The Student
Review
Poem of the week: Jack Underwood’s ‘Holy Sonnets X’
by Laura Baliman, 30/09/20

 O drunk DEATH, go home. We like our dying lives.

            Have a big glass of water and think about it:

            I sleep in often. I waste my life like rain.

Jack Underwood, Holy Sonnets X, 2015

This 2015 poem takes lead from John Donne, but that is not the most valuable or interesting takeaway. Beginning with an image of a drunk ‘death’, Jack Underwood moves onto mundane images of a glass of water and a lie in. My first experience of this poem was its simplistic language which left me feeling calm and relaxed – and if that’s all you get from it, that’s a win! But through closer inspection, I realised that the message of the poem is what gives it a calming effect. It seems to implore the reader to be content with living a life that may indeed be meaningless: ‘I waste my life’ should be a negative statement, but here it seems at ease when coupled with the quiet imagery of rain. This suggests quite kindly that it’s okay if you don’t know where you are going with life – it’s okay if you spend your free time watching the Kardashians rather than reading War and Peace, or building your CV. 

Linguistically, the poem conveys a great quietness that follows the loud and glaring ‘DEATH’. The brevity of the lines and the poem as a whole encourages the reader to pause and stop, taking a breath and inducing silence in between statements. The language is wonderfully accessible, making it a poem I often force upon my scientifically-minded friends and family. This simplistic language also aligns the poem with its message of living simply and un-magnificently: a poet does not need convoluted or knotty words to be effective, or indeed to simply be lovely.

This is a helpful poem to have by your side in your early twenties while you panic about what you want your life to amount to, what career you want to pursue, and while you dream about the wondrous things you might achieve. I often wake up with a resolve to ‘accomplish’, but this reminds me that success may not actually be what true life is about. Having a lie in and ‘wasting’ your weekends may actually be more pleasant.

The mundanity of the last lines does well to reflect the mundanity of the majority of life. Most of our time will be spent sleeping and brushing our teeth, and Underwood makes us feel like that’s alright, and is just as worth celebrating as that CEO position you daydream about.

Image: Ant Smith via Flickr