(Reviewed by Christina)
I was recently privileged to receive an extraordinary book by Internet friend and fellow poet, Prof. Robert Bates Graber. His esteemed Plutonic Sonnets is an epic sonnet cycle consisting of 165 sonnets (numeraled appropriately I – CLXV) which he delivers in the Shakespearean mode. I, as a poetess, respect and appreciate the required focus for crafting such a lengthy sequence.
Graber’s gift of teaching is evident immediately, as these sonnets are unusually (but most welcomingly) engaging, full of questions to the reader (recipient of his bright and lively conversation), and waxing witty-wise throughout.
Though there is a lot going on within each individual sonnet, this is a book that must be appreciated by beginning at the first sonnet and concluding at the last one for full effect.
As I read Plutonic Sonnets, my mind is transported to a luxurious outdoor cocktail party of magnanimous minds, and I feel as though I am standing in the poet’s presence, enjoying his illuminating take on philosophy and astronomy with a heavy dose of mythology. He delivers it in such a way that it is warm and welcoming, not stodgy, which (to me) is evidence of his comfort with his massive subjects, and he makes it easy to listen attentively, to learn, and to enjoy.
Among my favorites, most classic of romantic subjects:
Look there! What moving shadow do we see
Among long shadows on this wooded rise?
All else is still—Right there! What can it be,
Here in these hills below which Enna lies?
‘Tis Cupid! for the archer has been sent
On mission bold by Venus, his mad mother;
And on success he’s like his bow, well bent:
There crouches he, for he can do no other.
While in the shadows of late afternoon,
Proserpina, down in the vale below,
Her apron full of flowers, thinks that soon
With floral treasures she must homeward go.
Then Cupid, hearing hoofbeats, takes his station;
He draws his bow…his heart pounds…thunderation!
In fair juxtaposition and to lend perspective to the vastness of the subjects within Plutonic Sonnets, I will share another:
With Earth no more the point of reference,
But just another planet out of six,
A cosmic stress on seven made no sense,
And numerology needed a fix.
So six, as not devoid of mystery,
Was taken, duly dusted, from the shelf;
Did its divisors, one and two and three,
Not add up to exactly six itself?
Six planets and six moons would have been fine,
But Galileo’s Medicean four
Plus ours made five, two few to seem divine;
If only there could be just one moon more…
Then enter Titan! No one needed seven,
Once Huygens had restored God to his heaven!
Doesn’t it just make you want to fill in the blanks? Only 163 more to go…
It is my hope for Robert Bates Graber that his book will be received into hands that can usher it through the exclusive doors of literary immortality. These are subjects scarcely (if ever) written of in such a light-hearted but high-minded fashion – in a full-length book of sonnets, no less. To say that I am duly impressed doesn’t quite suffice, but frankly, I don’t feel qualified to judge this book, save to offer my humble opinion and enthusiastic support.
Plutonic Sonnets will undoubtedly be enjoyed by philosophic patrons of poetry as well as lovers of astronomy, and when they read it, they will continue to recognize it for the gem that it is. I cannot sing this book praises in the objective academic mode that it deserves, but someone else did:
And I certainly recommend picking up a copy!
(Thank You, Rob!)