Ah! Another gorgeously sunny day in The Gooseberry Garden and we are about to start our 14th week... Stretched out on a blanket enjoying the imaginary sunshine (in spite of the real gray autumn day outside my window), I am CC Champagne and I am here to navigate the stormy and treacherous waters of the ocean of Poetry Forms with you. And today I'm actually diving in at the deep end.
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnets... What's the big deal? The mere word sonnet makes me smile and sigh with longing at the thought of all the beautiful poetry out there, while breaking out in a cold sweat and cringing mentally at the thought of even attempting to scribble anything that would dare to call itself a sonnet. Odes I can fake, haikus I can fake, some of the other forms we have talked about here, or that I have read about at other sites (such as Imaginary Garden with Real Toads or dVerse Poets Pub) I can fake, but the mere idea of faking something as holy as a sonnet... Well, in my mind that is tantamount to blasphemy (once again possibly partly because of all the poetry speak involved)!
I don't want to get into a whole philosophical discussion about whether or not William Shakespeare wrote his poems, and I don't want to get into a discussion on whether he is the greatest poet of all times or not (simply because I have no idea on the first question and the second is - to me - a matter of personal taste), but the man has left behind a legacy of poetry that is seriously daunting. Published in 1609, 402 years ago, the 154 poems that make up his 'The Sonnets' still spark discussions today, regardless of whether you feel you need an English-English dictionary to read them or not. However, Shakespeare is far from the only poet out there who has produced sonnets! There are indeed as many as nine different versions of sonnets out there according to the limitless knowledge that is Wikipedia. What on earth is a sonnet? What tricky, mind-bending rules and regulations do we have to adhere to if we want to call our work a sonnet? Which magic and deceitful words of poetry-speak do we need to conquer to be able to call our poetry by that name?
In simple English, a sonnet is a poem of:
- Italian (Petrarchan) Sonnet: Divides the 14 lines into a 4-4-6 line poem (two quatrains and a sestet) and rhymes adda-adda-cbecbe (or adda-adda-cbccbc). According to Wikipedia (and I do believe them) this works best for poems in Italian. An example (if you want to get a better feel for the rhythm) is John Milton (of Paradise Lost fame) in "On His Blindness". If you really feel you need a challenge, you should have a go at Dante's variation of the Italian Sonnet (if you succeed, you are a far more patient person than I am!).
-English (Shakespearean) Sonnet: Divides the 14 lines into a 4-4-4-2 line poem, but traditionally uses an abab-cdcd-efef-gg rhyme scheme (which means you won't have to find as many words that rhyme with one another as in the Spenserian version). For examples of these, there are literally thousands of them out there. Poets like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Keats and even, a bit more modern, E. E. Cummings have produced marvelous sonnets based on this form.
In the older sonnet forms there are rules to everything! You even have rules to how you build up a sonnet (the functions of the various parts of the poem), or what a sonnet should be about (love would be one pretty safe bet), but if you are interested in this I am sure you already know these things (or will be able to find more information through some of the links I've provided).
- Modern Sonnet: As with all types of poetry forms, the strictness of the rules governing them have become more lax over time and the focus seems to have shifted from which line rhymes with which and how you divide the 14 lines into a sonnet being more or less any poem of 14 lines, or even just a poem called a sonnet. You may find contemporary sonnets out there that do adhere to strict rhyming schemes, but you may also find those that are written in free verse. An example of the modern sonnet might be Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnet 6 (though I will grant you that he's hardly contemporary).
After doing a bit of (amateur) research on this extensive topic, my conclusion is that basically anything can be called a sonnet these days! I know many out there might consider sonnets out of date and boring (or will be put off by the language in some of the older sonnets by for example Shakespeare or John Donne), but there are ways to modernize the language, the form and the topics, and if you can overcome these obstacles there is true enjoyment in this poetry form. It would, however, be a pretty safe bet to say that I will not be the one doing any of this (at least not anytime soon), as this post has given me more than my fill of sonnets!
If you feel like sharing a sonnet you have written, or any other poetry for that matter, please feel free to join The Gooseberry Garden's Poetry Picnic Week 13, where this week's theme is childhood, dreams, books and role models, or rev up your poetic engines at Promising Poet's Parking Lot for the Thursday Poets Rally Week 56.
As I swim for the shore, I hope to see you back here next week to tackle some other poetry form, or aspects thereof! Anything, as long as it's nothing to do with sonnets!