Ciaran Carson, five sonnets from 'The Twelfth of Never'.

Ciaran Carson (Born 1948).

When I started doing this podcast, I knew there were some poets I had to read, and Carson was one of them. But what to read? And then how to read it. His characteristic long lined poems which mimic speaking voices are superb, but whenever I tried to read them I could hear myself drifting into a faked Belfast accent which made me sound exactly like someone trying to do a Belfast accent and failing.

So here are five of the 77 sonnets in the playful, lunatic, inventive 'Twelfth of Never'.

Tib’s Eve
Catmint Tea
The Horse’s Mouth
Fear
Envoy

Acutely sensitive listeners will realise these sonnets are written in Alexandrines, not Iambic pentameter.

Sam Daniel's from 'To Delia'. The first sonnet.

Samuel Daniel (1562-1619). The first sonnet in the sequence ‘To Delia’.

It’s been estimated that between 1530 and 1650 in Italy, France, Germany and Britain some 3,000 writers produced about 200,000 sonnets. Most of these are conventional and uninteresting. While ‘To Delia’ isn’t equal to the standard set by Sidney, most of the sonnets in it are well-written, intelligent but conventional Tudor Pine: the lover discovers there’s only so many ways in which he can bemoan his lover’s indifference and exhausts them and the reader’s patience.

But I think this first sonnet has one of the best opening images of any sonnet or poem: ‘Unto the boundless ocean of your beauty/runs this poor river…’

Sonnet 1 from Sir Philip Sidney's 'Aristophil and Stella'

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was so many things to his contemporaries. To history he is one of the first major poets of the Tudor ‘Renaissance’. Aristophil and Stella is one of the first sonnet sequences in English, and may well be the best of them.

Despite Sidney’s claims in his Defence that poetry was moral and lead to virtue, Aristophil and Stella is the story of an (?unrequited?) adulterous passion. After Sidney’s early death, Penelope Rich was happy to admit that she was ‘Stella’.

This is the first sonnet of the sequence, with its famous final line.