The poem uses several wonderful examples of imagery to depict the effects of fame and fortune in one’s life. These things are destructive, but they are still enticing. The speaker admits to a desire to find out more about them, despite having spent the first twelve lines of the poem discussing their negative impact. In the last two lines, the reader encounters what is known as a “turn” or volta. This is a transition from one part of a sonnet to another. It can be marked by a change in speaker, tone, subject, perspective, and more. In this case, it is marked by a speaker’s use of first-person pronouns and an admission of their interest in fame.
Explore The Famous Writer
‘The Famous Writer’ by Daniel Galef is a sonnet that explores the effects of fame on a writer.
The speaker starts off by noting that when one is famous, they see themselves in a certain light. But, they are at the mercy of critics and “creep[s]” who can remake their name with a new meaning. Their life may spiral out of control, with their work along with it. There is nothing one can do when this happens. Their life and creations belong to the public. All there is to do is “shrug” and laugh it off. Fortune and fame are destructive elements, ones that can reduce one’s name to an empty piece of text on a bookshelf. Despite this, the speaker, also a writer, wants to find out what it’s like for himself.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘The Famous Writer’ by Daniel Galef is a fourteen-line poem that takes the form of a sonnet. This means that it is contained within a single stanza. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFEF. This poem utilizes parts of both the Shakespearean sonnet form and the Petrarchan sonnet form. The poem also uses iambic pentameter, the traditional pattern associated with sonnets. It was used throughout the history of English-language poetry, most famously by William Shakespeare in his 154 sonnets.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example: “wheeling windmills” in line five and “leave,” “limp,” and “little” in line seven.
- Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. This may be through a natural pause in the meter or due to the use of punctuation. For example, “You’ll think yourself a marble bust. You’re slate.”
- Personification: occurs when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. In this case, “Fate” which he describes as something sentient.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three as well as four and five.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Who with a single swipe across your pate / Remakes it as their own so they can lunge” and “Full-tilt at wheeling windmills with your voice / And knock them over, pin the crime on you.” These should appeal to readers’ senses and help them easily imagine the scenes of the poem.
You’ll think yourself a marble bust. You’re slate,
Remakes it as their own so they can lunge
In the first four lines of ‘The Famous Writer,’ the poet begins what is a discussion of fame. He addresses “you,” someone who has acquired an amount of fame (as a writer). This person, now that they’re famous thinks themselves a “marble bust.” But, in reality, they are “slate,” a far less exciting and cheaper stone. It’s dark and lacks the beauty and prestige of marble. The speaker is likely addressing the things that come with fame and not talking about or to a specific person. Here, he says, is what happens when one gains fame.
The speaker references “creep[s]” and “critic[s]” in the next line. These are people who are there to read and obsess about one’s work, criticize it, and remake it in their own image. With their words, they can change other people’s perspectives of what you’ve written and what you were trying to accomplish.
Full-tilt at wheeling windmills with your voice
But shrug and laugh ‘What are you going to do?’
In the second quatrain, the poem uses a great deal of metaphorical language to depict the process of becoming famous and dealing with the changes in one’s life. The speaker says that the critics and creeps remake your “pate” and then “lunge / Full-title at wheeling windmills with your voice / And knock them over.” They take actions, ones that are extreme, it seems the speaker is saying and leaves “you limp with little other choice.” When one’s life gets somewhat out of control due to the fame they’ve acquired, the only thing one can do is “shrug and laugh” and say, “What are you going to do?” This suggests that one has no control over how they’re perceived by the world.
This gruesome sport is Fortune’s favorite game.
She steals your soul, that mindless, worshiped elf,
But still, I’d like to find out for myself.
The third and final quatrain comments on the way that fame and “Fortune” change one’s life. In this case, the poet personifies Fortune and describes the force as a “she.” She can take your soul and leave nothing behind but “an empty name.” While one might’ve had a soul, morality, meaning, and creative intention at first, they are left with “an empty name” on the spine of a book on a shelf.
Despite the negative consequences of fame, the speaker, who may be the writer himself, suggests that he’d like to find out the aspects of the “crippling curse of fame” for himself. This is likely the way that a lot of people feel when seeking out success in their fields. Everyone is aware of the negative aspects of fame, but still, people seek it out.
The tone is descriptive and passionate. The speaker is confident about what they know about love, but they are also curious about the effects of fame and willing to find out for themselves.
The meaning is that fame is destructive, but no matter how many negative things one knows about it, it’s hard to resist pursuing it for oneself. Fame and fortune are enticing and exciting aspects of life that any writer is curious about.
The speaker is a writer. They are someone who knows about the negative consequences of fame but is willing to experience them for themselves. They are conveying an attitude that many people have likely shared themselves.
‘The Famous Writer’ is a sonnet. This means that it has fourteen lines and is contained within a single stanza. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFEF. This poem utilizes parts of both the Shakespearean sonnet form and the Petrarchan sonnet form.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Famous Writer’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Fame is a Bee’ by Emily Dickinson – uses a bee to describe the fleeting nature of fame. She uses clever images and original poetic writing throughout.
- ‘Love & Fame & Death’ by Charles Bukowski – a short complex poem about the power that love, fame and death have in life.
- ‘On Fame’ by John Keats – illustrates the nature of fame through several interesting comparisons.