Sunday, June 01, 2008

Penelope (sonnet)

Penelope, Ithaka’s lonesome Queen
is weaving webs of excuse and deceit
to blind and bind the suitors she has seen
come crowding to her door on hasty feet.
And every day she has to give report:
"No word of him has come from foreign coasts,"
to louts who fill the hall and crowd the court
and quarrel over her with foolish boasts.
Her grief unravels, every night alone
the loom unweaving every inch of shroud
she wove by day. A woman's work is never
finished til she wills it. She has vowed
to keep this house until her son is grown
to man's estate. Or for her man, forever.

I wrote this poem originally as a pantoum and have rewritten it here as a sonnet, for readwritepoem's "mix and match" prompt. Ren asks: "What do you sacrifice, what do you adapt and what do manage to keep?"

Well, the sonnet and the pantoum (at least, in this version of the sonnet) are both made up of abab quatrains, so it was easy enough to pull out a couple of quatrains from the pantoum to start off the sonnet. But the interesting thing is that the pantoum uses every line twice-- so the twenty-line pantoum actually provides only ten unique lines-- not enough to make a sonnet. I ended up using 9 lines from the pantoum in the sonnet, more or less unchanged. That left me writing 5 new lines, which added a considerable amount of information to the poem.

What's lost, I think, is the repetitive and ultimately circular feel of the pantoum. Which I thought was the perfect expression of Penelope's situation, which is why I wrote it as a pantoum originally. A sonnet demands some sort of closure, so in this version, Penelope (who's basically lost hope that Odysseus will ever come home) looks ahead to the time when Telemachus will be an adult, king of Ithaka in his own right, and able to defend his own inheritance. In the pantoum version, there is no end in sight: around and around, each day the same, as she fends off her suitors with excuses growing steadily more threadbare.

So, even though the two poems use most of the same words/lines, they do give a somewhat different interpretation to the situation. And, interestingly, the difference is mostly in the form, not in the content.

Collection available! Knocking from Inside


Crafty Green Poet said...

I loved your pantoum and I enjoyed this reworking of it too. Your thoughts about the difference are interesting.

chicklegirl said...

This was really beautiful just as a poem, but so much more considering the depth of Penelope's feelings (the Odyssey was always a favorite of mine because of her). Wow!