Saturday, September 22, 2012

Petrarch's Rime Sparse 65: Saturday Sonnet-in-Translation

For this week, here's something slightly different: a prose translation (by Robert Durling) of the famous moment when Petrarch sees Laura for the first time. Enjoy the poem!

Rime Sparse 65

Alas, I was little wary at first, the day when Love came to wound me, who step by step has become lord of my life and sits and the summit!

I did not believe that by the power of his file any bit of strength or worthiness would fail in my hardened heart, but so he goes who esteems himself too highly.

Form now on any defense is too late, except to test whether Love looks on mortal prayers much or little.

I do not pray--nor can it be--that my heart burn moderately, but that she have her part of the fire. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mingle Mangle Invective (Saturday Not-quite-Sonnet)

This week, we have a prefatory poem to Rachel Speght's 1617 polemic A Mouzell for Melastomus. Writing in response to an antifeminist tract by Joseph Swetnam, Speght castigates the tract's disorganized rhetoric (or "mingle mangle invective") in her letter before the work. Perhaps to continue this theme, the prefatory poem stresses Speght's education, and shows off Speght's own organizational and rhetorical skills (if, in fact, Speght is the author).

If he that for his Countrie doth expose
himselfe unto the furie of his foe,
doth merit praise and due respect of those,
for whom he did that perill undergoe:
Then let the Author of this Mouzell true
receive the like, of right it is her due.

For she to shield her Sex from Slaunders Dart
and from invective obtrectation,
hath ventured by force of Learnings Art
(in which she hath had education)
to combate with him, which doth shame his Sex,
By offring feeble women to perplex.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Dorothy Sayers: Saturday Sonnet

In honor of the start of the school year, here's a sonnet from Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night, about the still harbor (and the concomitant vibrant motion) offered by the academy. Within the setting of the novel, Harriet Vane writes the opening octave, and Peter Wimsey writes the closing sestina. (As an added bonus, the whole thing weighs in on the sleep trope that resonates throughout the work.)

Here, then, at home, by no more storms distrest,
Folding laborious hands we sit, wings furled;
Here in close perfume lies the rose-leaf curled,
Here the sun stands and knows not east nor west,
Here no tide runs; we have come, last and best,
From the wide zone through dizzying circles hurled,
To that still centre where the spinning world
Sleeps on its axis, to the heart of rest.

Lay on thy whips, O Love, that we upright,
Poised on the perilous point, in no lax bed
May sleep, as tension at the verberant core
Of music sleeps; for, if thou spare to smite,
Staggering, we stoop, stooping, fall dumb and dead,
And, dying, so, sleep our sweet sleep no more.

For a probing discussion of this sonnet, see the comments on this entry in the blog Commonplaces.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Part III: The Modern Version of Astrophil and Stella #2

If I were to teach this sonnet, I'd teach it out of the Oxford paperback edition of Sidney's Major Works, edited by Katherine Duncan-Jones. Here's the way that text represents the sonnet:

Not at first sight, nor with a dribbed~ shot,
Love gave the wound which while I breathe will bleed:
But known worth~ did in mine of time proceed,
Till by degrees it had full conquest got.
I saw, and liked; I liked, but loved not;
I loved, but straight did not what love decreed:
At length, to love's decrees I, forced, agreed,
Yet with repining at so partial lot.
Now even that footstep of lost liberty
Is gone, and now like slave-born Muscovite~
I call it praise to suffer tyranny;
And now employ the remnant of my wit
To make myself believe that all is well,
While with a feeling skill I paint~ my hell.

So: what are the instructive differences between this version, my recollected version, and the first published version? Right off the bat, my recollection and this version seem much more similar. (There's a reason for that: I memorized the sonnet out of this edition a few years ago). Still, my version has evolved: I'm clearly influenced by the dash-happiness of Emily Dickinson, for example, and I use dashes instead of colons or semi-colons to enhance the feelings of rushed enjambment in the sonnet. This might be because I memorize by reading out loud--giving me a different perspective on line breaks. I tend to see them less as caesuras than as flexible sluice-control devices, if that makes sense.

Secondly, and less obviously, my version isn't staking an authority claim. Both the Oxford edition and the 1591 edition are framing themselves as authoritative presentations of the sonnet--either through a preface, explaining the care and research that informs the sonnet text, or through the scholarly apparatus of endnotes (~ marks here) seeking to explain the precise meaning of potentially confusing words. My edition, conversely, doesn't claim authoritative status. It will never be cited or consulted in classes, and it has no historical cachet. Instead, it acts as a digital performance--one iteration of a personalized, remembered recitation, reflecting one specific personal interaction with the text. Here, my version starts to cross over into manuscript culture, even though I'm typing this in a new print medium. If I can internalize, modify, and re-iterate this sonnet on a blog that functions like a miscellany, then I'm doing an altered version of an early modern practice: compiling and rewriting texts, in the context of other texts, for my own purposes. While my version of the piece has different punctuation and wording than the others, then, it also represents a slightly different approach to poetry itself.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Part II: the 1591 edition of Astrophil and Stella #2

The earliest edition of Astrophil and Stella available on EEBO is the 1591 edition, printed for Thomas Newman. As a whole, the edition is characterized by oddly placed commas--but framed by a fascinating introduction, in which the 'finder' of the piece positions it within both manuscript and print culture:

"I haue beene very carefull in the Printing of it, and where as being spred abroade in written Coppies, it had gathered much corruption by ill Writers: I haue vsed their helpe and aduice in correcting & restoring it to his first dignitie, that I knowe were of skill and experience in those matters." (A2r)

At first glance, Newman here seems to be simultaneously denigrating the manuscript transmittors of the piece (they have introduced corruption into the work) and relying on their advice to perfect it (they have also brought it back to an originary state of "dignitie"). Because of a late-coming clause, though, it's possible that Newman consulted those "of skill and experience" instead of the manuscript transmitters, who are a separate group. Still, the possibility of the elision of these groups is suggestive. Manuscript transmission, under this elision, is capable both of perfecting and corrupting a text, depending on the analyst's point of view.

In light of this paradox, my attempt at transcribing the sonnet from memory yesterday can be seen in two different ways: an original, personal version of the text, based on my own "skill and experience" with Astrophil and Stella--or a corruption of Sidney's authorial intention, which ought to be corrected by public-spirited (and/or profit-seeking?) folks like Newman. Below is Newman's more "authoritative" version of the sonnet--but is it actually more official, or less corrupt, than mine?

NOt at first sight, nor with a dribbing shot,
Loue gaue the wound, which while I breath will bleede:
But knowne, worth did in tract of time proceede,
Till by degrees it had full conquest got.
I sawe and lik'd, I lik'd but loued not,
I lou'd, but did not straight what Loue decreede:
At length to Loues decrees, I first agreede.
Yet with repining at so partiall lot.
Now euen that foot-steppe of lost libertie
Is gone, and now like slaue borne Muscouite:
I call it praise to suffer tyrannie, 
And nowe imploy the remnant of my wit
To make my selfe beleeue that all is well,
While with a feling skill I paint my hell.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Part 1: Astrophil and Stella #2: Memorizing a Saturday Sonnet (Special Edition)

This weekend, for fun, I'm conducting a little experiment. First, I'm going to type a sonnet from memory. Then, I'm going to see how the first published version on EEBO records the same work. Finally, I'll check the published scholarly edition that I'd point my students toward, if I were to teach the sonnet. Here's the first part:

Not at first sight, nor with a dribbed shot
Love gave the wound which while I breathe will bleed--
but known worth did, in mine of time, proceed
'til, by degrees, it had full conquest got.
I saw and liked; I liked--but loved not;
I loved; but straight did not what love decreed.
At length, to love's decrees, I, forced, agreed--
yet with repining at so partial lot.
Now, even that footstep of lost liberty
is gone, and now, like slave-born Muscovite,
I call it praise to suffer tyranny--
and so employ the remnant of my wit
to make myself believe that all is well,
while, with a feeling skill, I paint my hell.

[Sidney, Astrophil and Stella]

I chose this sonnet because I knew the punctuation and spelling [Muscovit?] would be interesting. Tomorrow, I'll dig up the first EEBO version that I can find, and we'll see where the differences are. Hopefully, we can also illustrate some of the word-level and sentence-level changes that could take place within a culture of manuscript transmission--which, interestingly, has much in common with the modern blogosphere.