Modern Sonnet 15 Poem Analysis

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Modern Sonnets: Extending Beyond Petrarchan Idealism Through Lineation and Meter

Historically, the sonnet is a form that expresses beauty, perfection, and ideals. While the Petrarchan blazon sonnet is focused exclusively on objectifying the female body, modern sonnets such as Alice Notley’s “Sonnet 15” and Claude McKay’s “The Castaways” veer away from that Petrarchan idealism. In “Sonnet 15”, Notley writes of the speaker’s heartbreak from a past relationship. Similarly, McKay chooses a darker topic, as he addresses the issue of homelessness in “The Castaways”. The subject matter of these poems differ greatly from that of the Petrarchan sonnet, and formal sonnet characteristics are also altered in a way that reflect these differences. In “Sonnet
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The line breaks usually occur at the end of phrases, so that the sonnet has a smooth flow and sounds pleasant. When the poem begins, this formal lineation is appropriate, as the beauty of nature is paralleled in the fluid lineation. As the poem reaches the volta in line 8, however, it explores the less beautiful living conditions of homeless people. By continuing to use the same lineation after the volta, McKay demonstrates how beauty and pain is not mutually exclusive. McKay’s perfect lineation in spite of a non-ideal situation reminds readers that although people in dire circumstances experience pain, they also experience beauty and happiness. Unlike the Petrarchan sonnet, McKay explores both misery and beauty in “The Castaways”. Though McKay’s lineation is dissimilar to Notley’s, both challenge the Petrarchan sonnet’s idealism. Another example of how lineation is exploited to expand the definition of the sonnet is during the rhyming couplet at the end of the poem, when McKay writes, “Moaning, I turned away, for misery/I have the strength to bear but not to see” (13-14). Though throughout the poem, McKay usually completes a thought before moving to the next line; this example is one exception. McKay introduces his idea about misery, but does not complete it until the next line. The jump in line creates a small pause, drawing the readers’ attention to the final and most important lines of the sonnet. As Susan Holbrook describes, the rhyming couplet can be a “kind of finale that can encapsulate the idea of the sonnet” (Holbrook, 10). The lineation, in this case, emphasizes how people often ignore the misery of others rather than helping them, because it is painful to witness. This point is crucial because it connects to a potential reason why McKay may have wanted to choose the sonnet as the form for this poem. The traditional Petrarchan sonnet speaks only

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