Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Poetry Challenge #5: Sonnet

You knew it was coming, didn't you? It was just a matter of time. This week we will tackle the sonnet. 

There are two major types of sonnets, each with its own rules. The Petrarchan (or Italian) sonnet is divided into an octave (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines), with a rhyme scheme of abba, abba, cdecde or cdcdcd. The Shakespearean (or English) sonnet has three quatrains and a couplet with the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg. I tend to lean toward the Shakespearean pattern, but I will accept gladly submissions in either format. 

I couldn't resist providing for our professional example one of my favorite sonnets, Sonnet 130 of Shakespeare.

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130) 
by William Shakespeare

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 damasked, 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.

I love that sonnet because the final couplet turns what the reader sees as the speaker's derisiveness or displeasure for his mistress on its head: instead, he makes it a critique on the idealization of other poets' loves for the sake of poetry. 

For my own example, I shall strive for a little more modern feel, although I like to keep in iambic pentameter whenever possible; the meter tends to mimic natural speech. No wonder Shakespeare liked it so much.

Creation is akin to giving birth;

both cause you pain, but in a worthy way.

While rhyme schemes are the furthest thing from mirth,

if done correctly, they carry the day.

What words to choose? What subject will be right?

These questions come to mind upon the start.

If I am still, an idea will alight

my mind, or if not that, then in my heart.

Would you believe my favorite is free verse?

I feel that my ideas are not constrained.

Sometimes I view strict formats as a curse,

but I did see improvements as I trained.

Regardless of my struggles, yet I type,

and pick the fruit my mind determines ripe.

There you have it, dear readers. It might take a little finagling, but I think anyone can write a sonnet. Go to it! I can't wait to see what you come up with. 


Anonymous said...

I'm on board with this challenge, but so far I've had 10 or 11 starts that I can't make stay together; they all want to wander off from the prescribe sonnet game-plan. Maybe if I add more coffee.....

Anonymous said...



Minerva said...


I have faith that you will come up with something great. The one I posted as my own example was actually my second full sonnet, when I finished the first one I didn't like it so I wrote another. I recommend the coffee. :)

Anonymous said...

Okay. After beating my head against the desk intermittently all day, I present my current best offering. (I'm fairly sure that there are many things wrong with it, and would appreciate its dissection. With extreme prejudice.)
Sonnet Frustration

I just can't get these things to gel--
The meter never works out right,
The rhyme-scheme isn't going well,
The subject matter seems so trite.

I hammer words into the holes--
Each word's a peg, not round, but square.
I rack my brain, but it just doles
Out notions as a miser'd share.

My mind seems like it's full of fuzz--
As 'round and 'round the gear wheels spin,
And after ev'ry effort does
A postit fly into the bin.

It's clear to see, I am no poet,
But luckily, at least I know it!

In explanation, I go through a lot of postits. I write really, really small, and I use them for everything; shopping lists, dungeon scenarios, tablet weaving patterns, sketches of things...and, so my husband claims, novels (but he exaggerates).

I'm going to keep trying.

And now, a completely unsolicited Haiku Rant:

My computer sucks
With a width and breadth and depth
Surpassing the seas'.

And it sucks harder
Than the emptiest vacuum
Between galaxies.

(Don't get me started
On Internet Explorer!
*vile profanities*)


Mimi said...

I'm with you on this one, Cicely! At least you got yours on paper...and it perfectly expresses my frustration. :-) You ARE a poet, by the way.

Minerva said...

Cicely--a terrific sonnet expressing the frustration of sonnet-writing! 1,000 points to you. And I agree with Mimi, you ARE a poet. Just because your subject is not highfalutin does not mean you are not a poet. :)

As for the computer, I had the same feeling about mine until I got my MacBook. I now use Safari nearly exclusively (the Mac web browser), although Firefox is also excellent. It's a free download and works with PCs as well, if you want to avoid IE.

Mimi--keep cracking at it, you'll get it. It would have taken me longer had this been my first sonnet-rodeo, if you will. I have done this before! It took me awhile to get the hang of it too.

Anonymous said...

Ah, sweet, sweet flattery! You are both far too kind!

But seriously, are there meter restrictions on sonnets? (I think that's what I mean to ask.....you know, the part where it goes
or whatever?) Or does sonnetness lie solely in the abab cdcd efef gg endings? I wasn't sure, and I tried to use the Shakespeare poem as a guide, but feel that I mislaid it, somewhere. Is my meter valid? If not, what are the requirements?

Unfortunately, most of my posting is done from my machine at work, which I may not substantially alter as to hardware or software. Or beating it to death with a baseball bat. So, for the forseeable future, I'm stuck with Internet Exploder, which sees fit to dump me out at least twice a day, siezes up at inconvenient times, and generally studies ways to ruin my day. I've got more latitude on my at-home machine (and being married to a Computer God has its perks), but only some of my bookmarks are over on the Firefox (and I can get no more specific, since the finer points of the tech-toys baffle me), and I have no idea what it would do if I tried to copy them across. With my luck, the machine would probably catch fire.


Minerva said...

Cicely--I don't believe there is a metric requirement. Most people try to make all their lines within a sonnet the same meter, but I don't think it is required to use a particular one. As far as yours vs. the Shakespeare example, Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter, in which each line is made up of five iambs, or two-syllable parts in which the first syllable is unstressed and the second is stressed (my MIS/ tress' EYES/ are NO/ thing LIKE/ the SUN). Yours falls into tetrameter, or four iambs per line (i JUST/ can't GET/ these THINGS/ to GEL). I don't think that's a problem but that's why you didn't think it was matching up. If you're trying to do that, you're missing an iamb. :)

Anonymous said...

Okay, if the sonnet doesn't care that it's short an iamb in each line, I'm not going to argue with it, but just stick a fork in it and call it "done".

Also, you've helped me figure out why Shakespeare's sonnet was messing me up; where apparently he intended


what I hear is

My/MIS/tress/es EYES/etc.

which kept throwing me off. (Also, I've just reminded myself of another frequently-encountered "oops"---ect. instead of etc. More grrrrr.)


Minerva said...

Cicely--I think I would have read it that way too, had I not known he always tried to get his lines to scan in pentameter. If you give mistress' 3 syllables, it throws the whole thing off. I also think that while the syllables are "supposed" to be stressed in that pattern, I have seen many many Shakespeare plays where the acting takes precedence over line scansion (he wrote many speeches in his plays in iambic pentameter as well), and it doesn't really affect anything. It's just a way of balancing the lines, I think.

paige said...

In Secret

Alive, my secrets whisper'd in the dark;
i note with breakneck speed, my beating heart;
stops midstep - unsure - and in his face mark;
what feeling lies therein? Words stop... then start.

My secret swells and contracts between us;
Like a beating heart - no longer contained;
i lie still - inside all's writhing, anxious-
and wish fervently that she were still chained.

What obstacle would try to hold love back?
What worthy foe could ambush us and win?
Her pow'r unspoken in inky black
dissipates now, becoming weak and thin.

Secrets crip'ling blow can only love cure;
at home where hearts are of each other sure.

(*i know the meter is wrong :(.. )At least Cicely's poem holds the same meter all the way through - mine is all random... i don't even think i can do any better...

paige said...

guh - & typo on line #11 - it should read:
Her pow'r when unspoken in inky black.

Minerva said...

Paige--lovely! 1,000 points for your mysterious sonnet. I guess I could see where switching a word here or there would make it "fit" the pentameter mold, I don't think it takes away from its overall effect that it isn't metrically "perfect." Thanks for sharing again!

Mimi said...

The dark of night with cool breeze sweet,
Gives respite from day's toil and strife;
Soothes cares away with restful sleep,
Renews, refreshes us for life.

The sky, more grey each passing hour
Presages morn with tasks to meet.
At last relinquishing night's power
To day and light and bright sun's heat.

A chance, fresh possibility
Every day a new beginning,
Trying to reach nobility -
Goal trancendent, still abiding.

Twenty four hours in every day
Oh! May we use them well, I pray.

I know I've only got 4 iambs per line - but I've burned up the others trying to put this poem together!

Minerva said...

Mimi--1,000 points for your perseverance, and for writing something akin to what I was thinking about today already. :)

Anonymous said...

Now, this is more the sort of thing I wanted to write, but refused to come together. *applause*