; a practice which I have indulged in, myself. It is good to see that others are, too! I’m sure the recipient of the sonnet appreciated the effort.

      • C.B. Anderson

        In regard to the Salean sonnet, the rhyme scheme also play a part in distinguishing it from other variants.

  2. James Sale

    Thanks James for this and I am really pleased by your perceptive commentary. And you are right: normally the ‘turn’ in the sonnet either starts in the sestet (when Petrarchan), or at least by the final couplet, if Shakespearean; and I have to say I have deliberately held back till the very final line, since I emotionally find the salvation of God a last minute surprise. Indeed, in the Book of Hebrews the salvation that is occurring is referred to as in these ‘last days’, almost as if it were too late. One might well ask the inscrutable question: why did God leave it so long? However, this is part of a wider mystery that Dante spends his whole poem exploring – who does ‘get’ the will of God? So I prefer to have it as a ‘masterstroke’, though I fully ‘get’ not everyone will see it that way! I have to add, though, that I love these perceptive comments that lead to an analysis of what the words are doing in terms of representing reality. All the best – James

    Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    The two possible meanings of “good God!” add an element of uncertainty to the last sentence’s grammar. If it is understood as the subject of “reversed,” then the ending is grammatically straightforward. God has done something. But if it is an interjection (as the punctuation strongly suggests), then a normal reading would imply that “reversed” is part of a passive verb structure (“was reversed”) and that the verb of being has been omitted for metrical reasons.

    One could read “reversed” as an active verb (“the Fall reversed” is a possible sentence in English), but more often such a sentence would take a reflexive form (“the Fall reversed itself”). In any case, Sale has concocted an unusual and striking end to his sonnet.

    Good grammar is not as constricting as modernist and free-verse partisans like to scream. Sometimes an ambiguity of this sort is intentional and productive. As Latin teachers say, if a noun can be construed in more than one particular case, it “twinks.” Both meanings are possible, and both may be intentional.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      “Sometimes an ambiguity of this sort is intentional and productive. As Latin teachers say, if a noun can be construed in more than one particular case, it “twinks.” Both meanings are possible, and both may be intentional.”

      How right you are! And your comment applies to the Bible, as well. Since my seminary days, I have chuckled as I have listened to biblical scholars and theologians argue whether St. Paul (for example) meant this or that when he wrote such and such. “It’s unclear,” they say, “since the word (or phrase) can be translated in two (or more) different ways.” Bible footnotes often render alternative translations in such places. The underlying assumption in all of this is that St. Paul was a poor writer who left us in a muddle trying to figure out what he was trying to say. The reason I chuckle is that, in many cases, this is not much different than arguing over which way James wanted us to read the words, “Good God.” The question is silly, of course, because James writes well and we can assume that if he wrote a word or phrase that can mean two or more different things, that he did this intentionally. I’ve always felt that we should extend the same grace to St. Paul and assume, when he wrote something that can be read in more ways than one, that he did so intentionally. We often miss the point when we limit language to an either/or while excluding the possibility of an intentional both/and.

      Heaven forbid! It would be the death of puns!

      Reply
      • James Sale

        Thanks again, James: more food for thought. The Bible of course is a multifaceted book with many authors, many styles and many genres within its complexity: myth, history, wisdom, apocalypse, proverbs, poetry and so on. But given all these and more types, and the need to be sensitive to the type we are dealing with, I myself take the overarching view that huge swathes of the Bible are poetry anyway, and this view particularly applies to the New Testament, Leaving Paul aside for the moment, I regard the gospel of St John not only as sacred text, but also the sublimest poem ever written, bar none. Indeed, my belief in its historicity and ‘truth’ is partially conditioned by my awareness that only divine inspiration could write poetry at this level and in such an extended way. And Paul’s Epistles too regularly reach a level of what I would call poetic utterance – and that means as you point out that compound meanings emerge from the text, and this is not a weakness but a source of its richness and actual inspiration. This in a way should not be surprising for poetry and prophecy are closely allied and associated. Without endorsing obfuscation therefore, I am all in favour of meaningful ambiguity and of St Paul!

    • James Sale

      Thanks Joe – Yes, I agree: good grammar is not constricting, but the very means by which we attempt to reach a deeper level of meaning/understanding, or to express what only poetry can express: namely, the inexpressible – or at least to get to a near approximation to it. The first sonnet prides itself on its clarity of communication (whether it is clear of course readers need to decide), and that is because I am simply writing about gratitude or a thank you attitude. The second sonnet is dealing with a far more difficult and ambiguous topic. You mention the metrics: one signal I use to show that the volta is ‘now’ is the substitution of the iamb for the spondee of ‘good God’ – that’s a hammer blow drawing attention simultaneously to the always unexpected works of God (and their quality: good) and the almost profane surprise of human beings as they interject those two words. Anyway, whether it’s any good as a poem only others can decide, but I hope you liked it. Thanks.

      Reply
  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    Yes, Paul’s koine Greek can be rough-hewn at times, but for the most part he is clear enough. However, don’t discount the lying evasiveness of some feminist pseudo-theologians, who deny the straightforward meaning of the Greek when Paul says that a husband is “kephale” over a wife. “Kephale” means “head,” “leader,” or “primal authority,” which is clear both from the context of the Pauline epistles and from standard usage in many other Greek texts of the time. The contortions that feminists have gone through to evade this simple word are utterly laughable.

    Sure, some words have variant meanings. But Paul was not writing as a poet looking to create aesthetic nuances and ambiguities. He wrote as a teacher and a missionary. If he uses a word, he is most probably using it in its solid, primary, commonly accepted sense.

    Reply
    • James Sale

      Thanks Joe – and yes again – where clarity is necessary and needed, whether in a poem or an epistle, then the language and grammar needs to reflect that. For all my points about the poetry of and in the Bible and in St Paul, St Paul is usually clear and explicit. We are of course so far from the events and culture of his day that some of what he said, which would have been crystal clear to his audience then, is now less clear to us since we don’t have the context. It is usually in these places that people who wish to subvert Biblical teaching start pitching their theories. I was reading Richard Rohr the other day – he makes some fine points – but I found it quite incredible that somebody could find in the Bible evidence that God is going to forgive everybody and that hell doesn’t exist (universalism, as it used to known)!!! Jeez, if I believed that I ought to stop writing my English Cantos, for they would be completely irrelevant to reality. For all that God is a God of love and wills for all to come to salvation, how could one think the Bible doesn’t warn of hell? As Jesus said of Judas, ‘It were better for that man if he were not born’. Chills down the spine, maybe?

      Reply
  5. David Watt

    James, I like the subject of your first sonnet. You have in fullness said precisely what you meant, and given what I judge to be genuine thanks.

    Your second sonnet felt a bit bleak on first reading, yet joyful and uplifting following the second reading. The fact that your concluding couplet relies on the reader’s own interpretation adds interest and depth to the whole.

    Reply
    • James Sale

      Thanks David – I am grateful for your ‘second reading’ of the second sonnet, and the realisation that there is a big uplift if read aright. I’d like to think that that is one of the joys of poetry: to read again and again, and still be held by its linguistic power. I am not claiming that big claim for myself, but only the other day I was writing a prose article for The Epoch Times (which will be appearing shortly: The Patron Saint of Woke and Virtue-Signalling) and I needed a quotation from Milton’s Paradise Lost, book 4. I went to the poem to make sure I had the quotation exactly right, and as I read it I couldn’t stop myself re-reading all of book 4!! It’s just so, so good!! So thank you David – you are so right – the reader’s own interpretation is the central part of the chemistry that makes a poem work.

      Reply
    • Thomas WoodmanT

      A very good sonnet, James, but also good about what the sonnet is as a form

      Reply

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