My Gedanken Experiments

Sinister Writings (from the left)

Writing Poetry: The Sonnet

Aug 26, 2011 | Blogroll, Poetry and Writing, Sonnets | 3 comments

I find sonnets particularly difficult.  Their strict form is quite different from the way I talk.  I usually think in tetrameter, so I have to force myself to do pentameter.  This means I have to add syllables to make it work.  The rhyme scheme is also a challenge.  I found a definition on line, which I paraphrased:

A sonnet is a construct which allows the poet to examine the nature and ramifications of two usually contrasting ideas, emotions, states of mind, beliefs, actions, events, images, etc., by juxtaposing the two against each other, and  resolving or revealing tensions created and operative between them.

Sonnets are usually in iambic pentameter, although there have been a few tetrameter and even hexameter sonnets, as well.  They are often divided into two sections by two different groups of rhyming sounds. The first 8 lines, the octave, rhymes a b b a a b b a or a b a b a b a b.

The remaining 6 lines, the sestet, can have either two or three rhyming sounds, arranged in a variety of ways, most likely c c c d d d or c d c d c d or whatever you choose in ordering the c and d.

The exact pattern of sestet rhymes (unlike the octave pattern) is flexible. The point is that the poem is divided into two sections by the two differing rhyme groups. A change from one rhyme group to another signifies a change in subject matter. This change occurs at the beginning of L9 and is called the volta, or “turn”; the turn is an essential element of the sonnet form, perhaps the essential element.

Below are two sonnets, one is my favorite Shakespeare sonnet, the other is one I found on the internet that I found delightful:

They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
Wm. Shakespeare


Dear Mother, Please Don’t Take Away My Baby

Dear Mother, please don’t take away my baby.
I’m young, alone, my husband is in jail.
But there’s a wonder in what fortune may be
Given us, though time its wisdom veil.
Please help me be a mother much as you are
By being but a mother once removed,
As I become the daughter that I thus far
Have never been, by love and labor proved.
And let me love as you did my own child,
Making the best of what I wrought in pain;
For once fate leaves, one ought to think it smiled,
Rejoicing in what one would rue in vain.
I would not give my child to another;
I need you now, but only as my mother.
Nicholas Gordon

Below is one I wrote.  The point is that we made the bullets under the rationale that we had to be well armed to protect our freedom.  However, we sold those bullets and now they are being used on people who are seeking the freedoms we were trying to protect:

Bullets made to keep our children free

Bullets made to keep our children free
Now fired randomly into a crowd
Of those who dare to voice their dreams aloud
By gathering and marching peacefully
Daring to oppose the tyranny
Not groveling, finally walking proud
Demanding to do what was not allowed:
Claiming what’s theirs for the world to see
And in the quiet whispers of the night
The gathered dead had not wanted to fight
But needed to claim that which was their right
They died while showing us a peaceful way
That will give all people an equal say
And dawn a new, dictator-free day.

Finally, I originally wrote this poem as a villanelle, but I have reworked it to a sonnet.  I offer it here in both forms as a sort of example that the same thoughts can be conveyed in different forms with very different results.  Here the villanelle:

I heard the Robins Wake the Dawn – The Villanelle

As day was coming, dousing dark with grays
And sun rose, nagging night to move along
I heard the robins wake the dawn with praise

The new beginning swept the yesterdays
Into the black abyss where nights belong
As day was coming, dousing dark with grays

The falcons wove in intricate ballets
Beating time to mourning doves’ new song
I heard the robins wake the dawn with praise

The minstrel paused, musing on his lays
Taking pleasure in the growing dawn
As day was coming, dousing dark with grays

High in the weeping birch the homestead sways
As beak to beak the mothers feed their young
I heard the robins wake the day with praise

And thus the mornings pass into the days
Extinguishing the night lights one by one
As day was coming, dousing dark with grays
I heard the robins wake the dawn with praise.

And now, reworked:

I Heard the Robins Wake the Dawn – The Sonnet

I heard the robins wake the dawn with praise
As beak to beak the mothers feed their young
In joy they sing to greet the rising sun
Erasing memories of cold yesterdays
Bright colors paint the shadows and the grays
A warm response to the joyous song
Taking pleasure in the growing dawn
And thus the mornings pass into the days
Such gratitude is something I must learn
For gifts I’m given but have never earned
To care for others whose lives are more stern
For easing of their burdens I must strive
All children, like the robins, need to thrive
They, too, must feel good to be alive.


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