by Daniel Ståhl
Requiem is a book of 211 sonnets. These sonnets are arranged into crowns, where each poem is connected to the next by the rhymes of the last and first lines. In this collection, each crown has fourteen joined sonnets which is completed by a master sonnet whose lines comprise of the first line of the preceding fourteen sonnets. This is known as a heroic crown structure and Requiem consists of fourteen heroic crowns.
Requiem provides a masterclass in sonnet writing. It’s technically pretty flawless and that is a monumental achievement in itself. There are a couple of fingertip stretches with the meter, but barely noticeable, and sometimes a touch of excess repetition but the form is recursive, so duplication is key.
The basic theme that weaves through the collection is mankind’s wanton self-destruction and ignorance. Each of the crowns deal with slightly differing areas within that remit. The first introduces us to the metaphorical Giant who features in many of the poems. This beginning crown is concerned with materialism and ecological demolition. The third crown deals with human traffic, the fourth sonnet of which was really powerful. The fourth has more pinpoint focus and some compelling lines. The fifth becomes darker and preoccupied with death and decay but the contrast with a ‘butterfly’s soft flutter’ as the end of V.5 was subtle yet effective as was the poignant last line of V.9.
As we move through the collection, the mood swells into biblical anger and by the time we reach the seventh and eighth crown, there is a brutal, unflinching quality to the writing and some of the imagery evolves into pure horror. At this stage, there were tonal elements of Paradise Lost and an echo of Pandora’s Box being opened. However, the ninth crown provides the hope. There is a softening, a turning of the fire and brimstone message into the possibility of salvation and/or progress, if mankind heeds, listens and acts. The crowns following are slightly different and more subjective. There is stronger, almost satirical reference to modern technological trappings, ‘scroll through your feed’ (X.9) whereas the preceding sonnets had a timeless approach.
The master sonnets at the end of each heroic crown are sublime and so wonderfully considered. They really do bring all the strands together in one wholly coherent, meaningful poem that provides a beautifully concise snapshot of the foregoing fourteen. It demonstrates an exceptional level of thought and attention to detail.
Requiem is littered with mythological references. These are not overdone or indulgent, however, and I thought it was refreshing different cultural myths, other than the usual classical tropes, were included; from efreet, an Islamic devil to Norse mythology and a whiff of medieval legend by way of Faust.
The editing is faultless and the placement of the moving clock before each sonnet was inspired. It resonates on so many levels as you read through and becomes an integral part of each poem not just representing the passage of time. Further, the introductory pages, ‘readme’, are thoughtfully written. This book and its content can seem daunting, but the poet succinctly explains the concepts without being patronizing or lofty, thereby making it fully accessible.