Richard Vallance.

January 2002
SHARPS AND FLATS - by Jim Dunlap


Jim Dunlap is newsletter editor of the Des Moines Area Writers' Network, has had over 500 poems published in close to seventy small press magazines to date, including PLAINSONGS, POTPOURRI and the PARIS/ATLANTIC. He has been in the Writer's Digest top 100 a number of times, and is listed in the Marquis Who's Who In America, 2002.


This month's review will (mercifully) be briefer than usual, as is Jim's rather unorthodox sonnet, which does not follow the rule that normally demands the poet compose in strict iambic pentameter, or in tripped or sprung rhythm, after the manner of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Since the month of December and the first week of January are the Times of Advent (the "coming" of the "Spirit"), the Birth of the Christ (Greek, "the anointed one") and of Christmas , Epiphany [1] and Ukrainian Christmas (January 6th.), I felt it only appropriate to review a sonnet, which illuminates one of the great concerns of our times, Angels and, by extension, the Music of the Spheres and of the Angelic Hosts.

This sonnet is remarkable for the brevity of its versification, which is its hallmark. The poem is invested with an unusually mellifluous, compelling and sweeping rhythm, so suited to its thematics and tone. The musical impetus that drives this lovely little sonata or "sonnetto" (Italian for, "little song") asserts its presence tempestuously in the very first verse:

While thundering arpeggios...
which consists of a mere 8 syllables (making it a tetrameter)

That being said, here is the sonnet in its entirety, with the number of syllables in each line given to the right of the verses:

Line no.			No. of syllables in the verse

      While thundering arpeggios		8	[tetrameter]
      Flow, like cherry wine...		5	[irregular?]
      And violins and cellos		7	[irregular?]
4     In rhythm intertwine...		5
      The symphony flows onward		7
      Like chants the Angels send.           	6	[trimeter]
      Atavistic feelings stirred		7
8    Track where melodies extend.	7
      Man's soul is always yearning	7
      For something grand and free --	6
      Which, like a fire burning,                    	6
12  Soars out in ecstasy...		6
      Music opens, for Earth's billions,	8
14  A glimpse of Heaven's far pavilions.        9 	[irregular?]

Dunlap, Jim, "Entwined In Wonder", Beaverton, Oregon: Cedar Bay Press, LLC, 1996. 50 pages. ISBN I-57555-052-0

Thus, we find in this sonnet: one verse of 9 syllables (being the last), two of 8 (the first and second last of the rhyming couplet), five of 7, four of 6 and two verses of 5 syllables. There is not even one single 10 syllable regular iambic pentameter in the entire sonnet. At first sight, this would appear a highly irregular, even unsound versification.

But, the question arises, has the poet deliberately opted for such rhythmic punctuality? And the answer, I believe, has to be, "yes". Certainly, Jim Dunlap's sonnet sweeps us along on its irresistible wave of positively bubbling energy, reflecting itself not only in the sonnet's recurrent crescendo upbeats, but in the images which he has so carefully crafted to match that impelling rhythm.

Secondly, we must ask ourselves to what extent he has been successful in keeping up the measure of his cadences. This review intends to shed light on this potentially contentious issue, clearly open to further debate.

The Octave:

This poem quickly raises us up from this earthly plane of existence, in which we are imprisoned, and it does so very efficaciously, in the first verse, with the adjective "thundering" (you can almost hear the Norse god, Odin!), itself joltingly modifying the melodic impulsiveness of "arpeggios". Now, while arpeggios are frequently exciting and often even wildly enthusiastic, I think it fair enough to conclude that they are much less often "thunderous", unless one finds oneself riveted to the music of the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach's Organ pieces, Saint-Saen's Organ Concerto, or the maenadic music of Franz Liszt. It is almost as if the Eumenides ("the Furies") of these flying arpeggios were fired by such Music of the Spheres as we can hear crashing outside our prison walls, from whose windows we may also catch occasional glimpses of awesome thunderous clouds and lightning flashing. This is, of course, analogous to Plato's Myth of the Cave, in his Republic.

Still, as this sonnet begins to soar, that thunder quickly subsides, its astonishing Olympic energy Olympic energy, subsumed without further ado by the imagery of the equally astonishing, melodically far more eloquent second verse:

	Flow, like cherry wine...		5
Now, it practically goes without saying that anyone, who has tasted the finest of French Bordeaux, or any other World class wine, is passionately familiar with the vivid image Jim here is, as it were, letting out of the "genie's bottle". You can almost taste the wine as its velveteen "thunder" rushes delightfully down your throat, sensationally overpowering you with the passions that were bent to its making. Here again, the adjective, "cherry", brings a brilliant flourish to the image, and it does so resoundingly, by intermingling our perception of lush colours with those of equally lush smells and taste!

        And violins and cellos			7
        In rhythm intertwine...			5
These next verses invariably lead us to wondering whether the poet is either:

  1. actually listening to lovely violin and cello music, perhaps a Cello Concerto, such as Haydn's or Dvorjak's, or

  2. savouring the vibrant taste, delicate aroma and rich colours of the wine remind him so vividly of such music he has previously, with deep fascination, listened to in his life, or

  3. perhaps he even may be recalling sharing such a delicious moment with his belovd or his wife, or yet still

  4. the image is to be accepted as is for its own artistic sake and intrinsic value, subsuming all of the above images, and then some, meaning, of course, whatever pops to our imaginations as readers.

And this in turn speaks volumes for the notion that each individual reader, as he or she reads and re-reads at depth a short sonnet such as this, metamorphoses that poem into his or her own literary experience, and not that of the author's, all of us being unique in our own perception(s) of "reality" and Reality. There can be little doubt this (and more) is Jim's intent.

Verses 5 and 6 elevate the poem to even greater heights, by raising up us out of the sensorial and emotional realm, and catapulting us, lightning-like, into the spiritual:

        The symphony flows onward		7
        Like chants the Angels send.		6		
Notice how Jim focuses our attention in verse 6 on that last little innocuous one-syllable word, "send", a phoneme which might have otherwise gone quite unnoticed, were it not that it is acts as the pivot in the poem's progression beyond into, onto and up towards the Infinite Realms of Light. For, while the symphonia itself seems to have been created by a composer in this, our world, it would appear from the sonnetto's perspective that, in reality, "the Angels send" its message and melodies to the composer. This is a much more colourful way of saying that he or she (as indeed the poet) was "inspired" or "breathed into" (Latin: in-spiro = "I breathe into").

            Atavistic feelings stirred		7
8         Track where melodies extend.	7

Now, there's an unusual way to wind up the octave! The poet begins with the spirit-invocating and advocating modifier, "Atavistic", in this context meaning:

The return of a trait or recurrence of previous behaviour after a period of absence.

[French "atavisme", from Latin "atavus", ancestor: "atta" = father + "avus" grandfather, from Indo-European root, "awo" (ancient Greek, "apo" = (away) from, far from)

Clearly, Jim is referring to a very long period of absence, most probably many centuries, if not even millenia. But, in what context? Well, taking into account the impetus of the rhythm and the vivid images in his sonnet, it appears to me that he means us to grasp one profound Truth, so often "forgotten", left by the wayside, buried in our unconscious, whether personal or collective, and it is none other than this: that deep and meaningful human Inspiration, rising up from the hidden wellsprings of Eternal Love, is indeed a rare phenomenon of most precious price, gleaned, gathered and harvested in only the most "inspired" of Artistic expressions, be these in music, the plastic arts or in literature and poetry. Or yet again, such expressions arise in the tonalities of Love that can and often do inspire our everyday lives!

That explains (at least in part) why the feelings stirred in the "listener" become, or are transformed into "Atavistic" ones, long-lost, buried, ancestral, "ex-isting" (Greek or Latin ="being beyond") the borders of one's own native land (in Jim's case, America), beyond perhaps the earliest days of our Age, beyond the Renaissance, reaching conceivably as far back as Antiquity.

This of course, adds yet another dimension to the music, insofar as we might find ourselves listening with all our minds and all our hearts, our ears critically intent, to the melodious airs of the ancient poets, such as Horace and Vergil, Sappho and Homer, or the glorious invocations of the ancient Sanskrit Upanishads. Hence, our feelings must invariably "track" not only where, but as far as, and in whatever "directions" our own personal feelings are capable of "extending" - quoth the poet. This experience is by nature synchronistic, unique and intimately special to each of us as the "Individual" (Latin = "the being who cannot be divided").

The Sestet:

          Man's soul is always yearning	7
          For something grand and free --	6
          Which, like a fire burning,		6
12      Soars out in ecstasy...		6
begins with the 3 verses above, which plainly enough inform us what the poet means and intends with his imagery and in this allegory, and inform (in the philosophical sense of that word) the imagery of the poem itself. The entire impetus of the sonnet is here summed, and the sum, as is often the case, more than equals the sum of all its "parts", the parts being all the cumulative effect of all the imagery we have encountered in the poem.

Now, of course, the poet does have recourse to the commonly used conceit of "fire burning" as the Holy Intermediary or Medium, whereby the soul of man must be cleansed, if he is to attain any understanding at all, any knowledge of the Music of the Heavenly Spheres, in a word, to "alight" upon Wisdom.

Music is quintessentially a mathematical experience, and pure mathematics, as first expounded by the ancient Greek geometers, and to this day and age, still in the process of being further refined (as in a "refiner's fire" [2]), comes about as close as we may ever hope to come to the multifarious thresholds of Eternity. Such was the essence of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the purity of which was driven by his obsession with mathematical perfection through the medium of pure melody.

The verse,

12        Soars out in ecstasy... 		6
is of particular fascination to me, as the poet achieves what to my mind can be considered a remarkable juxtaposition of prepositional constructs. Remark that he follows "out" immediately by "in", and then again, with the prefix in "ecstasy", he repeats "out". Thus, we have: out-in-out, the ground and essence of human, as well as our World's Breathing, at all levels: sensorially, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. And our human spirit, opened by the Angelic hosts or "the messengers" (Greek, "aggeloi") of the Beyond, is finally released, at least, in MIND, from the bonds of its prison, and "Soars out" like the proverbial dove, out through the bars and into the Celestial Realms.

The Rhyming Couplet:

Such a conclusion is irremediably confirmed by the final rhyming couplet, which, faithful to itself, confidently yet calmly, asserts, in almost Vedic Hindu imagery:

            Music opens, for Earth's billions,		8
14        A glimpse of Heaven's far pavilions.		9
The rhyming couplet epitomizes the deepest and highest of our common aspirations for Peace and prosperity for all mankind, and by implication, for an end to all War(s), and the subjugation of "evil" under the sway and aegis of the Music of the Spheres.

What strikes me perhaps most compellingly is the banner-proclaiming omega word of the poem, "pavilions", the blessed eventual fluttering wing-liked homes for all the earth's suffering "billions". These "pavilions" may be brightly multi-coloured flags or pennants, such as we might find in a Medieval tournament, or at a large naval Regatta. Monet immortalized "pavilions" in one of his paintings, where he portrays people at leisure strolling by a wind-swept seashore, white caps on the ocean, pavilions flapping brusquely in a stiff breeze. That gives us some notion of the paraworldly effects the word, "pavilions", evinces.

All in all, this finely crafted, artistically succinct sonnet, is remarkable for its imagistic clarity and brilliance. As for the rhythm, unorthodox metre and lopsided versification, I leave it to you, the reader, to judge to what degree its author has succeeded in matching these stylistic requirements with the sonnet's exquisite message.

As for myself, I find their marriage felicitous.


[1] Epiphany lasts from January 6th., (Ukrainian Christmas) through the day before Lent. Thus it begins on January 6th. and lasts until Tuesday, February 12th, 2002. The term means, essentially, "Manifests Himself as God", and is derived from the ancient Greek, "epiphaino" (verb) = to show forth, to shine upon, to be manifest & "epiphaneis" (adjective) = coming to light, open, manifest, remarkable. The noun, "epiphanaia" (f.) is koine or New Testament Greek for, "the festival of the Epiphany, the Manifestation of Christ".

[2] 'refiner's fire" - from Handel's, "Messiah", 6 Air - based on: Malachi:

"But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He
appeareth? for He is like a refiner's fire. "  Malachi 3:2       
[lyrics from, "Messiah"]

Malachi 3:1-2

1: 'Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,' says the LORD of hosts. 2: "But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire... " Malachi 3:1 [3] I refer the reader also to this magnificent sonnet by a lesser known, yet wonderfully gifted English early Romantic sonneteer, William Lisle Bowles, which Jim's sonnet so eloquently mirrors: On Hearing "The Messiah" Performed in Gloucester Cathedral

This sonnet, which is one of my all time favourites, may be found at this URL on the Sonnet Board:

© by Richard Vallance, 2001,

December 12th., 2001

Richard Vallance, Moderator,

Describe Adonis:

Kawasaki Zen Haiku:

My Carousel Home Page is: Poesie's laissez-faire Foire

Click here to return to rest of the January 2002 issue

Click here to return to main index