Schneider and others have started adding poetry readings (among other things) to
Cosmoetica’s new YouTube channel. For Valentine’s Day, I’m following suit and
sharing a handful of sonnet readings.
A few months
ago, I went on a date with someone very nice, and during the date one of
Shakespeare’s sonnets came into conversation. We managed to piece together
about a third of the sonnet from memory, so I read it the next day to remember how
the rest went. It didn’t work out, but here’s to you:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she
belied with false compare.
The next sonnet comes from Gwendolyn Brooks’s
second published book, Annie Allen.
It’s the thirteenth poem in a series called “The Womanhood” and describes a
summer fling. In her earlier days, Brooks was an excellent sonneteer (“Gay
Chaps at the Bar” is a great sonnet series about war). This sonnet is actually
the 1st of three sections within section XIII of the series, but for
today I think it’s reasonable to enjoy it as a standalone piece. Thanks to my
friend Sarah Hohstadt for recording this sonnet!
By all things planetary, sweet, I swear
Those hands may not possess these hands again
Until I get me gloves of ice to wear.
Because you are the headiest of men!
Your speech is whiskey, and your grin is gin.
I am well drunken. Is there water near?
I’ve need of wintry air to crisp me in.
—But come here—let me put this in your ear:
I would not want them now! You gave me this
Wildness to gulp. Now water is too pale.
And now I know deep summer is a bliss
I have no wish for weathering the gale.
So when I beg for gloves of ice to wear,
Laugh at me. I am lying, sweet, I swear!
reading poetry and criticism on Cosmoetica when I was 15, and distinctly
remember reading this sonnet. (For you psych folks, it kind of invokes Maslow’s
Hierarchy.) Here you go:
My needs, they fall away from me. (Dull flesh‑
can it convince itself?) They are: oxygen‑
to flame each breath; sources of food and water‑
to quell the instinctual ravening
brought by you; sources of clothing and shelter‑
to protect my body from the world's duress.
My needs, they fall away from me. Not you,
my love, for you are verging on somethingness,
like the full beats of my growing heart, which falls
likewise itself, in infinite crashes
into conflagrations which are only all
that keeps my sonnetry in this small purview
which falls from me to you. Should you inquire:
You are not a need.
You are all desire.
I’ll end by
sharing one of my own. Writing about someone (or something) can be a good way
to work through your thoughts or find closure, but sometimes you just get hung
up on the subject instead:
This sonnet for you might be a mistake,
like that second cup of coffee in the afternoon,
which calms and quenches for a bit, but soon
leaves us shaking and promising not to slake
our thirst with thirst, till the next day lands
in another cup of coffee, which you touch with your lips
as my promise of not writing suddenly slips
and falls, like the coffee I held in my
(the fourth today) as I listened to you
and absorbed all the feeling you suddenly held
not for me—a rag on the floor, swelled
with all that bitterness and heat, and blackened through,
so unlike the cup, which was firm, until it found
itself, lying next to me, shattered on the ground.