Help Us Write a Sonnet: Line FourPrint
By David Lehman
How like a prison is my cubicle
And yet how far my mind can freely roam
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home.
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral.
Line four comes to us courtesy of Frank Bidart, who prescribes a period to end the preceding line. “Freedom ends or starts with a funeral” is authoritative, aphoristic, an enigma suspended between the alliterative first and last words. The line links up logically with what precedes it while introducing two major themes, “freedom” and “funeral,” for us to play with in subsequent lines and stanzas.
The silver medal goes to Hazel Nolan. I liked the noble simplicity of her entry, “I take my morning constitutional,” which extends the sense of “roaming” but suggests that escape is itself part of a routine. Matt Brogan (“Repair. And then, on cue, your voice: Bacall”) and Pia Aliperti (“A warden knows which routes are cyclical”) found ingenious rhymes. Other strong entries were Beth Gylys’s string of adjectives (“Disturbed, profound, meaty, metrical”), Stacy Nott’s balancing act (“With halting tread or meter musical”), and Lewis Saul’s jubilation (“My imagined freedom so beautiful!”). I am happy to note that Mr. Anderson’s class of smart high school seniors, victorious in line three, continues to be actively engaged. “Permanent pilgrim, canny criminal,” a sweet example of double alliteration, would get votes if we opted for an adjectival rather than a declarative fourth line.
As you sharpen your pencils in pursuit of the next line, please keep in mind that the fifth line will form the first line of stanza two and must terminate in a word that we will need to rhyme, preferably in line eight, possibly earlier. The first stanza has introduced and developed the conceit of mental liberty within, or despite, physical confinement. Where do we take it, and how do we integrate it with the concept of freedom and the fact of a funeral? Or is it time to say something more about the “I” behind all these words and his or her circumstances?
Please leave your suggestion for the next line in a comment below.
David Lehman is the series editor for The Best American Poetry annual anthology. He has published eight books of poetry, the most recent of which is New and Selected Poems.
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