What’s up with the sonnets, anyway?

20/09/2012

I’ve added a few more sonnets.  Most are the result of insomnia. I wrote the newest (Sordid Mess) in my head whilst having marital relations when I wished I wasn’t.

So, sonnets. I’ll explain what they actually are and why I seem to be drawn to them.

A sonnet is a particular type of poem. In English poetry, a sonnet has 14 lines. There are rules about both the rhythm, or meter, of the poem and also about the way it rhymes.

The first 12 lines are all written in iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is best known as the rhythm that Shakespeare most often used in his plays. An iamb is a two-beat unit, like a heartbeat — “ba-dum.” A line written in iambic pentameter has five of these two-beat units in it. Count it out on your fingers as you read along:

“Now is the winter of our discontent”
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

As I mentioned above, sonnets also prescribe a certain rhyme scheme. Lines that rhyme with each other are indicated by the same letter in the following schematic: ABAB-CDCD-EFEF.

But the last two lines differ from the first 12 in both rhyme and rhythm. If we carry on our scheme from the last paragraph, we would list lines 13 and 14 as “GG.” In other words, the last two lines rhyme with each other. In addition, those lines are in iambic quadrameter, meaning they consist of four beats of two. Two line pairings of verse following this pattern are called rhyming couplets, and are often used at the ends of scenes in Shakespeare’s plays. The contracted rhyming and the shortened rhythm can convey a sense of pithy finality. A listener could be certain the verse was at an end, in any case.

The above-mentioned “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” is arguably the most famous sonnet. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” is a famous sonnet as well. One might be forgiven for thinking sonnets were usually love poems. Even staying with the sonnets of Shakespeare, readers can see this is not the case. Many of his “Dark Lady” sonnets bemoan the feelings of torment and lack of control stemming from relationships. My favourite has always been, “My love is as a fever, longing still.”  In fact, at an audition where we had to recite a sonnet, and I recited that one, my top fell completely down. At the conclusion, the director said, “Damn. Now I have to cast you.

Thank you all for indulging my inner English teacher. My point is that the sonnet is a very specific type of poem. Why am I, now, composing them when I can’t sleep? Or when distancing myself  from my current realities?

It used to be haiku. Gotta love a haiku: three lines with five syllables on the first, seven on the second, five on the third. Composing haiku with insomnia makes sense to me. But after reading my explanation about sonnets — it’s clear, I hope, that these are very different beasts. Does this switch mean I need more distancing? More structure? More obstacles? Or just more, more, more?

Advertisements

4 Responses to “What’s up with the sonnets, anyway?”

  1. Nancy Says:

    Or perhaps it is now sonnets because they are more complex – much like life as we live more of it.


  2. well, you’re a far more literate insomniac than i. when i am sleepless i often compose palindromes in my head, which is plenty difficult for me, since the absence of pencil and paper means that you have to play with the letter order only in fallible short term memory space.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: