Nabokov’s biographer examines the sonnet
Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets
by Brian Boyd
Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $34.95 hb, 240 pp, 9780674065642
At the dangerous time when Sir Thomas Wyatt and the earl of Surrey were around, the sonnet sprang into English from Petrarch’s Italian. A constant cuckoo, it has stayed in our linguistic tradition ever since. It is an odd verse form to have done so, regular, yet in one way asymmetrical. Moreover, this cuckoo form has long stood at the heart of what we mean by ‘lyrical’. As Wordsworth quotably if unsubtly wrote, ‘With this key Shakespeare unlocked his heart.’ Borges was to see through that romantic sense of the poet-dramatist in his mini-story ‘Everything and Nothing’, where God and the playwright eventually come face to face: that is if they have faces at all. Or hearts.