Monday, March 09, 2009

Sonnet contest

Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent's Narrow Room
by William Wordsworth

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:

In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

* * *

All right, you've seen the sonnets I've been putting up. Your turn -- write me some! I'm working on one in praise of cheese. What will you do?

Any topic will do -- romantic, religious, philosophical, funny. All four would be great. For tips on sonnet structure, read the most recent sonnet posts.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Love Is Not All

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.

It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by need and moaning for release
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

* * *

I don't think I would, either. Love is more practical than people take it for, which I think is definitely a part of what this poem is about. Here's is the question for you, though: is this sonnet romantic, or anti-romantic?

What I like about it (along with everything else) is that it proves that the sonnet is not dead. I do not believe that the sonnet will ever die. Why, I've even caught E. E. Cummings at it! He tried to sneak it by me, but I caught him. I like it when these modern poets do them as if they're not trying, as if the rhymes just happened. They never contort their sentence order or switch between you and thee so that they can rhyme with more things. They just chat away like they were shooting the breeze over the fence, and the next thing you know, there's a sonnet. It takes a lot of work to make it look this easy.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sonnet 130

by William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak,--yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress when she walks, treads on the ground;

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

* * *

An English, or Shakespearean sonnet. I've added spaces so you can see the different structure. Instead of an 8-line point and a 6-line counterpoint, we have three 4-line points and then a couplet which either contrasts with the rest (as here) or concludes it.

English sonnets are a little easier in terms of rhyme: abab cdcd efef gg. That leaves you with only two of each rhyme. However, that means the sonnet is a little less firmly linked together. English sonnets are also, because of their looser, more rational logical structure, not quite as fierce or intense as Italian sonnets. So, if you want to make a philosophical point, perhaps an English sonnet is the way to go. Imagine you're St. Thomas, writing objection one, objection two, objection three, and then "I answer that ..." Or making an official statement, "Given one, two, and three, it is RESOLVED that ..." But if you want to express something a little bit more emotional, something uncomplicated, with only two steps, I would advise the Italian sonnet.

Many people just pick one or the other and use only that one -- the reasoning for this being that sonnets are addictive, and you start to hear the rhythm and rhyme in your head. The more of one kind you write, the more you want to write. However, I would advise that all prospective sonneteers learn both: that way you have a tool for whatever kind of topic you're dealing with.