The Promised “Making-Of” Post

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

This is in reference to the sonnet I wrote for Shruti on the JoCo forums, which, as I mentioned there, is both a sonnet in attempted Shakespearean style and a diagonal acrostic. Before we go further, let’s make sure everyone’s uncovered the message, all right?

SPEAKTHOUTOMEWHENBITTERGALLTHYBREAST
DOTHOVERSWELLORWHENTHYSTARSARESWAYD
BYMARTIALCHOLERIATTHYBEHEST
MYSELFDESPATCHTOLOOSETHINEAMBUSCADE
SOTHOUMAYSTSTANDTHEBUFFETTAKEASHARE
INPAINFULPITYANDWITHMARTYRSHANDS
OUTSTRETCHDTHYGUILELESSINNOCENCEDECLARE
STILLGRIEVDBYTROUBLESNOONEUNDERSTANDS
YETWHENISEETHEWAYSELFSORROWDRIPS
FROMEYESOCCLUDEDBYCONCEITANDDRINK
ORLETTHEEWRENCHCONTRITIONFROMMYLIPS
ORWITNESSBEARTOSOLITUDEITHINK
MYSELFOERSEIZEDINTHINEORBITWHY
WHOTHENISTRULYMADLOVETHOUORI

Got it? Let’s carry on.
I’ve had the genesis of this in my mind for several, well, months. By “genesis”, though, I mean, “What if I were to do one of Shruti’s favorite songs in Shakespearean sonnet?” rather than having any actual ideas. Then I discovered that (spoiler, if you haven’t done the work already) there are 14 letters in “Someone Is Crazy,” which led to the idea of an acrostic, which then quickly became the idea of a diagonal acrostic once I saw that there was a z in it.

There’s no good orderly manner to go about this, since it wasn’t written in a good orderly manner, so I’ll go line by line with my thoughts.

Lines 1-3:

Speak thou to me when bitter gall thy breast
Doth overswell, or when thy stars are sway’d
By Martial choler.

Speak thou to me (line 1): Was, in original drafts, “Send thou for me”. I’d go with “send” if this were my own work, but “speak” is a better paraphrase.

bitter (line 1): I made a conscious effort throughout to refrain from using words found in the original. I can’t fault people for doing it the other way, and sometimes it turns out well — see John Maloney’s “Poem based in ‘The Big Boom'” for an effective example. But there’s something lazy or unclever about it (recall my motto, “Better clever than good”), whether in filks or parodies or whatever, to copy the original’s words. (If I wanted to read the original, I’d read the original!)

“Bitter” was one of my few concessions — here I’m paraphrasing the “Is Bitter there?” opening, except replacing the “different persona” conceit (which I did consider keeping, in the style of the “seven ages of man”) with the “humours”. The reason I had to insert “bitter” was, of course, that although gall or bile is bitter, neither yellow nor black bile was actually associated with bitterness!

Martial (line 3): And I start mixing my metaphors really early here. Bad form, Bry. Now we go to astrological influences — and then, for some reason, I combine astrology and humour (the “choler”). The intent is to paraphrase “Good and Mad”, the other persona the narrator’s okay with talking to. “Martial” sure looks like a concession to the requirements of the acrostic, but in fact it wasn’t — I had it in mind from the first, but it just happened to work out that way. There will be plenty of examples of acrostic-forcing, just wait.

Lines 3-6:

I at thy behest
Myself despatch to loose thine ambuscade
So thou may’st bear the buffet, take a share
In painful pity,

at thy behest (line 3): Early drafts had “thy heart” ending line 1, then “I, to play my part” here. I waver (I don’t think either is all that good), but I think I prefer the new version — it keeps a little more emphasis on the “thou” of the poem, which is my goal for the octave. I was also debating over how much punctuation to use here — I ended up using more commas in this sentence than I’d intended, but I left out the commas around “at thy behest”.

Myself despatch (line 4): And not “despatch myself”, for the fourth letter of “despatch” isn’t an “e”. I was pleased as punch to run across “despatch” — both because it captured exactly the meaning I was looking for (where things like “send” or “order” weren’t quite the same) and because I could spell it this way instead of “dispatch.”

This is, of course, jumping to the second verse and chorus (“You set the trap, you lie in wait till someone trips the wire…”) I have the narrator springing the trap, rather than the “someone”, but it ends up tying in all right, I think, the idea being that the narrator knows “thou” wants someone to trip the wire and so does it himself.

bear the buffet, take a share (line 5): This went through so many variations – “take the buffet and thy share” being a rather zeugmatic version that stuck for a while. “Take the blow and so partake” was ruled out for echoing reasons, but “bear the blow and so partake” finally lost out when I decided it’d be easier to rhyme “share”. And although I use “buffet” in its “a blow” definition, pronounced “BUFF-it,” the idea of “bearing the buffet”, like all-you-can-eat, is probably a little distracting to the modern eye.

Also, I tossed around “take thy share,” instead, but it was too much – thy breast, thy stars, thy behest, thine ambuscade, and now thy share? I wish I were a better poet.

painful (line 6): Another reuse of word, I guess, although the original only mentions “beg for pain”. “Painful pity” I use to mean “pity obtained through pain,” which is a Shakespearean touch, I feel, though I can’t cite sources offhand. (I can’t even recall what literary term it is, which I really ought to know.)

Lines 6-8:

and with martyr’s hands
Outstretch’d, thy guileless innocence declare,
Still griev’d by troubles no-one understands.

with martyr’s hands / Outstretch’d (line 6-7): I have to admit I like how this worked out — first off, that “outstretched” has the “e” in the proper position, but also that I managed to elaborate on the “throw your hands up in the air” a little bit. (Now not only is it a gesture to protest one’s ignorance, it’s also a display of innocence — linking in with all the “begging for pain” stuff).

thy guileless innocence (line 7): Oh, look, another “thy.” Well, I thought about avoiding it — “Outstretched, surprise and innocence declare,” or something to convey the “And you act surprised / How did that get there?”, but I decided one more wouldn’t kill me. Yes, I chose “guileless” to suggest “guiltless,” but that makes it sound as though I put a lot more thought into it than I did.

declare (line 7): One reason it was easy to avoid reusing words from the original is that the original is barely rhymed. There is that internal rhyme, “hands up in the air and swear you didn’t know”, which is nice, but it meant I ruled out “swear” as a rhyme word here. (It doesn’t scan now, but I could’ve made it scan.)

Still griev’d by troubles no-one understands (line 8): I’m not so pleased with this line. It feels very much to me like a “gotta find a rhyme” line, which is exactly what it is. “still griev’d” is again forced by the acrostic — I was searching for ways to sneak in “injured” or anything, but all things considered it’ll do.

The ending of the line feels too colloquial, but maybe that’s just because I was trying to highfalutin the rest. It had to be “understands” with an “s” to rhyme with “hands” plural, so I couldn’t say “none can understand.” I would’ve preferred “no man” to “no-one,” but the assonance with “man” / “understands” is ugly. Also in consideration: “Heaven understands,” but I just had to go, in the end, with the option that best preserved my meaning. I’d have liked some other filler word than “troubles” — there’s gotta be a more evocative option — but I just wanted to turn this in before deadline.

Lines 9-12:

Yet when I see the way self-sorrow drips
From eyes occluded by conceit and drink,
Or let thee wrench contrition from my lips,
Or witness stand to solitude,

Yet (line 9): Signaling, clumsily, the volta, or turn. Lines 9-11 are my favorite three lines from the entire thing. Aside from the “Yet”, they turned out exactly the way I wanted them to. The turn here is that — y’know, the song is just, “you’re awful, you’re awful, you’re awful, the end,” but the narrator’s been putting up with this for a long time. If it’s a break-up or renunciation, why hasn’t it happened before? And why is the narrator still trying to talk to Bitter? There’s gotta be something that keeps him coming back, probably guilt-trips and such.

(Actually, the subject could be a mother or something — not to psychoanalyze, of course. It strikes me that the subject reminds me a lot of Lucille Bluth from “Arrested Development.”)

For sonnet purposes, the turn is that the narrator is still not over “thee”, still hopelessly in some kind of self-destructive love. And so the shift I’m intending to get is from “these are the things you do” to “these are the things I let you do”.

drips (line 9): A happy discovery. I knew I wanted “lips” in line 11 — I’d have settled for “tongue” if there’d been a better alternative that rhymed with that, but “lips” was my first choice. This let me sneak in a reference to “stop the waterworks”, and the “eyes” fit perfectly afterwards. (I used “self-sorrow” as a justification for the waterworks, which was never spelled out in the song — it would’ve been “self-pity” if I hadn’t already had “painful pity.”)

occluded (line 10): Wonderfully satisfying my “c” requirement, but also, as it turns out, exactly the word I was looking for but didn’t have in mind. (I wanted to say “acclim’d,” which isn’t actually a word — “acclimated” is what I was looking for, but that doesn’t have any sort of positive ring to it.) If “occluded” wasn’t a word, I’d have probably settled for, and been okay with, “accustomed,” but it let me shoehorn in the reference to “spend a couple evenings sober” (“drink”), and then “conceit” which could refer to anything. It made me happy.

wrench (line 11): But this made me happier. My notes (without letter-counting) read, “And let thee drag contrition from my lips”, and changing “and” to “or” meant “drag” fit, but a little more searching and I happened upon “wrench,” which is — well, I like it better, but “drag” is an excellent alternative. Maybe “drag” fits better with the sonnet — is “wrench” too violent for a sestet that’s supposed to be about “things I let you do?” But — y’know, “wrench” is what I wanted.

“Wrench contrition from my lips” finishes the statement I never got around to finishing from the first verse — “She can make me say I’m sorry.” I couldn’t fit it where it’d have made sense, earlier on, but I really, really wanted the reference somewhere, and I’m glad I got it in.

witness stand to solitude (line 12): Argh, now I’m less happy. Maybe this should’ve been “witness bear to solitude” and line 5 “stand the buffet…” Okay, yeah, I’m gonna edit my forum comment to say just that. It’s confusing which word is the actual verb, of course. I meant “stand witness to solitude”. And “solitude” alludes to the the “all alone” / “why does everybody hate me?” lines (from different verses / choruses). I’m hinting at “thou” being all alone except for the narrator standing there — why’s he there exactly?

I desperately wanted to fit in the “put those claws away” line somehow, but I couldn’t figure out a variation on “sheathe / unsheathe” and “talons” that would put the “a” in the right place.

Lines 12-14:

I think
Myself o’erseizèd in thine orbit; why,
Who then is truly mad, love, thou or I?

o’erseizèd (line 13): The thing about writing in a Shakespearean style is that he had full license to invent words, so so do I! (So goes the logic, at least.) This was, perforce, the most awkward line, since I had to work the “z” in somewhere. I tried “amazed,” “(be)dazed,” “haze”, “(be)dazzled”, “frozen” (which nearly made the cut), and possibly others, but all of them ran into difficulties with lining the words up properly. The three letters between “myself” and “frozen,” etc., were really hard to fill — I nearly went with “Myself all frozen in thy orbit”, which makes little sense (not that this makes much more). I finally resorted — well, first, after trying to figure out how to find words with “z”s in them, I realized that this was the kind of problem a Scrabble player would have to solve, which led me to find this list of words with “z”s. (If I were reading someone else’s blog and they admitted to doing this, I’d be a little impressed with their ingenuity but mostly sad that I gave them so much credit and now it’s not magic any more.) But I finally resorted to brainstorming three-letter prefixes — “misseized” was up there, and very close to taking the prize. “Disseized” sounds good, and is even a real word, but unfortunately it’s a real word with the wrong meaning (“to kick out, to displace”). Finally I realized that if I was playing at Shakespeare, I could play at Shakespeare and abbreviate “over-“, which I notably didn’t do in “overswell,” line 2.

Note that I both shorten this word — by compressing “over” into one syllable — and lengthen it — by pronouncing the “ed” as a separate syllable. This amuses me, but it’s bad style. I contemplated “myself o’erseiz’d into thy orbit,” with “into” instead of “in”.

orbit (line 13): I abandoned the astrological metaphor ten lines ago, but this ended up being the best I could do for the brilliant, wonderful, beautiful lines, “You think the world revolves around you but it doesn’t, so you sit and spin.” But it does let me do something with the idea of the narrator being in “thy” thrall.

why, (line 13): COP-OUT ALERT! I didn’t have the energy to deliver an actual rhyme, but I knew where line 14 was going, so I just shoveled some dirt over it and called it done.

mad, love, thou or I? (line 14): “Baby, someone is crazy, and I think it’s me.” I considered “moonstruck, thou or I”, to carry this “orbit” idea forward while adding the “lunacy coming from the moon” thing. I thought “love” was a bigger punch, so I swung with it.

I think that’s it for now. My favorite sonneteer is Wyatt, and his bag was to translate Petrarch’s sonnets from the Italian but throw in a note of bitter, hopeless, desperate infatuation. I didn’t manage to hit that note the way I’d kinda hoped to, but now there’s some hint of infatuation in the translation that wasn’t there before.

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