Life is a Sonnet

Let’s say each of us lives in a poem. I am living in a sonnet. My inner life is free verse, stream of consciousness. I am unwieldy, feminist, wild. I feel required to be tame, to serve, to rhyme. To tie it up in a cuplet.

I have to — simply must — follow the rules, the conventions, the beats, the script. The kids need to be at school, at the bus stop at a certain time. My husband, too, requires structure, doctors’ appointments, reminders to take his medicine several times a day. My coworkers rely on me to be collegial and productive.

So it’s true, I feel confined within a sonnet’s rigid structure. I long for freedom of expression. Shakespeare created a world that followed, “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?” Ah, genius! To take a world and implode it — and still live within it. To throw rocks at the Catholic Church while standing in the church’s front yard. Harder to take away a piece of the Berlin Wall if you were a world away, watching it all unfold on TV.

Change the sonnet’s structure while living within it.

On one of my earlier blogs, I wrote about how I cried over the story of the confined whale who killed the beautiful, helpful, passionate trainer.

It broke my heart. But I know why the caged whale kills. I know why the caged bird sings.

Sure, there’s safety in confinement, in living in a sonnet, in coloring inside the lines. Safety is appealing. Birds make their nests in homes that are familiar, made of ordinary twigs. They tidy them up with bits of string. But the whales in captivity are going blind because their eyes are not meant to only look up at their trainers. And their dorsal fins are getting floppy.

Creative birds and whales may find that safety is the enemy of art. The artist must break the mold. The bird wants to fly. The whale wants the expanse of the ocean. The actor considers the exit.

Remember in Sartre’s “Huis Clos” (Yes, I love speaking French!) (“No Exit”) when the door opened, not one of the three who had been confined got up to leave? Given a door creaking open on my stage set life, would I pass beneath the open door? And leave the play?

I might! There are times. Yes, I admit, when I long to stop caring — stop caring for others. Stop caring what others might think if I left the sonnet.

I long to smell the roses. To lie down beneath a rose-colored rose bush on a hot summer afternoon. I want to dig my fingernails into soil and taste the humidity, thick against my lips. To just slow this life down to a crawl and skip the appointments, skip the work-a-day world. Skip this one day, sit it out.

I do know, as I am about to leave through the open door, that wild abandon is not the only venue for creativity to flourish.

Love and meaning, definitely flowers, can bloom when fenced-in. I find freedom when I write. It is my way to buck the system, to explore, to travel to new, untrammeled territory. To let go of poetic convention.

Writing in fragments. Thinking in haiku. Dawdling over a dissertation for no degree. There are ways to live in a sonnet.

To be in any relationship — mother, wife, Christian writer — there are certain expectations. There are certain freedoms you must not entertain. But writing about them, singing about them — within your caged existence, within your “No Exit” stage set? Ah, sure, go ahead! Sing away! The other poets in their cages may sing along too. And then, stop and listen to the song. Get out of your own head and into someone else’s poem.

The act of singing, of writing, of expressing the truth can vault the singer, the poet, farther than their confinement. The songbird is never free. Yet the song may travel far. The tune may be repeated. The song lives. Shakespeare died but Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? Ah that sonnet lives on.

I’m sure I should end this with a cuplet, but I have none. So I will give you his.

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

– William Shakespeare

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