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Sam Lingham Sam Lingham
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Sonnets


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First Day on my Own

The sonnet is a form of poetry popularised in the Western world by William Shakespeare, most famously with the words-


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?


Inspired by old Sicilian song forms, sonnets originated in Italy roughly 750 years ago and have been embraced the world over. The sonnet is a form of poetry that is meant to be read aloud to be appreciated, a point to remember when reading or creating your own sonnet.


There is only one definable aspect of the sonnet, it has 14 lines. Everything else is up for debate. Generally, they can be said to have a rhyming structure; stanzas, iambic pentameter, poetic devices and a turn. Though these can all be ignored, often what isn’t used is as meaningful as what is. To get you started collaborating on your own sonnets I’ll run you through some common sonnet features. Firstly we’ll look at the rhyming structures and stanzas. This is the typical English rhyming structure.


A  Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
B  Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
A  Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
B  And summer’s lease hath all to short a date;
  
A  Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
B  And oft is his gold complexion dimm’d,
A  And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
B  By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;


A  But thy eternal summer shall not fade
B  Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
A  Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
B  When in eternal lines to time though grow’st:


C  So long as men can breathe and eyes can see,
C  So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


This sonnet is built up of three quatrains (four lines) and a couplet (two lines) and follows an ABAB ABAB ABAB CC rhyming structure. As you can see in each quatrain, the 1st and 3rd lines rhyme as do the 2nd and 4th, and in the couplet the 1st and 2nd lines rhyme.


Now let’s have a look at the iambic pentameter, the internal rhythm of the piece. It is said to go de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM. This makes a total of ten syllables, five stressed and five unstressed (hence pentameter). This rhythm is said to be the “heart beat” of the piece, and shows where emphasis is placed. Using the same sonnet I’ll show you how the pentameter flows by underlining all the stressed syllables.


  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 to short a date;
  Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
  And oft is his gold complexion dimm’d,  (if ’ is used it becomes one syllable)
  And every fair from fair sometimes 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 though grow’st:
  So long as men can breathe and eyes can see,
  So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


The pentameter can be tricky to find as words are condensed or drawn out depending where meaning is placed in the line.


Next we’ll look at the turn, typically this happens between lines eight and nine but can, of course, occur anywhere. The turn is where a shift or twist occurs in the poem, usually where the argument is revealed. In our sonnet this indeed occurs between lines 8 and 9. After posing a question in the opening line, Shakespeare then uses the next two stanzas to discuss the merits of a summer day in comparison to his muse. In the ninth line there is a shift in rhythm and he answers his own question, revealing his love is indeed fairer.


Now you’re been given the basics of sonnets, try writing some of your own to gain a sense of the form and structure, then have a go at writing together. I’d suggest introducing a topic and a rhyming structure and see what wonders you can create together.


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