I wrote a sonnet today. It’s not brilliant, but it’s not bad. It will go in the Advent meditation book this year. I had already written two meditations, but hadn’t managed to find a sonnet in either of them. I offered to write one more because we had a single week for which several people opted out. This time the sonnet was waiting for me.
I love the sonnet form. I like the way they force me to be concise. I like the way I have to wrestle with words and sentences and chunks and ideas to make it work out. I like counting out syllables and figuring out rhymes. There is something about that form that just works for my writing and thinking.
I also love studying sonnets and reading sonnets: Shakespeare and Donne and Browning and so on. My cousin read “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…” in my wedding. I miss teaching sonnets. I have the lecture memorized: 2 kinds, Elizabethan/Shakespearean/English and Petrarchan/Italian. 14 lines. Iambic pentameter. Specific rhyme scheme. English: 3 stanzas and a couplet rhyming ababcdcdefefgg with the concluding couplet to either reinforce or contradict/contrast the rest. Italian: an octave and a sestet, the octave rhyming abbaabba and the sestet rhyming any of several ways: cdecde, cdcdee, cdcdcd, cddcee. The sestet introduces a volta which means turn and the sonnet makes a turn in thought at that point…
I also adore Madeleine L’Engle’s metaphor of life as a sonnet:
“In your language you have a form of poetry called the sonnet…There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That’s a very strict rhythm or meter…And each line has to end with a rigid pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet…But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants…You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”
—A Wrinkle in Time
I will post my sonnet when the time comes during Advent, so for now here is Shakespeare, perhaps my favorite ever:
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.