Looking In: a Sonnet
Constraint is an essential element of beauty. Of all the words in the world, the writer must choose some and not others; the musician must play some notes and build silence around them. And limitations on space and form are paradoxically generative; this is why I find the sonnet to be such a congenial form.
Limitation in physical space can have some of that effect too: having less to look at, less to be distracted by, perhaps it’s easier to actually see what’s there.
The last six weeks I’ve been in-between places: having sold my house, I had to stay somewhere before I headed off to England for the summer (and Houston, Texas for good, after I return). A kind friend let me stay in a cottage in her backyard. One room, fitted out with the essentials but nothing more: a small space.
The spark for this poem came from noticing the way that the sun would come into the room in the afternoon. If I had many rooms to be in, perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed. But in my little room, I wrote this sonnet about light.
I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for permission to use her beautiful photograph here; she is a gifted photographer and I am struck by her perceptiveness in seeing the connection between poem and image. You can find her Facebook page here. If you can’t see the player, you can also hear my reading of the the poem by clicking on the title.
Looking past a door that’s left ajar
I see a strip of scruffy grass and leaves
A dappling of shade, a partial arc
Of tree. I’m looking on; it is no part of me
Who sits on this side of the open door.
And yet my little room is lit within
With light I didn’t make or choose, and for
No grand occasion: this is all pure gift.
A square of sun lies sharp-edged on the floor:
A welcome mat for muses coming in,
A royal carpet rolled out by the Sun?
The light itself becomes the open door
Through which I’m looking out and seeing in:
The light without and light within are one.