Dan Schneider’s Poetry: Holy Sonnet 1

Let’s attack a harder nut to crack. Dan’s Abstract Poetry.

HOLY SONNET 1

Death rises and blows. Not with water nor sun
does it surround all that matters. What is rare
is its absence. In a century or two
natural forms decay, unless a sphere
of unity intervenes- a body
of perfection which challenges the gaze
of aesthetes emerging from a darker place.
Imagine the flea’s panic in ungroomed hair,
tossing at night, upon peregrine pillows,
and you will know the black hand, unlicensed fear
which hardens into the familiar, and then
loses itself in worlds askance and askew
from the adamantine world the senses show,
and eyes sifting the shapes of uncertain urns.

Inspired by Donne, the Holy Sonnet series goes into probably deeper levels of abstraction and deals with contemporary views rather than the old metaphysical type.

Death rises and blows. Not with water nor sun
does it surround all that matters. What is rare
is its absence. In a century or two

The very first theme that Donne deals with in his own Holy Sonnet 1. The difference is that Donne was talking about death and religious salvation – while the science-enamoured Dan views it from a more logical and rigorous perspective.

Dan himself stated that while he based his American Sonnets in a one to one relation with every Shakespeare sonnet, his Holy Sonnets are done with Donne in mind but without a specific one-to-one for each sonnet. But I’ll still do some links anyway.

So if Donne’s first line was “Thou hast made me, And shall thy work decay?”

Dan’s is about how Death does not ‘rise and blow’ with as long as there’s water or sun – the biological view. But without that ‘it surrounds all that matters’. Then he talks about the possibility of its absence – Death – in a century of two. This recalls ideas of Singularity.

natural forms decay, unless a sphere
of unity intervenes- a body
of perfection which challenges the gaze
of aesthetes emerging from a darker place.

The trick here, is that Dan has enjambed to make ‘Death is absent in a century of two’ as well as ‘in a century or two, natural forms decay’. So both Death’s potential disappearance and its current existence are linked together. Then he calls up the idea of the ‘sphere of unity’ – sphere being the metaphysical entity that philosophers used in the past to represent God.

Except that in this case it happens to be a ‘body of perfection’ – with ‘body’ already debating against that Platonic concept. But Dan has other caveats. He states that this will ‘challenge the gaze’ – it will be like a higher intelligence, like HAL from Kubrick’s 2001, or Nietszche’s Ubermensch, challenging all previous conceptions. It will ‘challenge the gaze of aesthetes’ – which is linked to how Dan views art as transcending upwards and upwards into higher greatness. It will ‘emerge from a darker place’ – which is linked to how he views Art as built from intelligence, and higher intelligences will naturally be linked to higher art (That ‘writing for aliens’ idea).

Take note that I’m reading this from my knowledge of Dan’s other writings, but the foundation is there for many many other readings to be knitted into it. Dan’s poetry, being cognitive poetry, is tailored to allow for that. But the main movement is clear – this is directing to a movement away from death, towards a higher, ‘darker’ (possibly biological and complicated, less ‘clarity’ than the old metaphyisical ideal), intellectual conception.

Imagine the flea’s panic in ungroomed hair,
tossing at night, upon peregrine pillows,
and you will know the black hand, unlicensed fear

This next part is where Dan uses a metaphor to try to root down the feeling concretely. When this ‘body of perfection’ appears, it will be as though we were similar to a flea dancing in a human’s ‘black hand’ – tossing in ‘night’ in a strange peregrine world. This is very Nietzschean or even Lovecraftian in conception – two authors that Dan is familiar with. ‘Ungroomed hair’ calls to an image of a tangle and confusion. It’s a very far cry from the ‘Grace’ that is spoken of by Donne. You will be in ‘unlicensed fear’.

which hardens into the familiar, and then
loses itself in worlds askance and askew
from the adamantine world the senses show,
and eyes sifting the shapes of uncertain urns.

This is the philosophical climax. The fear will ‘harden into the familiar’ – it will be based on previous conceptions. If the previous was human, it will be Ubermensch. And if the previous was Ubermensch, it will be Quantum Ubermensch.

Speaking of Quantum, the ‘worlds askance and askew’ can also be a nod to multiverses. This is especially supported by the ‘adamantine world the senses show’ giving way to ‘eyes sifting the shapes of uncertain urns’. This is like how physics seems normal on a Classical mechanics level, but gets really weird on a quantum level.

Incidentally, Donne uses ‘Adamant’ in the last line of Holy Sonnet 1 – “And thou like Adamant draw mine iron heart”. The ‘thou’ in his case is that ‘Grace’.

Furthermore, ‘urns’ also gives a ring of Keats and his Grecian Urn. This reinforces that aesthetic view of greater intelligences.

But I stress the importance, once again, of not locking Dan’s poetry down to any definite interpretation. In fact, this entire poem could also be read from some viewpoint as how works of art in perfection will maintain their legacy. The ‘body of perfection’ could refer to a great artist’s corpus rather than a higher intelligence like aliens or AI.

Anyway, when all is said and done, this poetic conception of a certain abstract idea is just absolutely perfect. Dan does it again!

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