Though buds, light-headed, arrow to the sun, Wood-pigeons cautiously descend to drink As through the roof the first faint cheepings run From half-fledged nestlings in some straw-warm chink, While welling far and near − to float and sink Like spidery fibre silvered on the lawn − Mercurial lark song trails out link by link, Rocking serrated-throated crows have drawn Their broad indelible raw weals across the dawn.
Jerome Betts writes: “Have only tried the intricate patterning of the ‘Spenserian stanza‘ a couple of times. On the first occasion it seemed to suit a comment on the design of a 4th century Roman mosaic floor and on the second, in ‘Morning Calls’, appearing inSnakeskin, a memory of the rich dawn chorus in rural Herefordshire many years ago. The point of particular interest for me is the phrase ‘rocking serrated-throated crows’ in Line 8, unchanged from one jotted at the time. The words fitted a rocking or bobbing movement, but why ‘serrated-throated’? This is appropriate for ravens with their ‘shaggy throat feathers’ (RSPB Handbook 2014) but not, I thought, crows. The words resisted attempts at tweaking and the stanza stalled. Some weeks later I saw a crow standing on top of a Devon street light rhythmically calling and rocking . . . and as it did so its neck feathers briefly parted on the upstroke of the movement. The line had preserved an exact observation made when young and then forgotten.”
Jerome Betts edits the quarterly verse webzine Lighten Up Online in Devon. His work has appeared in Amsterdam Quarterly, Angle, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Pennine Platform, Light, The Rotary Dial, and Snakeskin, other American, British and Canadian publications and two Iron Press anthologies. www.lightenup-online.co.uk
Before the sun is up, the people are.
Fishermen have gone out, for noon’s fierce light
Will punish them, and their desires are slight:
To sell their catch, drink cold beer by a bar.
The workers hitch rides with some early car
That will go fairly near their building site.
Women prep kids’ meals, feeling it’s not right
To have to leave to clean some tourist spa.
Only the unemployed and office staff
Still sleep while roosters crow and seagulls laugh,
And the light rising in its eastern glow
Shows Harbour houses in a double row,
One on the Cay, the other upside down
Painted on windless glass, a mirror town.
This sonnet was first published in The Hypertexts, the massive poetry collection assembled by Michael R. Burch. There’s not much to say about the poem… it’s a love poem to Governor’s Harbour, my home town.
But sonnets in general have a charm for many people. They seem just the right size both to hold a description or a complex thought that has tendrils in various directions, and to be small enough to be memorised. They are a good tool for high school classrooms, containing a richness of thought for analysis and an opportunity to develop memory skills. They allow a learner to absorb and express the power of the language’s potential for rhythm and rhyme. A good education will have made you familiar with dozens of sonnets, and they and their organising principles remain deeply embedded somewhere within you all your life.