Hello friends! This week, I’m writing a series of short essays for my Traitor in the Tunnel blog tour, which starts at the end of this month. The tour will feature some of my favourite YA bloggers, including the Story Siren, I Swim for Oceans, the Booksmugglers, Reading in Color, Steph Su Reads, and the Bookmonsters. Hurray!
My theme for this blog tour is Victorian Obsessions and some of my research for it led me to a series of poems I haven’t thought about since I was a PhD student: Modern Love, by George Meredith. Modern Love is actually a sonnet sequence – a chain of fifty connected poems, each with the same rhyme scheme and all on the same subject.
That’s already ambitious. Yet Meredith goes further. Most sonnet sequences are about love – the development of a romance, the triumph of true love, pure and passionate. But Meredith turns this around completely, because Modern Love is about the breakdown of a marriage; his own marriage. Here’s the first 16-line sonnet, “By this he knew she wept with waking eyes”:
- By this he knew she wept with waking eyes:
- That, at his hand’s light quiver by her head,
- The strange low sobs that shook their common bed
- Were called into her with a sharp surprise,
- And strangled mute, like little gasping snakes,
- Dreadfully venomous to him. She lay
- Stone-still, and the long darkness flowed away
- With muffled pulses. Then, as midnight makes
- Her giant heart of Memory and Tears
- Drink the pale drug of silence, and so beat
- Sleep’s heavy measure, they from head to feet
- Were moveless, looking through their dead black years,
- By vain regret scrawled over the blank wall.
- Like sculptured effigies they might be seen
- Upon their marriage-tomb, the sword between;
- Each wishing for the sword that severs all.
This sonnet blows me away every time I read it. It’s ruthless and violent, fiercely radical and brutally effective. I’d never guess that it was written in 1862; to me, it sounds more like 1962. And it’s a great reminder – especially to me, since I’m now writing about “the Victorians” and invariably generalizing a bit – that every era has its startling exceptions.
What do you think of the poem? Are there other exceptions (Victorian or otherwise) that it calls to mind?
As well as a blog tour, I’ll be having a launch party in Kingston to celebrate the publication of Traitor. Hurrah! The details:
Saturday, March 3, 2012, from 3 to 5 pm
Novel Idea Books, 156 Princess St, Kingston
If you’re local, I’d love to see you there!