Help Us Write a Sonnet: Line FourteenPrint
By David Lehman
July 29, 2014
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.
Say what must die inside that I may not
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon,
Thence to the true hell: the heat in Tucson,
Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot.
Freedom starts or ends with a funeral.
I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope.
No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope.
What buzz can cheer this gloomy canticle?
Redemption is a swift revolving door:
A revolution ends the inner war.
You, dear contestants, saved your best for last—or next to last, as I’ll explain in a minute.
There were so many strong submissions for line 14 that I could not help wavering and flip-flopping before choosing Katie Whitney’s “A revolution ends the inner war.” The word “revolution,” too often and too loosely used in the 1960s, is le mot juste here, applying very specifically to the mechanism of the revolving door but also implying upheaval—whether a planned insurrection or one that comes about because of a host of factors, like the Great War that began 100 years ago. Thus the word in this context means itself and its opposite. It is lovely to have that paradoxical double meaning of “revolution,” to end on the “inner war” of our conflicted made-up self, and to have the word “end” itself figure in the sonnet’s final gasp.
Frank Bidart cops second-place honors with the dramatic suggestion that we end line 13 with a comma and conclude: “Like sex. You loved sex, but survival more.” Truth is not always as beautifully put.
The bronze medal goes to Paul Michelson, who would bring us full circle with “How like a prisoner this troubadour.” “Troubadour” is one among several unexpected rhymes that surfaced for “door.” Consider “minotaur,” “Hiroshima, Mon Amour,” Poe’s “Nevermore,” and oh yes, a tip of the chapeau to this publication: Joy Jacobson’s “Don’t you just love American Scholar.”
No fewer than five candidates merit honorable mention. Aaron Fagan wittily advocates repeating “Redemption is a swift revolving door.” Lewis Saul proposes that we do a theme and variations on line 11: “No more, no more, no more, no more, no more,” which would effect a fearful kind of symmetry. Beth Gylys’s romantic “Will love punch in, illusory no more?”—perhaps the most optimistic ending—was in the running until the last few furlongs, as was Berwyn Moore’s nod to Yeats’s “The Second Coming”: “That turns and spins our offices to war,” where “offices” is the crucial stroke. For sheer cleverness it would be hard to top Leo Braudy’s “That finds mere caesura when life is o’er,” which would raise our diction and bring us to an ending that is more of a pause than a full-stop. The key word is “caesura”—the technical term for a pause in the middle of a line of verse—tucked neatly here in the middle of the line.
If you thought our sonnet was finished, think again. We need a title. Please submit titles by midnight Sunday, August 3rd. And—thank you, everybody.
How like a prison is my cubicle, (DL)
And yet how far my mind can freely roam: (Leo Braudy)
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home. (Brian Anderson and his 12th grade composition class)
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral. (Frank Bidart)
Say what must die inside that I may not (MQ)
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon, (Anna E. Moss)
Thence to the true hell: the heat in Tucson (Lewis Saul)
Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot. (Diana)
Freedom starts or ends with a funeral.
I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope: (James the Lesser)
No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope. (Jamie)
What buzz can cheer this gloomy canticle? (Sandra M. Gilbert)
Redemption is a swift revolving door: (MQ)
A revolution ends the inner war. (Katie Whitney)
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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