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.

1 comment:

dylan said...

The poet Harryette Mullen (b. 1953) has given us a comic prose parody of this particular sonnet; her composition is called "Dim Lady." It begins, "My honeybunch's peepers are nothing like neon."