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Robert-E-Howard: Electronic Amateur Press Association BLOG

Forthcoming: The Sonnets of Robert Ervin Howard

I’m currently working on the final revisions on a book of Howard’s collected sonnets with the format: a general introduction and preface followed by the layout of each sonnet on a verso page with notes and critical commentary on the facing recto page. Further or additional notes on any given poem that requires more discussion would occur on the following two pages, with room for illustrations on those pages also. The title will be: The Sonnets of Robert Ervin Howard.

I’ve been intrigued by Howard’s skill at this difficult, but ubiquitous form (the most often attempted fixed poetic form in all of Occidental literature, originating in the early Italian Renaissance). I’m especially impressed by his use of the sonnet [he actually wrote mostly Italian or Petrarchan Sonnets—far more difficult than the relatively simpler-to-rhyme English or Shakespearean variety] as, not only a lyric poem, but also as a short narrative poem. Squeezing a story into 14 lines is a tough task. It’s not exactly new, but it is rare. Take for example Percy Shelley’s famous “Ozymandias”:

OZYMANDIAS
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Notice that this poem is not only a story, but a FRAME STORY, a story within a story—one told by a character in the framing narrative. The “I” voice begins and concludes the poem (lines 1 [and first two words of 2] and 12-14). The “traveler’s” voice tells us the tale, but we also have the quoted words of Ozymandias within the internal frame narrative.

Howard achieves this sort of narrative mastery in sonnets like “Miser’s Gold”*—one of my favorites from among his 700+ poems and fragments.

*See THE COLLECTED POETRY or my ROBERT E. HOWARD: SELECTED POEMS.

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June 30, 2011 - Posted by | On the Poetry

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