Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Music of the Sonnet

One of the first poems I memorized as a teenager (and still know over 50 years later) is this poem from Shakespeare:

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 too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft is his gold complexion dimm’d,
And every fair to fair sometime declilnes,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d.
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest.
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest.

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

I think I like this and similiar sonnets for two reasons. One, of course, is the deep meanings they hold for the reader. The poet in the above sonnet makes an interesting comparison between the lady he loves and nature. Even though nature can, at times, be harsh, his lady will always be beautiful him. Even old age and death will not diminish his love for her. Another reason I love this is because of the rhythm of the lines. I can probably put this entire sonnet to music because the words flow so gently. The mystique of the 17th century English language also adds to the beauty of this poem—such as the lady wandering in Death’s shade or the symbolism of “too hot the eye of heaven shines.”

The sonnet form of poetry is one several different poetry forms. Actually, the word “sonnet” means “little song” and it comes from either the Occitan word “sonnet” or the Italian word “sonnetto” Somehow, by the 13th century a sonnet was defined as a poem consisting of 14 lines with a certain kind of rhyme scheme. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and these consisted of 14-line poems, written in iambic pentameter, which means it consists of a line ten syllables in length and accented on every second beat. For instance, in the above sonnet, we have shall I / compare thee/ to a/ summer’s day The rhyming patter goes like this: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG in which the last two lines are a rhyming couplet. In the above poem, “day” and “May” rhyme, “temperate” and “date” rhyme, “shines” and “declines” rhyme, etc.

There are many different types of sonnets, of course, but I didn’t want to write this blog as a boring lecture series. I just want you to enjoy the rhythm and music of the sonnet itself. Here’s one that I wrote that won a prize in a writing contest:

The Power of Words by Tom Mach

Winds of apathy will not shake me
though I am invisible to this crowd
or seen darkly, blurred and misty.
I shall leave you all, head bowed
so you can play your strident noise
while I open my book of words
to recount the sum of all my joys.
Words take wing like songbirds,
finding minds to touch and arouse,
where characters give love and reveal
imagined souls for me to browse.
Matters not if they be false or real.
Pages press scenes within my heart
and arrange my thoughts, part by part.

I know it’s not Shakespeare, but I love it since I wrote it. So there!

1 comment:

Meriall Blackwood said...

I suppose the usual thing would be to send you a trackback, but I haven't been doing this long and it's not obvious how. A bit more on sonnets than I really want to try typing into a Blogger comment.