Sonnet to the G Train

In yesterday’s “Metropolitan Diary” in the NYT, this poem, by Hannah Rosenthal (section divisions added by me):


Your metal doors do not like diamonds glow,
And few admire your bright green neon face
You travel not where I most yearn to go,
And at a slow and steady snail-like pace.
Our schedules seem forever out of sync,
When I arrive of course you will have gone,
I patiently await you on the brink,
And wonder if your signal’s even on.
And you’ve been known to up and skip a station
So where you’ll go is anybody’s guess,
You travel on a route of your creation,
As if it satisfies you to digress.
And though I speak not praise, I must confide,
From Kings to Queens, you’re all I’ll ever ride.

From the first two lines, I saw that we were probably in Sonnet World, and so it turned out to be. (Dinosaurs, take note: this is a real Shakespearean sonnet.)

The octave — two quatrains, separated by a dotted line — is set off from the sestet — a quatrain and a couplet, separated by a dotted line — by a dashed line. The rhyming pattern is perfect: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. And the whole thing is in iambic pentameter, with trailing unaccented syllables in lines 9 and 11.

Then there’s the volta, or ‘turn’, in content, which traditionally comes between the octave and the sestet, or between the last quatrain and the couplet. You could argue that in this case there’s a volta in both places: at the first, a shift to personifying the G train, and at the second, a shift to from description to a concluding statement.

There’s a lot more here.

The first quatrain is decidedly “poetic”. There are poetic word orders (do not like diamonds glow in line 1, with postposing of the verb; travel not, with now-archaic postverbal negation, in line 3); alliterations (doors … diamonds in line 1 and slow … steady … snail-like in line 4); near-alliterations (d … g in diamonds … glow in line 1, br … gr in bright green in line 2); and generally elevated diction throughout (glow, yearn, pace).

After that, there’s a tension between neutral or elevated diction and a more colloquial vocabulary (out of sync, up and V, anybody’s guess), which contributes to the humor of the piece.

The final couplet’s first line returns to the poetic syntax (speak not) and vocabulary (confide), and then the last line has the nice pairing Kings [Kings County — that is, Brooklyn] to Queens followed by the colloquial you’re all I’ll ever ride.

A sonnet in light verse, on an urban theme.

(Yes, the G train does run between Brooklyn and Queens.)


One Response to “Sonnet to the G Train”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Robert Coren on Google+:

    I also liked the fact that the last element in the rhyme scheme came out as “GG”, which is what this train was called during my youth when the IND used double letters to designate local (as opposed to express) trains. (I never had occasion to use this particular train, as far as I can remember.)

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