Posts Tagged ‘Sonnet’

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Poetry Sunday: Personal Poems

May 13, 2012

It is one thing to find a poem that fits a situation perfectly for you.  Imagine writing a poem for that occasion.  That is one of the best things about being a poet, the ability to express emotions in a way that reach others.  Of course, that assumes the poet is willing to share their poems.  In reality, sometimes you are and sometimes you are not.  For me, I am willing to publish most every poem unless to do so would cause some sort of indiscretion for another.

Now, personal poems are about much more than just romance.  While romance does fall into this category, it includes things like feeling a specific emotion, seeing something special, or having an epiphany of some sort.  The point is the feeling behind a personal poem is just that, personal to the poet.  Sometimes it is not easy to tell if a poem is personal or just the poet waxing on.  For me, any poem that makes someone wonder about it will have a personal connection.  It is how I write.

Even famous poets create personal poems.  Take Edgar Allan Poe, many of his poems are personal in nature.   Annabel Lee comes to mind.  We can speculate just who Annabel Lee was but we will never really know.  The best candidate is Poe’s wife, Virginia.  Here are the first two stanzas of Poe’s masterpiece:

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

Just reading these two stanzas fills my mind with wonder.  Of course, I wonder about Annabel but also about the kingdom by the sea.  It is the magic of personal poems, we know there is some truth there, but we get to fill-in the blanks for ourselves.

In this next poem, it is personal but in a light-hearted way.  I was thinking about the duality of the situations life put before me.  I often tell people “if you get this poem, you get me.”  Of course, I do not know if that clears things up for them or makes it worse.  In the end, the poem is not so much about the choices presented to you, as it is about the choice you make.  Nothing says you have to accept things as they are, and I seldom do.

Life can be a turnip or a rose

Life can be a turnip or a rose –
One can give sustenance or beauty.
Life can be a feather or a brick –
One can go gently or break a window.
Life can be red or blue –
One can have passion or compassion.
Life can be a fox or a rabbit –
One can hunt or be hunted.
Life can be phone call or a letter –
One is right away, but then what have you got?

Life can be…
All things being equal, I’d rather be an apple.

That is an example of a poem that has a less than obvious personal connection.  Others are extremely obvious.  For example, you can pen a poem about something personal but it is personal in the same way to all of us.  We might use different words or choose to express a thought somewhat differently but we all understand the emotion as well as understand the poet was writing from personal feeling.  Given that today is Mother’s Day, here is a poem I wrote for my mom a few years back to which everyone can relate.

To Mom:

You are a lady,
that, you will always be.
You are sunshine,
there to brighten my day.
You are happiness,
to make sadness fade away.
You are wisdom,
to show me – when I stray.
You are my teacher,
to follow along the way.
You are my mother,
for that, I thank God each day.

 

While it is wrong to speak in generalities, I think in this case it is pretty safe to say everyone gets it.  It is an example of a personal poem everyone could use as their own, not that you want to, but you could.

That leaves the personal poems poets write for a singular occasion or person.  While we may recognize it is personal, we do not understand the context of the poem.  Still, it makes us wonder and that in itself make them worth reading.  We can imagine the circumstance and ponder at a name or other hint as to the identity of some unnamed person.

The Day I Found You

We sat upon a swing that day
and made the world our own
We talked with more than words could say
with seeds our thoughts had sown

For love began upon that swing
our souls became as one
For us the world had joys to bring
through this life that we’ve run

I look back now, that day I see
and know I found my soul
It’s from life’s dark you set me free
and with your love made whole

I love you for you, but really much more
you taught me to love, you opened love’s door

In this example for instance, you may wonder just who I wrote this for?  Where was the swing?  Whatever became of the relationship?  I could answer the questions but what fun would that be?

So, you see personal poems hold a special magic with poets.  You get to peek into our lives, to share our feelings and emotions.  While you may not know the who, what, or where, you will understand the personal nature of the emotions involved.

 

 

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Poetry Sunday – Sonnets, A Bit Harder but Well Worth the Effort

April 1, 2012

Sonnets are one of the harder forms of poetry to master.  To make matters even more muddled, there are many forms of sonnets.  In the United States, when we think of sonnets, it is the English, otherwise known as the Shakespearean, form we think of.  Other popular sonnet styles are Italian, Occitan, Spenserian, Modern, and many others.

I like Shakespearean most, but when I write them, I modify the style a bit.  A classic Shakespearean sonnet uses three quatrains and a couplet with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and a meter in the iambic pentameter style.  To put that into English, each stanza rhymes every other line and no two stanzas use the same rhyming words as other stanzas.  Further, each line is ten syllables long in most cases with a natural strong stress on the even syllables.  This is where the word foot comes in.

Iambic means the syllables of a line are grouped in pairs with the stronger stress on the end syllable.  One of the best examples comes from one the Bard’s plays:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:[i]

It is hard to read lines like this from Hamlet in anything other than its Iambic form.  The words are naturally stressed on the even syllables.  With the stressed syllables emphasized, it looks like this:

 “To be, or not to be, that is the question:”

Remember, the line is from his play and in his plays the lines do not always contain the right number of syllables. Such is the case with the example, but it does illustrate extremely well the proper use of iambic meter.

The syllable group is called a foot.  Some groups have two syllables, and some have three or more. In the Shakespearean Sonnet’s case, there are ten syllables making up five iambic pairs or five feet. The word for five feet in a line is pentameter and when the two work together it is called iambic pentameter.

While this is not the technical definition, it works for a general understanding of how Shakespearean Sonnets work.  Here is one of William Shakespeare’s famous examples, simply titled Sonnet 18:

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 often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
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 wander’st 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.

 

You can see Uncle Bill’s (Shakespeare is every poet’s good ol’ Uncle Bill) use of the rhyme scheme and meter.  We must give deference to the changes in language since then that makes the rhymes seem forced in some cases.

Another writing device used in most sonnet forms is the “turn,” or volta, as poets like to call it.  By the way, volta means time or turn in Italian.  This turn is a distinct change in the thought and flow of the poem.  While it is not a spelled out rule, many poets place the turn in the third quatrain (stanza) and return from the change in the ending couplet.  Shakespeare placed his volta at the couplet and so do I.  It really is up to the poet.

While Shakespeare is one of the true masters of the form, I find sticking to a constant meter (iambic pentameter for instance) does not blend well with modern though and speech patterns.  I like to break the quatrain into couplets with the first line having four feet and the last having three.  It just reads easier to me and gives the work a more song-like quality.  Here is one of my sonnets for example:

The Day I Found You

We sat upon a swing that day
and made the world our own
We talked with more than words could say
with seeds our thoughts had sown

For love began upon that swing
our souls became as one
For us the world had joys to bring
through this life that we’ve run

I look back now, that day I see
and know I found my soul
It’s from life’s dark you set me free
and with your love, made whole

I love you for you, but really much more
you taught me to love, you opened love’s door

So, why not take out your pen and give a sonnet a try.  It is the first day of National Poetry Month after all!  Pick a classic style or modify one and I did.  It is up to you.  The point is to create something that is uniquely you, something that expresses your feelings and thoughts.  I know some of you are thinking “eeew – I can’t write a mushy love poem.”  The good news is sonnets can be about anything, it is the style of the poem, no its subject matter, for example:

What Stars Know

The far off lights that paint the sky
as dark does veil the Phoebus stage
and the crescent moon’s winking eye
do know the truth of wars we wage

For land, for God, for things profound
we give as reasons why we fight
but orbs up high retort the sound
of angry words proclaiming right

Tis death and pain that man does sow
upon this home, our home – the earth
the cost exceeds what we can know
are we so vain to set life’s worth?

To learn from stars is what we must do
Live and let live is the path that’s true

 Sonnets are harder to write, that is certain.  Once you do, you will understand the fun of it.  The rules make the game fun, but like with any game you must practice before you become good at it.  Write well, write often!


[i] “Hamlet.” – Act 3, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare. Web. 01 Apr. 2012.
<http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Hamlet/8.html>.

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