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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Great Popular Songs (3): Stormy Weather

Stormy Weather was written in 1933 by Harold Arlen 1905-1986 (music) and Ted Koehler 1894-1973 (lyrics). It was first performed in that year by Ethel Waters at The Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City and she recorded it later that year. It was sung in the same year in London by Elizabeth Welch who sung it forty-six years later at the age of 75 at the end of Derek Jarman's film of The Tempest. Since those days it has been recorded many times.
Notable versions have been sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington and famously by Lena Horne in the 1943 film Stormy Weather.  There are many other great versions also available- too many to name here!
But I have to say that my personal favourite is the version by Etta James. Listen here.
Etta James 1938 - 2012, not a natural blonde.

Don't know why
There's no sun up in the sky
Stormy weather
Since my man and I ain't together
Keeps raining all of the time
Oh, yeah

Life is bad
Gloom and misery everywhere
Stormy weather, stormy weather
And I just can't get my poor self together
Oh, I'm weary all of the time
The time, so weary all of the time

When he went away
The blues walked in and met me
Oh, yeah if he stays away
Old rocking chair's gonna get me
All I do is pray
The Lord will let me
Walk in the sun once more

Can't go on
Everything I have is gone
Stormy weather
Since my man and I ain't together
Keeps rainin' all the time
Keeps rainin' all the time


The song is heavy with the weather as a powerful metaphor for the singer's feelings as she moves from "gloom and misery everywhere" and eventually aspires to "walk in the sun once more". There is plenty of space within this song for a singer to display strong feelings and express emotions.
Harold Arlen wrote more than 500 popular songs. His most famous composition was Somewhere Over The Rainbow, voted the twentieth centurie's number one song. Ted Koehler  was  inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1972.
I'm in Crete for a while so will respond when I get back home.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Great Popular Songs (2): Hallelujah

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word meaning "Praise you, Jehovah" or "Glory to the Lord". Leonard Cohen, the late Canadian singer, wrote the song for his 1984 album Various Positions but it really became popular after it was featured in the 2000 film Shrek. It has been much recorded including versions by John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Willie Nelson, Rufus Wainwright, k.d.lang, Susan Boyle and Alexander Burke. But, after Leonard Cohen's own version, my favourite one is by the fragile-voiced English folk-singer Kathryn Williams.  There have been over 300 recordings of the song and Bob Dylan has performed it on stage.
Leonard Cohen, 1934 - 2016
Cohen's version really emphasises the poetical nature of his work. As with Bob Dylan many of his lyrics stand up on their own as poetry. The song was voted into the top ten of greatest songs by songwriters in the British magazine Q. 
It is often stated that lyrics and poetry differ because lyrics were written to be sung and it's true that reading aloud the lyrics of many wonderful songs just doesn't work as poetry. I think there should be a newly-coined word for song-lyrics that are somewhere in between because great lyrics are often underrated. I hope recognition of Bob Dylan as a Nobel Laureate brings acceptance of this closer.
Cohen, a notorious perfectionist, is said to have originally written 80 verses for the song and has performed almost totally different versions on stage. This variety is reflected in many of the cover versions which allows the song to be interpreted in an assortment of ways from religious iconography to explicit sexual meanings. I would say that Cohen's recorded version contains both of those elements at once.
Probably my favourite verses are the fabulous first and second ones:
Well I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah.

Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

The second verse contains reference to a pair of notorious biblical women: Bathsheba ("You saw her bathing on the roof") and Delilah ("....she broke your throne and she cut your hair.") I find it unsurprising that so many singers have recorded this song and sing it live on stage because it is so immaculately constructed - perhaps I should have said 'conceived'. Leonard would have known what I meant by that......

Interestingly the fourth and fifth lines of the first verse actually describe, musically, what the song is doing as those lyrics are sung. The accompanying chords are often used in hymns. Also, it's in the relatively rare 12/8 time signature. That is, if you like, a regular four-beat bar with each beat divided in a triple rhythm. 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Painting of the Month (74) Sept 2017: Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian, 1872-1944, was a Dutch painter born as Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan, He worked in Paris and was heavily influenced by the work of Picasso and Braque who were developing cubism. Mondrian's early work shows influences of impressionism, post-impressionism and pointillism. The first picture below shows strong influences of Paul Cezanne; although clearly three dimensional the picture surface is beginning to break into two-dimensional shapes. There are recognisable objects such as books, glasses and some cheeses in a cloth. The top right of the painting clearly suggests some depth of field.
                           
Piet Mondrian, Still Life with Gingerpot I, 1911
However, in the second slightly later picture analytical cubism has begun to be seen. That is the early stage of cubism as distinct from the later synthetic cubism which was where Picasso and Braque had begun to make collages from newspaper and other items applied to the picture surface. In the second picture, books and glasses can just about be made out but the painting is virtually two-dimensional (of course, the painting is two-dimensional but the point is that no attempt to create any depth is made). The surface, apart from the Gingerpot itself, is really just a series of shapes. The range of colours is very limited and the style is geometric.

Piet Mondrian, Still Life with Gingerpot  II, 1911-12
Mondrian is more well-known for his later work using only horizontal and vertical lines and black plus the primary colours. He rejected references to the outside world pushing toward pure abstraction. His use of asymmetrical balance and of simplification were crucial in the development of modern art, and his iconic abstract works remain influential in design and familiar in popular culture to this day.
Composition in Blue, Yellow and Red. Piet Mondrian 1942
"...forbidding, ascetic, pure, impersonal, ideal, clear beyond the mess of an ordinary life...."
I'm listening to Mozart's Symphony No.40 K550)in G Minor, 
the familiar first  movement - Allegro. Listen here.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Spotlight on a Website (9): Brilliant Maps

I think it has been four years since I was moved to post anything in this series but Brilliant Maps is such an interesting website that I decided to make this post. Thanks are due to my friend Curtis Gallant who has a Cambridge Degree in the History of Cartography, for directing me to this site.
From the Whicker's World Foundation website: 
"Curtis Gallant is a Cambridge classics graduate who has a specialist interest in the history of cartography. As a lover of documentaries, particularly those shedding light on cultures around the world, he was very keen to work for the Whicker’s World Foundation as Jane Ray’s researcher. It’s rumoured that the Whicker’s World Foundation decided to employ Curtis as their researcher having seen him correcting Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge on a question about African coastlines."
Brilliant Maps beautifully illustrates what the function of a map can be. Of course, primarily they tell us where things are especially in relation to each other. But they can also tell us lot about history, geography, travel, politics, populations and humour (eg, see European Food According to Italians).

 Here is a selection of some their interesting maps. Clink on the links to see the page:

1. Percentage of Young Adults In Europe, aged 25-34, Who Still Live With Their Parents

2. How North Londoners View The Rest Of The UK Or Why The Rest of The UK Hates London

3. The Genetic Map Of Europe

4. European Food According to Italians

Take a look at their site for yourself!

I'm listening to Tom Rush's original 1968 version of his song No Regrets which later became a big hit in the UK for the Walker Brothers. Listen here

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Chigwell Village

“Chigwell, my dear fellow, is the greatest place in the world.....”  Charles Dickens, in a letter to a friend in 1841.
Chigwell is right on the edge of the Green Belt on London's north-west boundary with the county of Essex and had been around for a long time. It was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1080AD and the Romans were known to have been in Chigwell from 300AD. From further back in time Iron Age flints and a bronze axe have been found. The British Iron Age is usually dated as from around 800BC until the Romans came in 43AD.
(If you happen to be unfamiliar with the term 'Green Belt', it is defined as a ring around a city on which new building is generally prohibited. In London this has the affect of inflating property prices within it while preserving the pleasant countryside around it.)
There are at least two theories as to the origin of the name Chigwell. One is that it is from Chicca's Well, referring to an Anglo-Saxon chief, Chicca meaning King. There are many natural wells in the area so another theory claims the name simply refers to that fact.
A thousand years after the Romans were there, in 1391, there were just 72 dwellings in the area.
The Kings Head pub in Chigwell Village
One of the most famous buildings in Chigwell is the Kings Head pub, much beloved of Charles Dickens. He actually based The Maypole pub in Barnaby Rudge upon this one. Each floor overhangs the one below and there is a story that King Charles I hid there when he was on the run. While quite possibly being true, that claim is made by many other places as well! The building is now owned by local resident, Lord Sugar. Former patrons include the highwayman Dick Turpin and Sir Winston Churchill.

Chigwell School is famous for many things, one of which is that a former pupil William Penn was the founder of Pennsylvania. Other former pupils include the actors Sir Ian Holm and Ken Campbell and the TV presenter Ben Shepard. Harsnetts House built in the late 1500s was purchased for the school in 1627.

Chigwell School today
The finest building in Chigwell is Grange Court which lately was used as a residence for boarding pupils at the school. However when I saw it recently it looked empty and neglected. It is a Grade II* listed building  so would be an expensive undertaking for any purchasers - and there have been many famous ones in the past.
Grange Court, a late 18th century house in Chigwell Village
St Marys church in Chigwell High Road was founded in the 12th  century. The view below shows the only Norman parts remaining. The door way is completely original but the bell tower is 15th century and there was extensive 19th century enlargement of the building. The church is also Grade II* listed.
St Mary the Virgin, Chigwell
Two other local features are Rolls Park, a former Stately Home that was once the lifetime residence of  Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey who fought alongside Admiral Nelson as one of the key figures in the Battle of Trafalgar. He was the Captain of The Fighting Temeraire in Turner's famous painting.
JMW Turner, The Fighting Temeraire
The other local feature worth seeing is Chigwell Meadows Nature Reserve,  a 21 acre park land with hard paths providing a circular route around the tree and flower lined walkways. Among others Poplar, Oak, Walnut and Willow trees provide shade while a plethora of indigenous wild flowers such as bluebells, creeping cinquefoil, red and white clover, cow vetch and yarrow  provide colour and texture to the landscape. 

Chigwell Meadows

If you tread carefully among the log piles you may witness the beetles, wood lice and other insects that help to balance the meadows delicate eco system. At night the site come alive with owls, bats and other nocturnal animals. The swale that runs through the centre of the meadow is a man-made water feature and is part of a sustainable urban drainage system connected to the tranquil pond. It is of special scientific interest as its ecological development can be studied from construction through to maturity. The reeds within the Swale help to filter the water and they also create valuable habitat for wildlife.

Postscipt: When I led my walking group through Chigwell Village a couple of weeks a go I told them as we entered a field through a Kissing Gate that I would like their opinion on whether or not a recent excavation on the far side of the field was a Roman bath. What I knew was that there was an abandoned modern bath-tub in among the long grass. When we came across it there was hysterical laughs all round. I don't know how long the bath had been there but you can just make it out on Google maps!
I'm listening to the magical Granada from the Suite Española by Isaac Albéniz, possibly my favourite composer. You can hear it here.


Saturday, 2 September 2017

Great Popular Songs (1): Roll Over Beethoven

Chuck Berry (1926 - 2017) wrote Roll Over Beethoven in 1956 and it became one of the definitive songs of rock 'n roll and one of the most recorded songs of all time. Cover versions include those by Cliff Richard, ELO, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chas & Dave, Status Quo and most famously, The Beatles.
Three of the many recordings of Roll Over Beethoven
The song contain many references. The title itself points us to the fact that a new brand of music is going to unceremoniously replace the old classics. Beethoven is prompted to roll over in his grave and "tell Tchaikovsky the news"! There is a story that his sister played classical piano and he wanted to use the family piano to play rock and roll which is how the song was born.
Several contemporary song titles are incorporated into Chuck Berry's always poetic lyrics; Early in the Morning is a title from both Louis Jordan and Buddy Holly, Blue Suede Shoes was a classic written by Carl Perkins and also a hit for Elvis Presley. The familiar guitar intro to Roll Over Beethoven, which became a Berry trademark, is in fact lifted from Louis Jordan's 1946 song Ain't That Just Like a Woman. Berry never made a secret of that.
Arthur Alexander lifted the title of A Shot of Rhythm and Blues from this song although it's not really a rhythm and blues song. 
The title of the nursery rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle (The Cat and the Fiddle) is a reference to Bo Diddley, who was actually an accomplished violin player.
The original musicians on the Chess Records session when the song was recorded were:
Chuck Berry, guitar and vocals
Willie Dixon, bass guitar
Johnnie Johnson, piano
Fred Below, drums
All of them were top musicians in their own right. Johnnie Johnson played with Berry on very many of his famous recordings and Willie Dixon was a famous blues singer and songwriter.
Chuck Berry was always took care to write intelligible lyrics and to make sure they could be heard properly. He wanted to avoid the fate of Little Richard's records which were covered in sanitised versions and provided bigger hits for Pat Boone.
      Roll Over Beethoven lyrics:
Well I'm-a write a little letter,
Gonna mail it to my local DJ
It's a jumpin’ little record
I want my jockey to play
Roll Over Beethoven, I gotta hear it again today

You know, my temperature's risin'
And the jukebox blowin’ a fuse
My heart's beatin' rhythm
And my soul keeps a-singin' the blues
Roll Over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news

I got the rockin' pneumonia,
I need a shot of rhythm and blues
I caught the rollin' arthritis
Sittin' down at a rhythm review
Roll Over Beethoven, they’re rockin' in two by two

Well, if you feel it an’ like it
Go get your lover, then reel and rock it
Roll it over and move on up just
A trifle further and reel and rock with one another

Roll Over Beethoven and dig these rhythm and blues

Well, early in the mornin' I'm a-givin' you my warnin'
Don't you step on my blue suede shoes
Hey diddle diddle, I am playin' my fiddle,
Ain't got nothin' to lose
Roll Over Beethoven, tell Tchaikovsky the news

You know she wiggles like a glow worm,
Dance like a spinnin' top
She got a crazy partner,
You oughta see 'em reel and rock
Long as she got a dime the music won’t never stop

Roll Over Beethoven, Roll Over Beethoven,

Roll Over Beethoven, Roll Over Beethoven,
Roll Over Beethoven, dig these rhythm and blues
      Listen to Roll Over Beethoven HERE
And you can hear the Louis Jordan song where the famous guitar riff originated HERE

Friday, 25 August 2017

New Quiz ANSWERS

Here are the answers to my literature quiz:
The kudos goes to David but others did well too! He was the only one who spotted that the answer to Q2 could be found in the header of this blog.
Q1. Which famous words follow these "...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore...."?
A1. "....never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."  This is often misquoted as "...ask not for whom the bell tolls...". It's the closing line of Meditation 17 by John Donne commonly known as 'No Man is an Island'. Donne was contemplating his own demise.

Q2. Which 1967 novel that tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family?
A2. One Hundred years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. See the quote at the start of this Blog!

Q3. For which scientist did Broca's Brain win a Pulitzer Prize in 1978?
A3. Carl Sagan, the populariser of science who made the great TV series Cosmos: A personal Voyage. Broca's Brian was a collection of essays, the title being from an essay about the Frenchman Paul Broca who was the first person to assign different functions to various parts of the human brain.

Q4. What do the titles of John Updike's In the Beauty of the Lillies and John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath have in common?
A4. They are both taken from abolitionist Battle Hymn of the Republic ("Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord....." etc). Julia Ward Howe added new lyrics to the tune John Brown's Body. All Americans should get that one.

Q5. Who, after asking “why is a raven like a writing-desk?”, admitted that he "hadn't the slightest idea" when the person he asked gave up?
A5. The Mad Hatter in Lewis Carrol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Q6. What book is the first in the series A Song of Ice and Fire?
A6. A Game of Thrones by George R.R.Martin, now one of the most successful TV series of all time. I've never seen it but I'm sure it's very nice....A Song of Ice and Fire is also redolent of the quote at the head of this Blog, which contrasts ice and fire.

Q7. What was the name of Holden Caulfield's younger sister in Catcher in the Rye?
A7. Phoebe, who Holden loves dearly and who represents the innocence and youth that Holden is trying to preserve. Jim (Parnassus) and Sherry got that one.

Q8. Which author's breakthrough book was described by Salman Rushdie as a 'book so bad it makes bad books look good'? And I agree with him!
A8. Dan Brown, author of the execrable The Da Vinci Code.
I'm listening to Michael Nesmith and the First National Band singing Joanne
Listen HERE.
Funnily enough, I also like a song of the same title by Lady Gaga.
You can listen to it HERE.

Friday, 18 August 2017

New Literature Quiz

I haven't posted a quiz for a while so here is a new literature quiz. You could easily Google the answers but you wouldn't do that would you? No prizes, just kudos!
   Q1. Which famous words follow these "...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore...."?

   Q2. Which 1967 novel that tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family?

   Q3. For which scientist and broadcaster did Broca's Brain win a Pulitzer Prize in 1978?

   Q4. What do the titles of John Updike's In the Beauty of the Lilies and John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath have in common?

   Q5. Who, after asking “why is a raven like a writing-desk?”, admitted that he "hadn't the slightest idea" when the person he asked gave up?

   Q6. What book is the first in the series A Song of Ice and Fire?

   Q7. What was the name of Holden Caulfield's younger sister in Catcher in the Rye?

   Q8. Which author's breakthrough book was described by Salman Rushdie as a "book so bad it makes bad books look good"? And I agree with him!
Nobody said it would be easy but please have a go 
even if only to make me laugh!
Answers will be posted in one week - probably.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

My Heroes (42 ): Rosalind Franklin

This is also a series that I have ignored for a while. I started it eleven years ago....
The name of Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920 - 1958) should be as well-known to us as those of James Watson and Frances Crick who were awarded a Nobel Prize for their discovery of the structure of DNA but it is not. She died at the tragically young age of 37 of ovarian cancer. That, however, is not the only tragedy in this story.
I like this picture of Rosalind as a young woman; actually she was only ever young.
Her inspirational work as a x-ray crystallographer had set Crick and Watson on the road to discovering the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953. They based their research on her earlier findings. They were awarded the Nobel Prize along with Maurice Wilkins in 1962 but the prize is never given posthumously so Rosalind was never properly recognised. It is a matter of conjecture whether she would have shared the award anyway; she was shamefully treated by her male colleagues at the time which was the norm in the 1950s. She was not a feminist and was not known to have complained about her lot. Maybe if she had been born after the war things may have been different. 
Franklin was born to a prominent Jewish family in Notting Hill, London in 1920 and excelled as a student, later studying at Cambridge University.
X-ray crystallography is the branch of science that is able to show the shape of objects at the atomic and molecular level. It was a famous photograph known as 'Photo 51', taken under her direction, that led to the the double helix discovery.
Photo 51
She is buried at Willesden Jewish cemetery in north London. (Where, incidentally the prayer hall has just been given Grade II listed status by English Heritage.) This is the inscription on her tombstone:

IN MEMORY OF

ROSALIND ELSIE FRANKLIN

מ' רחל בת ר' יהודה
DEARLY LOVED ELDER DAUGHTER OF
ELLIS AND MURIEL FRANKLIN
25TH JULY 1920 – 16TH APRIL 1958
SCIENTIST
HER RESEARCH AND DISCOVERIES ON
VIRUSES REMAIN OF LASTING BENEFIT
TO MANKIND
ת נ צ ב ה 
[Hebrew initials for "her soul shall be bound in the bundle of life"]

PS: I have just realised something that must have drawn me to Rosalind Franklin: she was born and died in the same years as my own mother who died of thyroid cancer which was untreatable in 1958 - and she looked like Rosalind!
I'm listening (appropriately for this post!) to the beautiful and very moving Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi's opera Nabucco.
Click HERE to listen. The whole cast appear to be visibly moved by the event.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Fitzrovia, London

Fitzrovia is an informal area in central London, north of Oxford Street and consisting of less a square kilometre of prime property and possessing a rich history. The area is named after the Fitzroy Tavern, a pub situated on the corner of Charlotte Street and Windmill Street within the district. The name was adopted during the inter-war years, initially by and later in recognition of, the artistic and bohemian community habitually found at the public house. Inside there are photos of Dylan Thomas, Augustus John, Jacob Epstein and George Orwell among others, seen drinking there. The name Fitzroy comes from Old French meaning "son of the King", generally being the name given to a King's illegitimate offspring.
Fitzroy Square, designed by Robert Adam, is  one of the finest in London.
It is often used as a feature film and TV drama location especially as it traffic-free.
The garden in the centre of Fitzroy Square is private; all the residents have a key. However, you can admire a sculpture by Naomi Blake just inside the railings - see my post about her HERE. Two sides of the square are faced with Portland stone, like many of the important buildings in central London. Because of the intervention of the Napoleonic wars the later sides were finished in stucco plaster due to financial restrictions. 
Charlotte Street is famed for it's restaurants, many of them are long-established.
Many famous residents have lived in the Square including Virginia Wolff and George Bernard Shaw (same house - different times; what a couple that would have been!)
The King and Queen pub in Foley Street (where Charles Dickens once lived) is where, in 1962, Time Out magazine said one of the most important gigs of all time was played. That was where Bob Dylan played outside of the USA for the first-ever time.  
Charlotte Street is famous for restaurants and the Scala cinema and theatre, since demolished, is where the concert and some exterior scenes of The Beatles 'A Hard Days Night' were filmed.
Many media companies are based in the area now and the most famous of these, since relocated, was Saatchi and Saatchi. They grew to be the world's largest advertising agency while they were based there.  Famous Fitzrovia residents have included Robert Louis StevensonJames McNeill WhistlerRoger Fry, Guy Ritchie and the novelist Ian McEwen. Madonna has lived there and Lady Gaga bought a place with a roof garden five years ago.
Colville Place, Fitzrovia. Photo: Silver Tiger
I'm listening to  Amy Winehouse singing 
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
We really lost the very best when she died.
Click HERE to listen.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Saucy British Seaside Postcards (2)

While scrolling through some of the stats for this Blog, I noticed that one of the most popular posts was one in 2010 about saucy British seaside postcards. It's a tradition that is still going strong! So I have decided, for no good reason, to show some more. To see the original post click HERE.




The French, of course, have a different perspective on this topic!

I'm listening to my favourite Beatles song
Strawberry Fields ForeverSee if you can hear the point where two different versions of the song were brilliantly spliced together by George Martin and the studio engineers.Listen by clicking here.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Painting of the Month (73) July 2017: Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha was born in Moravia (now in the Czech Republic) in 1860. He is most famous as a designer of posters, postcards and advertisements that epitomised the Art Nouveau movement. He also painted fine art pictures in a similar style.
We had this 1897 poster in our dining room when first married many years ago.

Poster art is sometimes seen as something inferior - wrongly, in my view. Mucha created a huge number of advertising posters in a similar style to this one, which are instantly recognisable as his work. Art Nouveau, which is one of my favourite art movements, embodied the perfect meeting of art and design. In the late 1800’s art was everywhere and everywhere you looked it was Nouveau. The English Arts & Crafts movement was a major influence on the style as were the contemporary Japanese artists.

Mucha's Jewish roots and Slav nationalism made him a target of the Gestapo after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and he died of a chest infection in Prague that year.
I am listening to John Williams playing Vals Criollo by Antonio Lauro Click HERE to listen to this beautiful piece of music

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Sonnets

The word sonnet is derived from the Italian word “sonetto”. It means "a little song or lyric". In poetry, a sonnet has 14 fourteen lines and is written in iambic pentameter. That is to say that it has five pairs of double beats, or ten syllables, in each line. It has a specific rhyme scheme and a 'volta' or a turning point.
Generally, sonnets are divided into different groups based on the rhyme scheme they follow. The rhyme scheme in the English form is usually abab-cdcd-efef-gg and in Italian its abba-abba-cde-cde. So, you can see that the poems are generally arranged as three groups of four lines and one final pair in the English version and a group of eight lines followed by six lines in the Italian or 'Petrachan' version.

Probably the most famous English sonnet is this one:
Sonnet XVIII   by William Shakespeare
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The 'volta' in this sonnet, as is usual in the English form, is before the final couplet of two lines. The poet uses the first 12 lines to address his lover but he finally addresses the whole readership. It's a kind of summing up of the whole thing.

Sonnet 159    by Francesco Petrarca, commonly known as Petrarch
In what bright realm, what sphere of radiant thought
Did Nature find the model whence she drew
That delicate dazzling image where we view
Here on this earth what she in heaven wrought?
What fountain-haunting nymph, what dryad, sought
In groves, such golden tresses ever threw
Upon the gust? What heart such virtues knew?—
Though her chief virtue with my death is fraught.
   He looks in vain for heavenly beauty, he
   Who never looked upon her perfect eyes,
   The vivid blue orbs turning brilliantly –
   He does not know how Love yields and denies;
   He only knows, who knows how sweetly she
   Can talk and laugh, the sweetness of her sighs.

In the first eight lines the poet asks a series of questions about love and in the final six lines he laments that he has not known love and, there again, the volta in the last two lines.
.
And finally a modern sonnet:
Faint Praise by Wendy Cope
Size isn’t everything. It’s what you do 
That matters, darling, and you do it quite well
In some respects. Credit where credit’s due –
You work, you’re literate, you rarely smell.
Small men can be aggressive, people say,
But you are often genial and kind,
As long as you can have things all your way
And I comply, and do not speak my mind.
You look all right. I’ve never been disgusted
By paunchiness. Who wants some skinny youth?
My friends have warned me that you can’t be trusted
But I protest I’ve heard you tell the truth.
   Nobody’s perfect. Now and then, my pet,
   You’re almost human. You could make it yet.
 (from Two Cures for Love: Selected Poems 1979-2006, 2008)
And once more there is a 'killer' volta in the final couplet!
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In my last post I featured the late Kirsty MacColl singing A New England. This time I am listening to her father, the English folk singer Ewam MacColl singing his most famous song Dirty Old Town. He was married to Peggy Seeger, half-sister of Pete Seeger.Click the title to listen (to either song!)