Reflecting on A Christmas Garland

So. I posted the last sonnet in the Christmas Garland sequence a couple of days ago, which means it must be time to reflect upon the experience of writing. (I have also reposted the whole sequence in the right order.)

I started the first sonnet on 23th December and posted it on 24th December for the 25th. That gave me a safety margin of one day. I thought I might need it, and on 2nd January, as I was back at work, I slipped and only managed the first half of the sonnet. When I started I was worried the pressure of writing a regular series would mess up the holiday. There was a bit of pressure, but it also gave me a focus, something I could turn to, and prevented the holiday being a mindless bloat, punctuated by the occasional walk.

I didn’t have a plan for the subjects: Christmas, obviously, but beyond that, nothing. I knew there would be shepherds, some angels, wise men, Mary, Joseph, a baby. Quite how they would be connected, or what the balance would be was absolutely unknown, they just unfolded from day to day.

The most difficult thing was the garland. Sonnets are designed to conclude: that is part of their appeal. It is at best contrary (bloody-minded might be more accurate) to string them together; finishing one sonnet in a way that could be a starting point for another one was tricky. There are several endings that didn’t get used simply because they couldn’t be a starting off point for another sonnet.

The worst point – predictably – was the last sonnet, which I began already knowing the first and last lines. It didn’t help that the final line evoked a modern setting, while the first line was firmly in the first century (BC or AD depending on whose chronology you go with). The experience wasn’t quite as bad as writing a paradelle, but still had something of the same mental twistiness.

What else did I find?

  • I think I have doubled my lifetime output of sonnets over the last fortnight. That can only be a good thing.
  • I have remembered why I don’t write sonnets very often: finding sets of four reasonable rhymes which make sense and fit with the subject. There were some low points: sonnet V – wight; a word but very much archaic: sonnet VI – hoary; again, archaic.
  • The temptation to let rhyme triumph over word order and sense. I want to keep as natural a word-order as possible, but even so, to my shame, the force of rhyme led me to a few unpleasant things, mainly complex tenses. Verb participles, particularly past participles or conditional ones, are a way of keeping the word order reasonable while getting the rhyme. Sonnet VI is bad for that (and while I am on that one, I am not overly keen on leathern house instead of tent). This is something which comes up in folk songs (Froggy he did ride).
  • Going a bit deeper, it forced me to engage with the Christmas story across Christmas. That is a big plus.

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