Easter Treasure: Cryptic Structures in Farjeon and Stallings

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A.E. Stallings, photographed by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images for Homefront TV, September 8, 2011 in Athens, Greece

I have chosen to publish this essay on Easter Monday 2017 to mark the centenary of the death of Edward Thomas, who died on Easter Monday 1917. The first part of the essay looks at “Easter Monday”, a sonnet Eleanor Farjeon wrote in his memory. The second part examines “Fairy-tale Logic”, another sonnet, written by A.E. Stallings. Both pieces contain numerous cryptic messages that would seem to be the work of ingenious mathematical minds. It is highly unlikely, however, that the authors were conscious of the existence of these cryptic messages. I was drawn to this approach to analysis after discovering, 22 years ago, amazing numerical patterns in Elegies by Douglas Dunn.

Cryptic Structures in Farjeon and Stallings

Melancholic

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I’ve just had this poem published in Snakeskin #235. I wrote the first draft over five years ago, then put it aside and forgot about it. I discovered it again by chance about 50 days ago. It will be the first in a sequence of four called “The Four Tempers” in my upcoming, second edition of I Sing the Sonnet, which Snakeskin plans to publish in the near future.

Look! We Have Landed!

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I woke at 4 one night two months ago and witnessed my wife doing exercises while sleeping. After recovering my composure, I found this phenomenon could easily be described in a line of IP: “My wife does exercises in her sleep.” I then began to construct a sonnet. The word “parachute” popped up as a word to conclude with rather early on, which was quite a help, as then it was just a matter of filling in from A to B. At one point I gave myself the advice of reducing the pentameter to tetrameter as the IP seemed bloated.

“Look! We Have Landed!” (a reference to D.H. Lawrence’s poetry collection from 1917, Look! We Have Come Through!) is in this month’s issue of Snakeskin.

Chess poetry

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I’ve been playing quite a lot of chess over the last 1½ years, both online and over the board. I played quite a bit as a kid, but other interests, not least poetry, elbowed their way into the foreground. What started me off again was writing this sonnet:

Chess with Monsieur Joffroy

In memory of Frédérique Joffroy (1962-1980)

Losing to me wasn’t the badge of shame
your father thought it was. He couldn’t stop
the stronger player coming out on top.
It came as quite a shock to hear him claim
my proletarian tactics were to blame.
It’s standard stuff to snatch a pawn, then swap
off all the pieces; suicide to drop
the basic principle behind the game.
To think that he was meant to be the host!
We were thirteen, your father forty-four.
Five years later I was told, by post,
that you, my friend, had hanged yourself. Your ghost
jolted my memory. Outplayed once more,
your father kicked the table to the floor.

It was published in CHESS Magazine in January. At my suggestion, I was given a year’s subscription instead of payment.

Chess has now elbowed poetry into the background. Until last month I hadn’t written anything for half a year. Then I wrote this. A friend of mine, Nigel Stuart, has added two more stanzas, which he has given me permission to post here:

Though they might seem distinct, as the white and the black,
xxxchiaroscuro best lights each endeavour –
while the whitest of knights treads a devious track,
xxxpawns transgendered as queens render pleasure,
and a sinuous line, in conception divine,
xxxoften issues in muddles of meaning,
and an image whose shine, past attempts to refine
xxxits expression, turns out overweening.

Though some poetry seems by illumining dreams
xxxto rival the light of the cinema,
neo-realist themes and their verismo gleams,
xxxshow illusory scenes, not dissimilar.
Every struggling art, when considered apart,
xxxseems a separate route to redemption,
yet one finds at its heart there’s inscribed from the start,
xxxfrom exposure – there’s never exemption.