Brian Boyd: Why Lyrics Last

Nabokov’s biographer examines the sonnet

Chris Wallace-Crabbe


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.

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Published in June 2012 no. 342
Chris Wallace-Crabbe

Chris Wallace-Crabbe

Chris Wallace-Crabbe AM is the author of more than twenty collections of poetry. His most recent books of verse include The Universe Looks Down (2005), and Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw (2008). He is Professor Emeritus in Culture and Communication at Melbourne University. Also a public speaker and commentator on the visual arts, he specialises in ‘artists’ books’. Read It Again, a volume of critical essays, was published in 2005. Among other awards he has won the Dublin Prize for Arts and Sciences and the Christopher Brennan Award for Literature. His latest book is Rondo (2018).

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