Tangled up in rose

Have been reading this fascinating essay by R.H. Winnick, on some evidence that Shakespeare infused the Sonnets with intricate anagrams on the name of his early patron, Henry Wriothesley (the most likely model for the beloved "friend" celebrated therein).

The opening sonnets strike a comically-avuncular pose, in which the speaker advises the beautiful young man to marry & beget children, in order to share & sustain his loveliness into the future, rather than imprison it in a barren self-regard. Gradually, however, the sonnets develop another theme : that though the young man may not sustain his image in an actual son, that image, that "son", will live on forever in the literary dimension of the poems themselves.

As I have written here & elsewhere, Shakespeare's Sonnets, had a terrific impact when I first read them (as an undergraduate at Brown) in 1973. My reading precipitated a psychic crisis, replete with uncanny coincidences, etc. - elements of psychosis, or near-psychosis. It wasn't only that I thought William Shakespeare was (somehow) addressing me personally, directly - through some kind of time-cancelling occult sonnet-semaphore : it was also that the strictly poetic power of the verses reinforced the sensation, the feeling of being so addressed.

More than a quarter-century of (I guess) relatively sane living later, I still recognize & must acknowledge that that long-ago crisis represents maybe the most important turning-point in my vocational development, if not my life as a whole. My immediate reaction was to renounce poetry itself : but the psychological claims of that crisis - along with my very early orientation toward a literary career - compromised any such absolute revocation. Eventually I came back to it.

& somehow my inborn gamesmanship (& maybe megalomania) push me (seemingly ineluctably) toward a further iteration of that strange encounter. I've written elsewhere about how my own sonnet sequence, Island Road, encrypts a sort of re-encounter with Shakespeare. I think also of all the poetry-games I've played repeatedly with Shakespeare, John Berryman, & the name "Henry." & now, reading R.H. Winnick's piece, I am thinking again... (perhaps giving some pointers to future investigators)...

Winnick cites Helen Vendler's exploration of sonnet 67's word-play around the phrase "roses of shadow." He links this with line 2 of the 1st sonnet - "That thereby beauty's rose might never die" - which another scholar, Martin Green, has suggested, evokes (sonically) the name of Wriothesley (pronounced variably as "rizzly", "rizely", or "rozely"). Then Winnick unpacks a fabulous network of anagrammatic encryptions of "Henry Wriothesley" found in several different sonnets.

What I want to propose (with tongue only partly in cheek) is that one could read back through my own poetry for word-patterns and biographical patterns which actually emphasize the strange sense that Shakespeare was indeed writing to me and for me ("what's past is prologue"). Consider the manifold connections established in my work between Henry and Rhode Island (the first being that my birthday - May 29th - is also RI Statehood Day). Then there is the very long (600+ pp.) poem, Forth of July - the original title of which was Stubborn Grew the Rose. The line "stubborn grew, the rose" is underlined (bookends, actually) the 1st volume of that poem (Stubborn Grew). The poem is, in some respects, an RI epic (& we note that "Rhode Island" is another way of saying Rose Island). & further we note that Stubborn Grew narrates the adventures of a poet named "Henry" and his ghostly guide ("Bluejay") as they construct a kind of geomantic character - the letter "W" - across the landscape of Providence, RI. This "W" stands for various things... but in the context of this particular wild speculation, we remark some dimensions of that unusual name - "Henry Wriothesley." Henry... W... RI... risely... rosely.... Rose...

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