My turn to run the writing group this week and, being the day before Valentine’s, what else could I do but sonnets? The group rose brilliantly to the challenge and created some very beautiful sonnets in honour of those they love. Distracted by being the ‘leader’, mine is very much a work in progress. Although, if you do want to see one I wrote, Salsa was written some time ago.
I have included the information and the activities that we looked at during the group as you may find them useful.
I look forward to reading your sonnets!
One of the most famous poems of love
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806-1861
A most famous love poem using the poetic form known as Petrarchan sonnet, a 14 line poem divided into two part, an octet (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines). Petrarchan sonnets were discovered by Thomas Wyatt in the 1500s but were written probably in the 1300s.
Petrarch had already experimented with the Italian canzone stanza – a form in which there was an obvious change between the octet and sestet. There have been many developments on the Petrarchan sonnet and many rhyme schemes.
What is the rhyme scheme for Barratt-Browning’s poem? (answer at the end!)
What is a sonnet?
A brief overview…
Shakepeare, of course, wrote many sonnets. In general terms:
- Sonnets are a kind of lyric (from the word lyre and therefore to be accompanied by the lyre).
- They were love poems
- Typically the loved one rejects the poet
- There is a conceit (extended or central metaphor – using besieged armies for example to express the desire)
- The lover’s beauty is itemized: known as the ‘blazon’
- Written with a prescribed rhyme scheme
- Written in iambic pentameter
A Shakespearian sonnet
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
A subversion of the form
Probably from the moment sonnets were created, so poets began to experiment with the form. Here, Shakespeare’s parody of the traditional way of speaking of a lover:
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Shakespeare, sonnet 130
- All poems need to have a ‘back story’ – all those details that you would not include but you need in order to know the subject of the poem. Before you start, think about the story behind your poem. Who/what is the love interest? What bought you together or spilt you apart?
- The smallest details are often the most moving parts of poems: the loop of hair in the hairbrush of a deceased lover (read the poem Gone by Simon Armitage). Before writing a poem, write down everything you can think about the love interest – all the small and big things – Eg: the chocolate mole on the back of their neck, sonorous snoring that wakes you in the middle of the night. Anything you can think of that will help you to write about love in a poem.
- Can you say it without adjectives/adverbs? For example, I love you very much indeed….is more powerfully said, I love you!
Every word is important and intensifiers often take up words where a simple image word say it more powerfully!
Sonnet’s were at least approximately iambic pentameter. Ahhhh! I know, not something easy to get your head around!
Each line has 10 syllables. An iamb (a metrical unit) consists of 2 syllables, one stressed and one unstressed. Each line has 5 and hence is known as iambic pentameter.
Shall I / com PARE/ thee TO / a SUM / mer’s DAY? Thou ART / more LOVE / ly AND / more TEM / per ATE
Internalise the meter and rhythm; try making up meaningless sentences and wordless rhythms to do so –
Ready to write?
Use the rhyme scheme abab bcbc cdcd ee (probably the easiest one)
Write your love sonnet in:
10 syllables per line
If you are brave try iambic pentameter (10 syllables in unstressed/stressed syllables)
Read your poem aloud to yourself so that you can hear how it sounds.
Remember, everyone throughout the history of the sonnet has experimented with the form so don’t be afraid to let your words speak rather than being a total slave to the form!
(Rhyme scheme for How do I love thee? abba abba cd cd cd)