On the survival of the sonnet in modern poetry
When we were talking about Mckay’s sonnet “Outcast” and why he decided to use such form, it immediately made me think about a passage in the second chapter of George Steiner’s Errata. Steiner has a thought on originality which seems quite relevant in the study of these modern sonnets; going back to the etymology of the term “original,” he notes that being “original is coming back to the origins.” On one hand, this is completely contrary to the meaning we may give it, as something completely new and different, on the other, both visions may not be that far apart.
When talking about something full of constraints as poetry is, there is no way a person can simply decide to write poetry with no past knowledge of the subject. It would be like trying to understand a modern society leaving all historical aspects aside. Someone in class mentioned, about abstract painting, how “anyone could paint a whole canvas blue,” and tried to compare a sonnet to a realist painting that is more “skill worthy.” I think that she was missing the point such a painting can have, and that the painting was not simply blue but full of subtilities only someone who truly understands painting can appreciate. The painter may have been using techniques specific from realism and used them to create something totally abstract and that must be appreciated in a totally different manner. I feel this is where McKay’s motivation to write sonnets may have stemmed. The sonnet is perfectly mastered by McKay: he uses the right rhythm and rhymes schemes, seemingly adopting the Western heritage of poetry. The content of the poem proves otherwise, as the persona feels alienated in the land where he was “born” and ironically does not consider his “native clime.” In “Outcast” the form contrasts with the content of the poem. In other modern sonnets we can imagine the rhyming to differ from the original scheme, or the rhythm, hence adding to the meassage of the text.Modern poets obviously know the significance of the sonnet in poetry and abiding by those rules, but keeping the liberty to bend them brings, in my opinion, a significant depth to the poems. — from Marius