What fun to find a sonnet in Image 102! Yes, a true sonnet—following the meter (iambic pentameter), stanza breaks, and rhyme scheme of a traditional sonnet. Other contemporary poets have explored the sonnet form engagingly: I think of Mark Jarman’s Unholy Sonnets and Jeanne Murray Walker’s new collection Pilgrim: You Find the Path by Walking. But the sonnet is unusual enough among contemporary poems that it strikes me as refreshingly new—rather than, as it is, 700 years old.
Andrew Sorokowski is so faithful to the sonnet form that each stanza in “Curriculum Vitae” is a unit in itself, presenting one phase of the poem’s overall drama. The first quatrain sets out the qualities of “the lives of others”—perfectly lived, in the speaker’s view. The second quatrain gives us, by contrast, the speaker’s sense of his own life of missed opportunities and ill-fit responses.
The third quatrain begins as traditional sonnets do: with what’s called the “volta” or “turn” in the argument. Sorokowski introduces this turn, appropriately, with the words “And so.” What follows are the speaker’s deductions from the previous stanzas, which then move into a surprise question: might the meaning of our life lie not in our past but in the future—in heaven? The closing couplet, playing with “heretofore” and “hence,” delightfully seals the argument.
A final note on Sorokowski’s rhyme scheme. The two major traditional sonnet rhyme patterns are the Petrarchan (ABBA ABBA CDE CDE) and the Shakespearean (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.) Sorokowski follows the Shakespearean form except for his third quatrain, which is EEFF. A minor liberty: I’d still say this sonnet is traditional in form—while thoroughly new and fun in its content. — Peggy Rosenthal
The lives of others have a point and aim.
Each stage prepares them for the one to come.
They know the rules, and how to play the game.
Their calculations yield a tidy sum
My opportunities were premature,
Or late. My deepest love went undeclared.
I hesitated when I could be sure.
I should have been more cautious when I dared.
And so our talents, dormant, pregnant, wait;
Our wisdom deepens and accumulates;
Until the day when finally we stare
Death in the face. Was all this heaven’s share,
And not our own? For this alone makes sense:
The heretofore is nothing to the hence.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.