Sonnet: Quadrivium (or, Horatio’s Studies)

This poem was written in response to Orson Scott Card’s decidedly homophobic retelling of Hamlet. It had not previously occurred to me that Horatio had this intense, unrequited love for Hamlet, but for some reason, I woke up the morning after reading the above article with the first quartet of this sonnet in my head, and had to write the rest.  And now, in my mind, I can’t read their relationship any other way.

I’m afraid I got a bit carried away with the whole Trivium / Quadrivium thing. Just in case there is anyone reading this who doesn’t know much more about this than me, students in medieval time were expected to learn the Trivium (Logic, Grammar, Rhetoric) before going to University, where they studied the Quadrivium (Geometry, Astronomy, Music, Arithmetic). And after that, you could study Philosophy. If you were good. 

Also, I got a bit carried away with my own cleverness, which you probably noticed.  But, actually, I do think it’s one of my better poetic efforts, which goes to show that even Orson Scott Card’s most horrifying statements have their uses…

No, scratch that.  Let’s blame this on Shakespeare.  He is a far superior source of inspiration.


Ah, Hamlet, Wittenberg seems far away,
For us the dons have rung their final bell.
I was your Trivium, when we did play;
You my Quadrivium, and I studied well:

I found in you geometry applied,
I knew each point and angle of your span.
I studied heavenly bodies at your side –
And learned well what a piece of work is man.

The sound of your slow breathing in the night
Was melody that only I could hear.
I counted as the sum of my delight
Each heartbeat, strong, iambic, by my ear.

Though heaven and earth hold greater things for thee
Thou’rt all my dreams, all my philosophy.

Sonnet: His Mistress Replies to Sonnet 130

In fact, I wrote this back in 1995 or thereabouts, inspired by Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and the character who wrote a sonnet a day ‘to keep his hand in’.  I tried taking psychology lecture notes in sonnet form for a while, but it didn’t help.  Anyway, this was one of my better efforts.  It’s a reply to this sonnet by Shakespeare.


My poet’s pen is sharper than nine swords;
I thought true love should muzzle unkind truth.
What right have you to mock me with these words?
For nor are you some godly-handsome youth!
It’s true I find your closing lines are sweet;
What woman would not wish to be called rare?
But wilful Will, admit that ’tis not meet
To slight the colour of your lady’s hair!
Your style of loving sonnet is unique;
A compliment, you tell me, to my wit.
Still, it’s not pleasant to be told I reek;
Good Will, will you not flatter me a bit?
Yet my goodwill you have, for this is true:
Imperfect like meets like when I meet you.