When Brad Lussier was studying for his degree in English and American literature at Brown University, he discovered not only the sonnet form of poetry, but also a love for the sonnet. Graduation, family, work, and career intervened, Years later, he joined a local theater company — and there he rediscovered his love for the sonnet.
As he notes in his introduction to his collection of sonnets, How Does He Love Me?, the sonnet has something unusual about it apart from its rhyming and meter scheme. It may be the only poetic form intended for an audience of one. The sonnet is most closely associated with love poetry, and a poet doesn’t write a love poem to multitudes of people. Traditionally, sonnets are all about passion, desire, admiration, adoration, and all the other intense emotions that result from a person’s love for another.
As I read Lussier’s sonnets, I understood something else. I’ve been reading a number of collections of sonnets recently, and I realized they reflect something else in addition to love for another. Their precise “rules” — the number of lines, the number of syllables per line, how the stress falls on the words in a line — demonstrate a love for order and tradition.
Reading and writing a sonnet connects us to the times of William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and Petrarch. Sonnets suggest that some things last. In an age when even grammar rules are suspected to be tools of oppression, the poetic form of the sonnet reminds us that it is still possible for beauty to transcend politics.
Lussier’s sonnets are love poems, but he uses a considerable number of metaphors, themes, and subjects. In addition to describing his own feelings of ardor, these include sparrows, shades of ink and colors, art, summer shadows, prayer, food, times, destinations, and more. The world becomes both a resource to draw upon for his descriptions and a canvas on which to paint the sonnet’s words.
His poems are intensely personal, even for things that might seem fleeting and inconsequential. He explains how something as quick and short as a shared glance across a crowded room can communicate more than anyone not sharing the glance can understand.
Secrets to None Other Known
How is it that our hearts same rhythm find
And inspiration of our breaths we share,
That your one knowing look fast probes my mind,
While in one word I read your every care?
How is it that one gentle touch of hand
Or meeting ‘cross a room of but our eyes
Suffices for our hearts to understand
The need, the pain, the agony, the cries,
That freely we reveal, though not with fear
But boldly, secrets to none other known,
And find our souls’ refreshment waiting near
In one who loves one who once breathed alone?
So rare, this love, for freedom it has wrought
And confidence and strength that it has taught.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Brown University, Lussier worked for an American Baptist church in Rhode Island, received a master’s degree in computer science, and worked as a computer consultant in India and the Philippines. Returning to the U.S., he moved his family to Cape Cod, where he began acting at a local theater company. He received a doctor of ministry degree from Boston University in 2001.
The 47 sonnets of How Does He Love Me? answer the question posed by title. The recipient of these poems can say, “He loves me both close and from afar, in all seasons, no matter how young or old I am, and with feeling so deep it cannot be measured.” The nations and culture around us may pulsate and rage at every new thing, but this love is eternal and unchanging.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish