COVID 19 [Sonnets Remembering Elizabeth Bishop's Magic Sonnet in Part 3]

"I am in need of music that would flow

Over my fretful, feeling finger-tips,

Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,

With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.

Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,

Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,

A song to fall like water on my head,

And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!


There is a magic made by melody:

A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool

Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep

To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,

And floats forever in a moon-green pool,

Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep"


“I am in Need of Music” by Elizabeth Bishop (1928)



I am in need of a cure that would flow

Over my fretful lungs and feeling finger-tips,

Over my mask-covered, trembling lips

With internal pulse, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.

Oh, for the healing swaying old and low,

Some breathing sung, lying sideways on the bed,

A throat song to build the waves in my head,

And over my quivering cheeks flushed to glow.


There is a magic made by vaccines:

A spell of rest and quiet breath, and coolness.

Heart, that sinks beating a thousand kisses deep

To recover is hope, but uncertain as virus teems,

And floats resisting, resting on surfaces able to leap

Held in lung's rhythm and nurses of our sleep.


Elizabeth Bishop previously wrote these words

Rent into a sonnet, verses bent

Like Shakespeare's lyrics often went

And followed Kit Marlow casting lines like wild birds

On the opposite side of long lost words.

Rumi and Kung-fu-tzu were too remembered

As their couplets and triplets were easily

Faithfully re-rendered by concubines and scribes.


We are in need of music to lift us high

Above grey thoughts and problems to deny.

A prediction machine wrapped as a present,

like a gentle cotton folded mask, with polka dots

on the open, innocent face of a five year-old child.

I wrote to recollect what's collected in thoughts.


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Author’s Note:


I was struck by how much Bishop's lyrical poem matched how I was feeling about the pandemic and the disease. I imagined how in 1928, she seemed fevered and possibly dying and these are her last words. That, combined with the old structure of a sonnet of which so many poets made love songs, make it whole. It is such a rigid form in meter in rhyme, it seems to be in opposition to the soft, gentle words. I read the words, like "bitter tainted, trembling lips" and "a spell of rest and quiet breath" and I don't know if she was writing about succumbing to tuberculosis, but the sonnet evokes the thought of dying and gentle death in the reader.


It struck me that of all the words I have read about the pandemic, I had not read a sonnet. I wondered if the form would hold in a modern age. I imagine things today are rougher and deconstructed. I learned from the past to create a triplet of connected sonnets that move from the present to the past and back again in the cycle of life.




Photo by Marius Masalar on Unsplash