Tag Archives: English Sonnet

Old School Sundays: Sonnet 130

As if Shakespeare wasn’t busy enough churning out histories, tragedies, and comedies by the dozen, he was also fiercely composing perfectly rhymed, tightly structured, yet deeply meaningful sonnets—154 throughout his lifetime to be exact.

Make no mistake that this is no easy task; syllable counting, rhyme scheming, and line length doesn’t always leave room for free-flowing insight. But yet, it’s The Bard, and he manages not to just pull it off, but pull it off masterfully.

Have you ever tried writing a sonnet? I have and it wasn’t pretty.

Shakespeare's Sonnets: Knowledge Cards

Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Knowledge Cards

In my most recent Old School Sunday posts, I’ve been aiming to prove Shakespeare’s eternal, timeless relevance—both then and now. His ideas, his notions, come directly from the roots of human nature, and despite the many complexities and nuances of his stories and poems a very simple moral will present itself. A moral in which we all—despite time and experience—can identify.

There a various types of sonnets, which you can read about here, but the basic idea is a structured poem with stringent rules; again, like mentioned above containing a certain number of syllables (iambic pentameter), lines, and rhyme schemes. It’s an antiquated tradition that’s mainly been squashed by most of the free verse poetry (though of course even that still has its own structure) we see today.

The English (or Shakespearian) sonnet consists of fourteen lines total. Three quatrains of four lines and one two-line couplet at the end, making the rhyme scheme as follows:

abab

cdcd

efef

gg

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

The sonnet below is fairly well known, but it is my absolute favorite of the The Bard’s poetry for reasons I will explain later on. Read carefully though—this is not your average love poem:

 Sonnet Number 130

 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 damasked, red and white,

But no such roses I see 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 heav’n I think my love as rare

            As any she belied with false compare.

 

*Note: I remember from one of my college poetry classes that often, the two line couplet at the end of sonnets often seeks to disprove the preceding twelve lines. This is certainly true in Sonnet 130.

Sonnet 130 Knowledge Card

Sonnet 130 Knowledge Card

Our whole lives we hear the old adages, “No one is perfect,” or “It’s what lies on the inside that counts,” etc.

Shakespeare, it appears, beat us to this notion with Sonnet 130. In contrast to the over-romancized love poetry of his day, which often painted the object of affection as a goddess-like being, Shakespeare brought it down to the earth by saying, essentially: “Let’s be honest here. Her breath stinks, her hair’s bad, she’s tone deaf, and she’s pale. But hey, I love her anyway. There’s no one else in the world like my mistress.”

It’s a concept we sometimes tend to forget. We still look for that flawless specimen. Or worse, we expect our partners to be flawless.  It’s an impossibility that no one on this planet will ever realize. Shakespeare knew it, and so should we. It may, after all, be the ticket to true love.

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