blackbirdonline journalSpring 2011  Vol. 10  No. 1
print icon

A Note on “Quarantine”
Sequence Introduction

“Quarantine” is a poem to the possibility of God. Cast as a crown of sonnets in the tradition of Donne’s “La Corona,” the ten movements of “Quarantine” derive their logic and arrangement from the Christian monastic prayer cycle known generally as the canonical hours (horae canonicae). In the most straightforward terms, “Quarantine” traces the passage of one day: it gestures from a predawn prayer (“Lauds”) through sunrise (“Prime”), morning (“Terce”), midday (“Sext”), afternoon (“None”), sundown (“Vespers”), night (“Nocturne”), and midnight (“Vigils”), and concludes at early morning (“Matins”). Each prayer, and, accordingly, each sonnet, corresponds to a different biblical event or consideration; however, within a first-person narrative of the type that “Quarantine” contains, these correspondences are necessarily oblique.

The four portions presented here—“Sext,” “None,” “Nocturne,” and “Matins”—are the cycle’s fourth, fifth, eighth, and final sonnets. They are tied respectively to the Crucifixion, the death of Jesus, and the first and third stages of Jesus’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, and together represent perhaps the most dramatic moments in the crown’s enacted crisis of faith. Although conceived in concert, each of the hours, I hope, stands on its own.  end

return to top