Green come the shoots, aye April in the branches
Dance, shoot. And many I have loved watching. Some
By countless silken ties of love and thought,
“What were the struggles of his youth, what acts?”
What he has willed he had better not will again
Behind your frail tilted barrier. Tenderness
Finally to make his mind up to go home
Where the light is, and each thing clear.
As I made for the grove, without expectation,
They found me dangling with his golden wind.
History has to live with what was here:
The memory of the death of at least one man;
How soldiers milled around the garden stone,
Venison-sweet in the heavy smoke.
"Five Hundred Years" Sources:
Line 1: Ezra Pound, "A Virginal"
Line 2: Edward Thomas, "Some Eyes Condemn"
Line 3: Robert Frost, "The Silken Tent"
Line 4: W.H. Auden, "Who's Who"
Line 5: Elliott Coleman, from Oedipus Sonnets
Line 6: Malcolm Lowry, "Delirium In Vera Cruz"
Line 7: Elizabeth Bishop, "The Prodigal"
Line 8: Delmore Schwartz, "The Beautiful American Word, Sure"
Line 9: John Berryman, "Sonnet 115"
Line 10: James Merrill, "Marsyas"
Line 11: Robert Lowell, "History"
Line 12: David Lehman, "Sonnet"
Line 13: James Wright, "Saint Judas"
Line 14: April Bernard, "English as a Second Language"
Notes on "Five Hundred Years"
I’ve always wanted to call myself a sonneteer, and though I know I’ll never be as good as Shakespeare or Millay, it hasn’t stopped me from exploring a form that is both steeped in tradition and constantly being amended by every generation since da Lentini.
“Five Hundred Years” was composed on June 15, 2003, during a phase in my writing life where I could do nothing but write sonnets—or, at the very least, 14-line poems that had some or all of the characteristics of a sonnet. While reading The Penguin Book of the Sonnet (which is subtitled “500 Years of a Classic Tradition in English,” hence the poem’s title), the notion of creating a sonnet cento came to me, more out of the desire to experiment than with the grand notion to create a finished poem. But once I found a few lines that complimented each other, I thought I would up the ante and make the sonnet cento not only rhyme, but, as much as possible, try to have it “make sense.” I can’t say how the logic of the poem fell into place, and if asked for an explanation of the narrative, I’d point to the distance with a look of distress on my face, and when my questioners turned around to see what so horrified me, I’d run away.
I will point out that the lines move roughly in chronological order by poet, from the first line by Ezra Pound to the last, by April Bernard. This is happenstance and not design. I endeavored to use only American poets, but a few Englishmen (Thomas, Auden, Lowry) slipped in. I must also point out that there is a volta in the proper Petrarchan place between lines 8 and 9. This is also coincidence, but a happy one, and often how poems are written.
Michael Schiavo’s poetry and nonfiction has appeared in The Yale Review, Seneca Review, Tin House, The Believer, McSweeney’s, Painted Bride Quarterly, Guernica, 1913: A Journal of Forms, No Tell Motel, and elsewhere. He is a contributing editor to CUE and one of the most notorious cat burglars Europe has ever known.