blog 13

Joe Dzierzawiec

Blog 13

“The Painter”



In his poem, “The Painter,” John Ashbery plays with the rigid form of the sestina to comment on the relationship between an artist, his work, and his audience. For example, Ashbery defines certain important words in his first stanza, writing, “Sitting between the sea and the buildings / He enjoyed painting the sea’s portrait. / But just as children imagine a prayer / Is merely silence, he expected his subject / To rush up the sand, and, seizing a brush, / Plaster its own portrait on the canvas.” The repeated end words of Ashbery’s sestina are “buildings,” “portrait,” “prayer,” “subject,” “brush,” and “canvas.” All the words seem to relate to an artist’s means of production (brush and canvas), inspiration (prayer and subject), finished work (portrait), or assumed audience (buildings). Ashbery’s stanza seems to put boundaries to these domains; the artist’s definite place is between the sea and buildings. The portrait is of the sea. There is the hoped-for system of inspiration (the sea) “plastering” itself on the canvas to create the work, almost removing the need for an artist. As the sestina continues, though the end words stay the same in their rigid, defining quality, Ashbery’s “Painter” wishes seemingly for a change in inspiration, murmuring, “My soul, when I paint this next portrait / Let it be you who wrecks the canvas.” Here it seems that the painter cannot decide whether his painting springs from the painted subject itself or from his own mind, and so “Finally all indications of a subject / began to fade, leaving the canvas / perfectly white.” So it seems that the artist’s worrying over how and from where his work is painted prevents it from ever being created anyway; and so finally, Ashbery’s last stanza presents, “They tossed him, the portrait, from the tallest of buildings; / And the sea devoured the canvas and the brush / As though his subject had decided to remain a prayer.” The form of the sestina allows this last stanza to present the previously defined end words as, not clear and stark as they were before, but seemingly all jumbled confusingly into each other, as the artist is even described as his own portrait. It seems that Ashbery here comments on the value of trying to define separate cogs of an art machine; perhaps art is not meant to be compartmentalized and examined as a system of working parts, but should instead be understood as a fused conglomerative effort of artist, work, and subject, with each contributing a vital and irreplaceable part that makes a greater whole. Ashbery’s sestina form allows him to approximate these states, representing the rigid, defined art, as well as the jumble.


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blog 12

Joe Dzierzawiec

Blog 12

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”




In his poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” Dylan Thomas utilizes the repetitive, marching rhythm of the villanelle to express anger and frustration at the prolonged terminal illness of his father. Thomas begins his poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” The imagery of “burning,” “raving,” and “raging” are emphasized by the driving, martial meter of the villanelle; here, repetition is the key to recreating Thomas’s rage. The repetition mirrors the frustrated circles of Thomas’s mind, constantly anguishing and poring over his father’s condition. The literal repetition of certain key words, like the phrase “rage, rage” repeated several times over the course of the poem, is enforced by Thomas’s sharp iambs and the villanelle’s required repetition of rhyming end words. This multiple repetition drives the entire poem toward a mood of frustration at inactivity, at helplessness, and at death. It seems appropriate, then, that Thomas’s poem is an exercise in as much emotion, movement, and knee-jerk reaction as he can muster. Thomas’s driving motif is then convincing his father to not die slowly, willingly, helplessly, but to fight and rage until the end, to never give up his spirit. For Thomas, motion must never stop.


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Note: I know that my sestina doesn’t follow exactly the established pattern of word endings and their placement in each of the stanzas, but I really thought a more “unstructured” combination of the six word endings better simulated the way memory works, which I tried to make the main focus of the poem. That is, I wanted a more “random” distribution of words than ABCDEF/FAEBDC… etc… I guess that makes it more of a “free” sestina? I hope that’s ok.

Joe Dzierzawiec



Behind a worn podium stands the Marine.

To the auditorium hall, whose cheeks

are burnished like failing autumn

from the wind faking November’s quiver,

he appears a tidy, decorated bed.

Over a vase of carnations,


his hands twitch in a rustling bed

of notepaper, to meet his gaze’s quiver.

The huge silence billows as the Marine,

with trembling stonefaced cheeks

and eyes like a scanty wash of autumn

trees, notices the pink carnations.


Haltered words stumble between his cheeks.

The microphone is a dank black carnation

he takes a sniff of, deep and quivering,

and finally embraces: for the Marine

speaks, as if half-muted facedown on a bed –

“I remember last autumn


when she was still alive.”

His voice quivers,

“I laid my sister in her bed, her final bed,”

and dark faces become filmscreens of an autumn

when he could’ve laced her fragile cheeks

with out-of-the-back-yard carnations,

instead of joining a war. The Marine


remembers the embrace of an autumn

wind two years vanished to its wintry bed.

Under wool hats, they gashed the cheeks

of pumpkins and lit macabre smiles (quivers

of tears dashed on dropped carnations

as he read her the deployment letter). The Marine


is quiet again, staring at the carnations.

The world reverberates; to the Marine

each moment is an echo that imbeds,

like arrows pulled from a quiver,

into the memory behind his cheeks.

Her name uttered: last autumn.


Rain begins outside: schikschikschik.

Stirred, he awards, on behalf of his nation,

a scholarship for classes next autumn.

In the sky, her favorite color: aquamarine.


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blog 11

Joe Dzierzawiec

Blog 11



In his poem, “The Convergence of the Twain,” Thomas Hardy plays with physical structure and diction to create a contrast between the intended gloriousness of the ship Titanic and its less than glorious fate. Hardy’s eleven stanzas all have the shape of the ominous Iceberg spun by fate– the effect is created by two shorter lines followed by a long line to simulate the iceberg’s underwater bulk– but the device likewise serves to contrast the sentiment behind the Titanic’s launching and its eventual downfall. For example, Hardy describes, “Over the mirrors meant / To glass the opulent / The sea-worm crawls– grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent. / Jewels in joy designed / To ravish the sensuous mind / Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.” In both stanzas, Hardy’s first two lines illustrate the intended sentiment of the Titanic’s construction: the showcase of extravagance, “opulent” and “ravish[ing].” The long last line though, the one that represents the iceberg’s (and fate’s) ominous presence, relishes the dank, slimy, decayed gloriousness of the Titanic. This well depicts Hardy’s world-view, that of all human construction as vain, unnecessary stalling of fate’s inexorable entropy. Hardy also controls his diction to mirror this sentiment; one of his more unique word choices appears in a “moon-eyed” fish’s question upon viewing the sunken wreck, “What does this vaingloriousness down here?” Apart from being an extremely apt word to describe the Titanic’s finery in Hardy’s mind, both “glorious” and “vain,” the physical word itself is a bulky, superfluous construction of human language, physically creating in one’s mouth the girth and weightiness of the Titanic.


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blog 10

Joe Dzierzawiec

Blog 10




In his poem “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley captures the bleak and inevitable decay of greatness with the turn of the sonnet. Shelley begins his sonnet with the description of a bizarre and antiquated statue, long derelict in a desert. Shelley retells, “Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, / and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command / tell that its sculptor well those passions read…” The description here seems to emphasize the haughty power and arrogance of the statue’s subject; it is clearly meant to replicate some god-fearing, speechless awe. This emotion sets up the turn of the sonnet; Shelley explains that there is a pedestal by the statue which reads, “‘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.” How bleak, how terrifying, how loaded is the statement, “Nothing beside remains,” next to Ozymandias’s arrogance! This is the turn; despite Ozymandias’s self-decided greatness, ultimately he is reduced to a “shattered visage” in the midst of a “boundless and bare” desert. Shelley suggests with this sentiment that all human greatness eventually and inevitably decays to a “colossal wreck” on the endless “lone and level sands.”


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blog 9

Joe Dzierzawiec

Blog 9



In John Keats’s poem, “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer,” Keats plays with the format of the sonnet, specifically the turn, to reflect metrically his change in perspective upon reading Chapman’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey. Keats begins his sonnet by comparing the act of reading to exploration in foreign lands, traveling “in the realms of gold,” in “goodly states and kingdoms,” and “round many western islands.” To Keats, then, Chapman allows a full realization of this exploration, rather than just looking upon the “wide expanse… / That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne.” And here is the turn: Keats explains, “Yet did I never breathe its pure serene / Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: / Then felt like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken…” Thus, the turn in Keats’s poem describes an alteration of perspective, a new magnifying glass into the realms of Greek poetry. Chapman transforms Keats from a voyeur into a voyager; this is especially relevant to Keats’s metaphor, which describes Keats as “stout Cortez when with eagle eyes / He stared at the Pacific — and all his men / Looked at each other with a wild surmise– / Silent, upon a peak in Darien.” Chapman allows Keats to experience reading as an almost transcendent journey into wildly alien lands. It is important, then, to recognize how the sonnet form enhances this sentiment; like Keats’s transformation, the turn of the sonnet allows a new perspective onto a subject. It encompasses the unexpected, the overlooked, the brain-geyser; it is the catharsis of a sudden clarity, a pure realization about the world. The turn of the sonnet, then, perfectly reflects a turn of Keats’s life.


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Joe Dzierzawiec



Some son spreads dripping wings to rise in awe.

Clouds part with every mighty phoenix flap.

His family watches, eyes and lips imprinted

With wonder; tongues that claimed he couldn’t do it

Loll from mouths — but he is facing north,

And one last gleeful feathery push removes

His silhouette from sight, and he is gone.

Or would be, had the world not heaved itself

Up from its earthy bulk– a leviathan stone

Wrapped weightily around his twisted ankles,

And like a rumbling dull automaton

Pulled back to earth the son who had escaped.

The sight of sun is glassily reflected

In widened eyes, just once, and he is crushed.


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