Monday, March 1, 2010

Two manias, a second renaissance, and a classic sonnet from Sidney

So, it's like this. I have a great passion for the Renaissance, for Shakespeare, for Milton, for the metaphysical and devotional poets, for iambic pentameter, and for that redoubtable form that has proven so hearty for so very long -- the sonnet. 

That's mania #1.

Oh, and it's a true mania. I memorize sonnets. I assign my college students to memorize, recite, and write them. For a period of nearly four years, I wrote a sonnet EVERY SINGLE DAY. That's about 1200 sonnets. Crazy. After that, I tried to swear off of them. Really. But I'm back on that crack cocaine of English literature. Not quite to that earlier extreme. But there's something about them that keeps me (and so many others) coming back to them...

The other mania I have is for the digital renaissance that's now upon us. It isn't just my interest in technology or Web2.0; it's that I see a kind of creativity being made possible nowadays that has not been operative since that first Renaissance four to five hundred years ago. We see the democratization of the media, broader access to art and literature, but also the tools for creativity being much better distributed and having lower thresholds for entry. 

A big part of this new creative scene is escaping the tyranny of intellectual property and its stultifying forces. With creative commons licensing, people are no longer opting out of using and repurposing others' works since they are free to do so (under certain conditions, such as attribution). And that takes us right back to the 1500s when nobody was fussing over copyright. The first Renaissance truly enjoyed a creative commons, and it made possible some of the great works of that period, including Shakespeare's poetry and plays (most of which are deeply derivative). 

So it has been natural for me to create a blog that combines these two passions -- linked together quite nicely through a concept about creativity that is liberating in its openness. 

Today's sonnet will be one from the Renaissance, a poem from Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet sequence, Astrophil and Stella. It talks about the poet trying to find something to write about, and in the process documents the Renaissance common mode of creating through imitating others. Sidney's narrator may conclude his sonnet by claiming one must be original and not depend upon others' writings, but the humorous irony here is that this very poem, including this final sentiment, is itself borrowed from elsewhere.  Enjoy!

Sonnet #1 from Astrophil and Stella
by Sir Philip Sidney

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she (dear She) might take some pleasure of my pain:
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain;
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain:
Oft turning others' leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burn'd brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention's stay,
Invention, Nature's child, fled step-dame Study's blows,
And others' feet still seem'd but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite--
"Fool," said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart and write."

1 comment:

  1. You do know that you are a bit of a nerd, right? A sweet and talented nerd, but a nerd nonetheless. Don't get me wrong. I like nerds. I raised one.

    I'm eager to read the bounty that flows!