Monday, June 13, 2011

Sonnet On An Old Nun

This is a repost I've reworked a bit to follow Samuel Peralta's  perceptive look at the marriage of form and free verse today at One Stop Poetry. It's a bit of a cautionary tale in attempting form, and as a purely defined sonnet it is a total technical failure, yet I learned a lot from writing it, and if regarded as free verse imposed on  and ignoring the form except for the on again, off again, mostly hidden sonnet rhyme scheme, as a poem I think it works. Someday I'd like to go back and make a true sonnet out of it, but that would involve slicing out half the words, and I'm too attached to them still to take up the scalpel.

Sonnet On An Old Nun

Vespers bring her walking up the mountain, 
to read faded ink upon a wrinkled page.
Waiting there her skeptical devotion,
chipped beads of all her lost bordello years
hand-held to tell again each burden’s mantra, 
sung  in the high snug nunnery of her age,
to hear again remembered laughter, 
mixing with the howling in her ears.

For this is no nunnery steeping Christ’s sad passion,
ringing Siddhartha’s hung serenity of bells,
but a hut cupped where a white witch danced old fashion
overlooking the coming ending to the tale that living tells.

Here’s no will, no last desire for erasure, 
nor plaint to be resurfaced of all sins,
no ash-pit push to suddenly be denying 
love found and freely used without permission,
no fugitive guilts, bright crimes of living squandered, 
to mount her by their ever-piercing pins
of tangled hair, soft cries and wakeful skins, 
no lies told by her soul to which she’ll listen

Just the whispered turning of a page
in this pagan nunnery of her age.

November 2010

Posted for Form Monday at the inimitable OneStopPoetry

Originally Posted for Big Tent Poetry  
Monday prompt 11/22/10

All Rights Reserved


  1. hedgewitch,
    Nicely written sonnet and the last two lines are wonderful.

  2. Methuslah lived ten thousand years

    Methuslah lived ten thousand years

    But who calls that livin when no gal will give in

    To no man who's ten thousand years?

    ("It Ain't Necessarily So" by Gershwin)

  3. Love the last two lines but my favourite line is:

    sung in the high snug nunnery of her age

    Trips off the tongue beautifully.

  4. A wonderful sonnet in the making - despite your admission that the rhythm feels awkward, the power in your words carries the reader through any bumpy bits like surfing a wave.

  5. This made me unbearably standing on the edge of the universe and seeing no one there...

  6. You've brought a lot of unexpected and beautiful ideas into this piece.

  7. Thanks all, for stopping by and leaving your thoughts and impressions. It's especially helpful to get your feedback about how things come across. I really appreciate the insights.

    @vivnfrance, glad you think so--I'm happy with the octave but the middle of the sestet seems to bog down at "without permission" but I don't want to give that one up...maybe someday a blinding insight will come. ;-)

    @Talon--not my intention, but there is sadness there, I know. (Remember I said poetry was cheaper than whiskey?) Still, the smile on the photo was meant to be the mood, really. Need to work on that too.

  8. a wonderful image of one who stands firm...

  9. Ditto EKS on surprising images. I especially like the metaphor of "chipped beads and "to mount her by their ever-piercing pins" ... The Wordle words are now yours, entirely!

    Good luck with the revision process. I have a feeling you'll rework it and keep the heart just fine!

  10. "Overlooking the coming ending to the tale that living tells"

    I love your words. I'll be reading more.

  11. Thanks for the kind words, and for reading something besides the top post--nobody does that. ;) I appreciate it, FT.

  12. Beautiful well written. I struggle with these, but you make it look effortless..Gorgeous. :)

  13. Thanks Louise. More of a sonnet wannabe, as I stated above, but I did steal some of the hardware.

  14. Please no scalpel ~ I find it just perfect persoally, the way it is. Here is mine for today: The Intruder

  15. Interesting tale of an woman with a past and a follower of the old ways caught in reflection. On the wider question of is this a sonnet then it depends on which features are vital to the form to retain its force and identity. You have a rhyming scheme, you have a turn, you have a closing couplet. But not an iambic pentameter metre or 14 lines. So...

  16. @John : So..I'm thinking...not. ;-) As I say, I think it's a case of borrowing from the form, though that wasn't my original goal. Someday perhaps I'll rework it, but iambic pentameter does not come naturally to my writing, and I dread it.

  17. Don't you dare take a scalpel to it! It's beautiful.

  18. @MZ So you forgive me for ditching Siddhartha? ;-)

  19. This is a beautiful piece. The imagery is detailed and feels like a descent into something darker as it goes. An engaging read!

  20. So ... did the Christians teach the pagans something, or did they pick up all their ballsier riffs from the devotees of the White Goddess? You and I like to think so ... how wonderful to take back the ritual motions in the sonnet-ish devotion to "the coming ending to the tale that living tells." Dare I say you appropriated something free, too, back from the form? Old men should be explorers--that's from Eliot's page; I say old nuns should be annunciators of the living rage ... As here! - Brendan

  21. I want to say something worthy of your poetry. I never know if I can or do.

    I never consider any of your work a piece in progress as I do so many of mine. I don't know why you'd feel compelled to change any of this.
    Being half grown before I weened myself away from Catholicism, when you use the convent vocabulary I get stuck in space & time. The bell of Siddhartha stages me away into your particular committed woman - and I didn't see her as dark - just a daughter of the Earth grown old and wise.

    I see her now as your personal symbol. Life seeking a meaning to life in the other things that breathe and share their life both plant and animal with her. And through her the rotations, evolutions and revolutions of an observant life.

    Any work that explicates those wonders seen through your eyes are as jewels to your readers.

  22. Thank you Gay. I appreciate always your comments. My secret on your opening line is that I never post any 'works in progress.' I'm pretty slovenly when it comes to life in general, but I am almost OCD on my poetry. That said, you've definitely captured my own feelings about the piece--several commenters have thought it dark or sad, but you come much closer in your kind evaluation. I was as far as possible from sad when I wrote it. Thanks again for your insight and for reading my work.

    @Brendan: Yes, it's the anchoress' cell with a twist in this nunnery--amazing how much you can crowd in, how many gods and dancing humans, in such a small box. (And hopefully old women can also be explorers as well as old men such as yourself can be annunciators.)

  23. Old women can certainly be explorers, I'm kind of almost a middle aged one, and I'm still going. This had a sense of longing in it that was tangible I think this line nailed it for me

    Here’s no will, no last desire for erasure,

    I reckon she's pretty happy to be at the top looking down at all that's been and gone with a sense of unparralled wisdom. Really enjoyable, granted a second read Joy, well done!

  24. Grand Sonnet. I wish I had your gift for them. Thank you for sharing.

  25. Many gorgeous lines, here, Joy: I especially love " No fugitive guilts, bright crimes of living squandered,
    to mount her by their ever-piercing pins
    Of tangled hair, soft cries and wakeful skins,
    no lies told by her soul to which she’ll listen"--

    This would be a difficult poem for anyone to write-- to show forth the inner battle between carnal and spiritualin a way that brings it to life. Beautiful. xj

  26. The last three lines are marvelous.

  27. I love the beginning. You create a wonderful character. and make it clear, in a screenplay sort of way, what he day is like, and what she was before she became a nun.

  28. @G-man: Yep--been there, done it, glad I did. :-)

  29. There is so much beauty in this. From the first word, 'vespers' to the final couplet I feels ancient and sacred, and lovely.
    Oh, you comment on my name, Other Mary, lol - I started using 'Mary' and then the Mary that has been posting at OSP longer than I suggested we might be confusing. So, I became the 'other' to speak ;-) Love your name, Hedgewitch, btw!


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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