C us sm l or a p e e

Writing 2: Poetry- Form & Freedom

Written by: Nigel McLoughlin

Open College of the Arts Michael Young Arts Centre Redbrook Business Park Wilthorpe Road Barnsley S75 1JN Telephone: 0800 731 2116 E-mail: enquiries@oca-uk.com www.oca-uk.com Registered charity number: 327446 Copyright OCA 2005. Revised 2006 Document Control Number: Document1 No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means - electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise - without prior permission of the publisher (Open College of the Arts)
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About the author

Nigel McLoughlin holds an MA with distinction in Creative Writing (Poetry) and a PhD in Creative Writing both from Lancaster University. He has been a Creative Writing tutor for over 8 years, working with all levels of students from absolute beginners to those completing their MA degrees. He has also been involved in design and development of Creative Writing programmes up to MA level working with a number of third-level institutions. He co-edited Breaking The Skin in 2002 an anthology of new Irish writers published in 2 volumes by Black Mountain Press. He has 3 collections of his own poems in print: At The Waters’ Clearing, 2001 (Flambard & Black Mountain Presses) Songs For No Voices, 2004 (Lagan Press) Blood, 2005 (bluechrome) His work has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies in Ireland, the UK and abroad. He has won or been short-listed for a number of major poetry prizes, and gives readings of his own work. He is a Fellow of the RSA.

Introduction Aspects of the course
What are the aims of the course? What does the course offer? What is expected of the student? Is supplementary work required? You and your tutor Your timetable What can the student expect to gain? On completing the course Project and tutorial plan


The sonnet
The history of the sonnet The Petrarchan sonnet Project 1: writing a Petrarchan sonnet The Shakespearian sonnet Project 2: writing the Shakespearian/Spenserian sonnets Variants on the sonnet form Project 3: a sequence of sonnets Assignment 1


Terza rima, villanelles & terzanelle
The history of the forms Terza rima Project 4: the terza rima Villanelle Project 5: writing villanelles

Terzanelle Project 6: writing a terzanelle Assignment 2


Sestina, pantoum, rondeau & others
The history of the forms The sestina Project 7: mapping and writing sestinas The pantoum The rondeau Project 8: writing a pantoum and a rondeau Other minor forms Project 9: writing a rondel, triolet and kyrielle Assignment 3


Ballads, ballades & odes
The history of the forms The ballad Project 10: writing ballads The ballade Project 11: writing ballades The ode Project 12: writing a Pindaric or homostrophic ode Assignment 4


Blank verse, syllabics & free verse
The history of the forms Blank verse Project 13: writing blank verse Syllabics Project 14: writing syllabic poems

Free verse Project 15: writing free verse poems Assignment 5

Appendix A: if you plan to submit your work for formal assessment Appendix B: glossary Appendix C: reference books Appendix D: the Learning Journal

This course is designed to allow the student access to the major set forms, which are used in the writing of poetry, and to give the student an indication of the wide variety of forms available to him or her. The course will also concentrate on the major features of each form showing clearly how each form is constructed and teaching the student both to imitate and to play with the form. Over the duration of the course the student will learn the ‘rules’ and disciplines that apply to each form but they will also learn how and when to break these rules in an artful manner. This will help the student in their search for their own poetic voice and help them to find their own position within (or outside) the poetic traditions which have been inherited. The student will also become aware that free verse is in fact yet another of those traditions with ‘rules’ and practices of its own. By the time the student has completed the course they will have gained an extensive grasp of all forms and varieties of poetry both from their own practical experience through writing and from the worked examples given in the lessons. This should give the student a more open approach to poetry and help them recognise work that is ‘good of its type’. Finally, by the time the student has completed the course, they will have a fairly extensive body of work completed, which can be assessed or submitted for publication or both. The student will also have a solid foundation for their future writing and, I hope, a clearer idea of their own poetic voice and direction.

Aspects of the course

What are the aims of the course?
The chief aim of the course is to help you write better poems. At the same time, the course should increase your understanding and enjoyment of good poetry old and new, as you discover different ways of looking at poems and develop your understanding of poetic techniques and traditions. It will provide you with the elements of a critical vocabulary, and help you towards a flexible and informed use of language.

What does the course offer?
This course offers one-to-one tutoring, by correspondence, by a practising poet who will have a good record of publication and considerable teaching experience. The tutor will be both a guide and a constructive critic. (Some tutors may be happy to use e-mail with attachments, others not.) The course provides the plan of study and much of the teaching material. Both student and tutor will use it as the foundation of the work that is done. The body of the course is divided into 5 core sections, corresponding to the 5 assignments each student will produce. Each of the sections discusses essential elements of poetry, with examples, and considers what’s involved in writing poems: what you need to think about, study and do. Each section offers projects, which aim to direct your activity more specifically and lead to the production of an assignment. The projects suggested will help in the development of a variety of skills. While there is much freedom to follow personal inclination in the content of assignments, you are encouraged to focus in each on different aspects of poetic form.

In addition, there are Appendices which enlarge on earlier material and offer suggestions on further reading. How far you use them will depend on prior knowledge, interests and available time. A word about what the course does not offer - it is not designed to provide direct help with getting work into print. However, your tutor may encourage you to seek publication when your work reaches an appropriate level.

What is expected of the student?
The course is to be completed within 2 years. During that time, you will send 5 assignments to the tutor, each consisting, to begin with, of about 6 poems of not more than 30 lines each. (The tutor may give guidance about submitting longer pieces of work later on.) Along with the poems, you will send a commentary on the writing process, so that the tutor can learn more about the thinking that has gone into each poem, and be helped to know what advice to give. Drafts and practice exercises are not sent unless they are asked for, but some of their outcomes may be discussed in the commentary. The tutor will return assignments within 10 days with a written critique of the poems and a discussion of important points arising from them and from the commentary. You can expect the tutor’s remarks to be both critical and constructive. In the light of the tutor’s comments and recommendations, you will redraft one or two of the poems and submit them along with new work in the next assignment. This redrafting is a crucial part of the whole writing process.

Is supplementary work required?

You are strongly advised to keep a notebook. (Lots of poems really do begin on the proverbial back of an envelope, but something more durable is a good idea.) It is useful to start a commonplace book; and you are expected to keep a Learning Journal to record and support the work as it is done.

The notebook
The purpose of the notebook is to record observations, phrases, potential subject matter – anything to stop the germ of a poem from getting lost. Poems have much in common with dreams: the fragments from which they develop are often so vivid that you are convinced you will not forget them – but you will! Somehow you must catch them by the tail, and a notebook and pen to hand makes the best trap.

The commonplace book
This old-fashioned title describes a valuable adjunct to your learning and thinking. In it you will record extracts from other people’s work. If something you read or hear makes you prick up your ears, store it in this book. It’s a good place to record proverbs and sayings that interest you, paradoxes and contradictions, aphorisms and so on: whatever stimulates thought.

The Learning Journal
Your Learning Journal is intended to provide a comprehensive record of your experience of the course. In it you will store drafts, correspondence, a copy of your Student Profile, tutorial reports and revisions of your work. A detailed account of its use and how to maintain it is set out at the end of the course materials as Appendix D. You should consult it closely before proceeding. The Learning Journal is important to all students since it tightens the cycle of feedback between you and your tutor, but it is a vital component of the course for all students opting for graded assessment of their work, and regular periods of time should be set aside to maintain it.

It is impossible, in a course of this length, to give even an outline of the history of English poetry; yet the developing poet needs to know as much as possible about it, if only to avoid endlessly trying to invent the wheel! The appendices suggest some further reading and it is much to be hoped that you will find time to explore parts of it. Your enjoyment of poetry will certainly be enhanced in the process.

The Assignment Commentary
When sending your work to your tutor, you should include an accompanying account, which we call an Assignment Commentary. This is a formal term, but it does not mean that the commentary has to be formal in style. Think of it as a personal letter from you to your tutor, which offers your response to the experience of writing your assignment. Try to give your commentary a clear structure. While there are no rules about what it may contain, you may wish to consider the following: • • • • • • • how you set about the exercises which led to the writing of your assignment, and how useful you found them your choice of subject matter how you tackled the drafting process how each poem changed in the drafting how far the finished piece measures up to your expectations, and where in particular you think it falls short where, and how, you found it appropriate to follow your tutor’s advice guidance you might need in further redrafting and development.

It is worth taking time and trouble over your commentary, since it will help your tutor to understand what you are aiming to do, how far his/her comments had been helpful to you and how best to guide you in the future.

Submitting your work: a checklist
• • • • • • • use A4 paper type your work if you possibly can make sure your name and student number are marked at the top send 2 copies of your poems unless your tutor requests otherwise include your Assignment Commentary keep a copy in your Learning Journal of all the work you send enclose a stamped addressed envelope for the return of your work (unless you are outside the UK).

You and your tutor
Even though you will be working from home, you won't do so in isolation. You will have the opportunity to get in touch with your tutor regularly by post when you send in your assignments. Each tutor is a working writer who will understand the problems and difficulties of getting started and keeping going, and will offer help and advice throughout the course. Your tutor will guide you through each assignment and comment on the work and correspondence that you will send in each month. The tutor may well suggest exercises and projects that are not given in the course and you are free to pursue your own ideas, providing that you let your tutor know what you have in mind. Whatever you decide to write, you should stick broadly to the sequence of exercises in the course. It has been written so that one section builds upon another, establishing a process of learning and experimentation. Tutors may differ in their attitudes towards redrafted work: some like to see it, others do not. One or two redrafted pieces, submitted along with your next assignment, may help the tutor to grasp how far you have understood the criticisms made of the original; but I suggest that you ask your tutor what is required of you. In any case, expect briefer comments on a redrafted poem than on new work.

While you will be in regular contact with your tutor, please bear in mind that all tutors are making their living as writers, and therefore may be too busy always to respond to you very quickly. Student work is normally returned within 14 days; contact your tutor if this period is exceeded without notice. Please do not send to your tutor any work other than that done as part of the course, unless he or she has agreed to look at it for you. Please discuss with your tutor any problems that may arise. Student Services at OCA can be contacted if there are problems that cannot be sorted out directly.

Making a start
As soon as you have finished reading this introduction, you should send off your completed Student Profile form to your tutor in the envelope provided. Your tutor will also be contacting you with an introductory letter and will suggest a date by which the first assignment should be completed; but do not wait until you hear from your tutor before making a start. You will need to spend the first few weeks working through the introductory parts of this course (I suggest that you do no more than skim later sections at this point) and working on the section that leads to your first assignment. There is more to be done in it than may at first appear, so don’t rush. A good anthology is invaluable for the pleasure of ‘dipping' as well as for closer study. It will be useful and appropriate at this stage to start exploring such an anthology. Staying Alive from Bloodaxe Books would be a very good choice to begin with (you may already have this if you have done Poetry 1). You could begin by having a look at the 12 themes in the list of contents, choose a couple of those that interest you, and read some of the poems under those headings whose titles appeal. Don't expect to like everything you read! However, I hope you will keep an open mind about any poems that you find puzzling or distasteful, and perhaps make a note of them in your Learning Journal along with the details of

poems you like. Especially if you are familiar with poetry of a traditional kind, you may find some modern work an acquired taste, but it is worth persevering. As with listening to modern music, your ear and your mind need time to adjust; but there is a chance here of extending the range of your pleasures.

Your timetable
The course should take you at least 6 months, but may well take considerably longer. You have up to 2 years to complete. We do not wish to be too specific about the course duration and study hours, since all students work in different ways and at different rates; but you should aim to spend at least 7 hours a week working through the suggested projects and assignments in this manual and longer, up to 10 hours a week, if you are considering having your work assessed formally at the end of the course (see Appendix A). If you opt for assessment, you will need to spend a considerable amount of extra time redrafting work for your assessment folio. The more time you spend trying out different ideas the better, but it's very important to set yourself a regular timetable which takes into account all your other commitments. Almost every writer tries to maintain some sort of regular routine - starting work at more or less the same time whenever possible and setting aside so many hours each day for it. Don't become a slave to routine though, and don't be afraid to break a pattern that clearly isn't working for you. It's hard to feel impulsively creative every day of the week, but you should get in the habit of using your notebooks regularly for observational or reflective writing, of maintaining your commonplace book by pasting in articles or cuttings and of making sure that your Learning Journal is up to date. Many of these activities will provide the raw material for later writing. Time may be profitably spent if you can strike up a relationship with another writer to whom you can show your work. (Family and friends, however, may not be your most valuable critics.) Find out if there is a writers’ group in your area,

and if there is, attend two or three meetings to discover if it provides what you need; but be tough about discontinuing if it doesn’t. No use if the blind are leading the blind, or if the members are not looking for constructive criticism.

What can the student expect to gain?
This question leads back to the stated aims of writing better and understanding poetry more fully; but that is not all. You will find that entering into this study will enhance your powers of observation, of the external world, but of your internal world too. You will find that you become more aware of your ways of working and of your capacities. You will deepen your knowledge of language. It’s to be hoped that you will have a better comprehension of your likes and dislikes, and possibly a rewarding appreciation of things you were not familiar with before or did not expect to enjoy. You will most likely have clearer ideas of what you do and don’t want to do next about your writing. It’s not an advertising boast to claim that your life will be fuller. By the end of the course you could expect to have: • • • • • • • • • • kept a notebook and a commonplace book which will provide both a source of ideas and a record of your thinking maintained a Learning Journal built poems structured around set forms written at least 40 poems on a range of subjects and in different styles experimented with a variety of forms and further developed technical expertise learned how to further improve your work through redrafting further developed your understanding of style and vocabulary further explored some powerful themes and issues learned to present your manuscripts as an editor would wish to see them further extended your knowledge and appreciation of the work of other poets.

On completing the course
A certificate at the end of the course
OCA issues a certificate at the end of its courses. This is the Record of Completion, which is issued on the recommendation of tutors to all students who finish a course and who show evidence of progress.

The OCA Award
A second certificate is available for those who want or need something which indicates the level of their achievement, and is called the OCA Award. This is graded from A to D, and you will need to notify the OCA office if you wish to be assessed for the Award - see Appendix A for further details.

Going further
Many students find that, after the initial euphoria of completing their course, they start to get ‘withdrawal’ feelings - missing the interest, excitement, even discipline of a regular learning programme. Some decide that they would like to carry on learning for sheer pleasure or personal development, others realise that they would like to work towards a career or academic qualifications. This course can be an ideal starting point for one of OCA’s many other courses, which can be studied without prior qualifications. Some carry university accreditation, which can be put towards university qualifications (degree, Dip HE, Cert HE). Many students successfully use the portfolio of work, produced during their courses, to gain direct entry to college/university and sometimes onto MA courses. There are several other OCA Creative Writing courses at Levels 1, 2 and 3. Whether you want further time to decide on the subject area on which to concentrate, or if you have already decided on a specialism, OCA has a course to meet your needs. Full details are given in OCA’s Guide to Courses.

If you are interested in gaining an academic qualification, you will need to achieve the following:

Certificate in Higher Education 120 credit points at Level 1

Diploma in Higher Education 120 credit points at Level 1 plus 120 credit points at Level 2

BA in Creative Arts 120 credit points at Level 1 plus plus 120 credit points at Level 2 120 credit points at Level 3

Credit points can be obtained by achieving pass grades when your work is assessed. Further details are given in the Assessment and Accreditation section of the Student Handbook and in Appendix A. However, it must be emphasised that if you want to write just for pleasure or even if your aim is to write as a career, you don’t have to have your work formally assessed. OCA also offers courses in: Painting (including Watercolour), Drawing, Art & Design, Textiles, Art History, Dance, Garden/Interior Design, Photography (including Digital), Camcorder, Singing, Composing Music, Calligraphy, Sculpture and Creative Digital Arts. For further information see OCA: Guide to Courses or phone 01226 730 495.

Project and tutorial plan
• Send your Student Profile straight away and speak to your tutor by phone before you start work on the course. Approx. time in hours

1: The sonnet
Project 1: writing a Petrarchan sonnet Project 2: writing the Shakespearian/Spenserian sonnets Project 3: a sequence of sonnets Assignment 1 Send your 1st Assignment to your tutor 20 20 20 40

2: Terza rima, villanelles & terzanelle
Project 4: the terza rima Project 5: writing villanelles Project 6: writing a terzanelle Assignment 2 Send your 2nd Assignment to your tutor 20 20 20 40

3: Sestina, pantoum, rondeau & others
Project 7: mapping and writing sestinas Project 8: writing a pantoum and a rondeau Project 9: writing a rondel, triolet and kyrielle Assignment 3 Send your 3rd Assignment to your tutor 20 20 20 40

4: Ballads, ballades & odes
Project 10: writing ballads Project 11: writing ballades Project 12: writing a Pindaric or homostrophic ode 20 20 20

Assignment 4 Send your 4th Assignment to your tutor


5: Blank verse, syllabics & free verse
Project 13: writing blank verse Project 14: writing syllabic poems Project 15: writing free verse poems Assignment 5 Send your 5th Assignment to your tutor Reading / logbook Time TOTAL TIME 20 20 20 40

100 600

1: The sonnet
The history of the sonnet
The sonnet form was imported into English letters from the Italian somewhere around the start of the 1500’s. Since then it has been in constant use by poets and is still one of the most favoured lyric forms to work in today. It is generally agreed that ‘sonnet’ comes from the Italian sonetto, a short strain (literally, a little song). It was originally a poem recited with musical accompaniment. As to its first birthplace there is some uncertainty: it has been asserted to have been a native of Provence, but it is generally acknowledged that the 2 main variants in the form trace their origins from Petrarca and Shakespeare. Francesco Petrarca is usually credited with having introduced lyric poetry in Europe. His collection of Italian verses, Rime in vita e morta di Madonna Laura (after 1327), translated into English as Petrarch's Sonnets, are said to be inspired by Petrarca's passion for Laura, a young woman Petrarca first saw in church on Good Friday 1327 and who died on the same day 21 years later. Petrarca is considered the first modern poet because of his interest in individuality, reflected in his sonnet series. Petrarca wrote 365 sonnets, many of them dedicated to Laura. The exact relationship of Petrarca to the historical Laura remains uncertain but it is believed that she was a married woman with whom Petrarca was infatuated and to whom he composed the sonnets as an act of ‘courtly love’. It was common for poets to worship the object of their love from afar, especially as she may be married or otherwise socially unattainable. Sir Thomas Wyatt is widely accredited with having brought the forms of the Italian Renaissance (including the sonnet) into use in English. He translated widely from the Italian writers, including Petrarch and a generation later Sir Phillip Sydney produced the sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella using Petrarch as a model to work from rather than as material for translation. At this stage there was much variation in the rhyme schemes which were used but it was to be

in the hands of Shakespeare that one of these sonnet forms was to achieve more dominance and was eventually to be referred to as the Shakespearian sonnet as opposed to the form that it had evolved out of which became known as the Petrarchan sonnet. Over the course of the next three hundred years the sonnet found favour in the hands of writers as varied as John Donne and other metaphysicians, the romantics such as Keats and Shelley and Victorian writers like the two Rossettis and Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is important to remember that the sonnet did not stop there. It has evolved and been used throughout the 20th century and is still being used innovatively today – we need only think of Heaney’s Glanmore Sonnets to assure ourselves that the form is alive and well. Over the course of its history the sonnet has changed, different parts within its structure became more or less important – there were unrhymed sonnets, tailed sonnets (15/16 lines) curtailed sonnets (12/13 lines) and sonnets which had metrically uneven or metrically short lines. The development has been constant and it has not been restricted to the modern period. The Shakespearian sonnet, as we said, evolved out of one variety of Petrarchan sonnet. Gerard Manly Hopkins experimented in various ways with the form in the 1870’s and 1880’s. In this lesson we will be taking a close look at examples of all of these types but let’s start at the beginning and look at the basic types first. Historically speaking that means starting with the Petrarchan sonnet.

The Petrarchan sonnet
The 5 basic features of the Petrarchan sonnet are as follows:

• • • • •

it consists of 14 lines it is split into an octave (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines) it has a volta or a classic turn it is metrically regular (usually iambic pentameter) it has a formal rhyme scheme.

In order to demonstrate each of these features properly I will be using an example (in this case Sibylla Palmifera by Dante Gabriel Rossetti) Sibylla Palmifera (For a Picture) Under the arch of Life, where love and death Terror and mystery, guard her shrine, I saw Beauty enthroned; and though her gaze struck awe, I drew it in as simply as my breath. Hers are the eyes which, over and beneath, The sky and sea bend on thee, which can draw, By sea or sky or woman, to one law, The allotted bondman of her palm and wreath This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise Thy voice and hand shake still, long known to thee By flying hair and fluttering hem, the beat Following her daily of thy heart and feet, How passionately and irretrievably In what fond flight, how many ways and days ! Dante Gabriel Rossetti One can see immediately that there are 14 lines in the poem, which are split between 2 stanzas one of 8 lines and one of 6 lines. It has a volta or classic turn, which means the characteristic transition point between the octave and sestet. There is a difference of poetic viewpoint, which can be found, between the

octave and the sestet and it has a clear rhyme scheme as evidenced by the highlighted words. This is normally written as follows: ABBACBBC - ABCCBA As for the metrics, the poem is basically written in iambic pentameter but it is not regular (very few sonnets actually are - even Shakespeare allowed variation in metre). The reason for such variation is that if you have endless repetition of a stress off – stress on pattern (which is what iambic means) then it becomes very monotonous and boring for the listener. The line: Thy voice and hand shake still, long known to thee is perfect iambic pentameter. The stressed syllables are shown in red. However all of the lines can be read as having 10 syllables with 5 stresses and so the variation is achieved by direct substitution of stressed syllables for unstressed ones and vice versa. This gives a feeling of regularity to the line even though it is technically irregular in the type of metrical foot used. Ozymandias I met a traveler from an antique land Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read, Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed, And on the pedestal these words appear: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away. Percy Bysshe Shelley

In the above example by Shelley one can see that although the poem is not physically divided by the volta or classic turn. It does occur in lines 8 and 9. It is not as sharp as the Rossetti example but the viewpoint most definitely changes from the physical description to deal with the double irony of the lines engraved on the ruined monument. It becomes a double irony because when they were first carved the ‘mighty’ should ‘despair’ at never being able to equal the magnificence of the new monument. However the lines have now taken on the meaning that the ‘mighty’ should ‘despair’ because all works no matter how magnificent will fall into ruin. The irony is, of course, doubled in that the piece of art which gives us that very message i.e. the poem Ozymandias has not decayed and is still read. Despite the fact that the Shelley example is unsplit and that the turn is somewhat less clearly defined, and the rhyme scheme includes 2 examples of ‘off-rhyme’, it is clear that both poems fulfill all the basic requirements of the Petrarchan sonnet and are clearly recognisable as such. As we look at more examples and observe the differences between sonnets you will get the hang of identifying the volta or classic turn and the rhyme schemes in them, so don’t worry of you haven’t got the hang of it all quite yet. Try this yourself. In the next example match up the rhymes, identify the rhyme scheme, find out if the rhythm is regular and try to identify where the volta or classic turn occurs.

From Sonnets from the Portuguese XLIII How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of every day’s Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death. Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Project 1: writing a Petrarchan sonnet
Robert Frost said, ‘if you want to say something for eight lines and take it back for six, write a sonnet’. Write 2 sonnets. In the first you should try to stick as closely as possible to the classic guidelines for a Petrarchan sonnet, and in the second try to experiment with the form. Use the following themes as a guideline, or you can make up your own:

• • •

a love poem to a partner. the secret life of…….(an animal of some kind) write about the aftermath of a battle in sonnet form.

The Shakespearian sonnet
The Shakespearian sonnet has the following 5 features:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

it has 14 lines it is split into 3 quatrains (verses of 4 lines) and a 2 line couplet the couplet tends to form an epigrammatic close – that is, it tends to sum up what has been said in the previous 12 lines of the poem it generally has a regular rhyme scheme it tends to have a regular metre – usually iambic pentameter.

In order to demonstrate these features we will use worked examples - where better to start than with a sonnet from Shakespeare himself. 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 dimmed: And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed; But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st, Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st; So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. William Shakespeare As can be seen from the above there is a very strict and regular rhyme scheme and apart from some metrical ambiguity in the first line the metre is iambic pentameter. Go through the rest of the poem following the stressed and unstressed pattern that lines 2, 3 and 4 set up (stressed syllables are shown in

bold print for the first 4 lines) – do you notice anything? Do all the lines fit the same pattern exactly? If they don’t can you suggest reasons why? Can you see how the rhyme scheme helps to split the poem into three sets of 4 lines with a couplet at the end? Do you see how Shakespeare uses the last 2 lines to sum up the reason for writing the poem? Remember we talked in the last section about variations in the iambic line. Shakespeare was very adept in the use of iambic pentameter both in his poems and his plays but he did use variation where necessary, where the rhythm would otherwise interfere with the sense of the line for example. Take the first line: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?’ This may be stressed a number of ways for example: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?’ Is the strictly iambic version but it sounds funny when you try to say it out loud. Try reading this with stress on the red syllables. One doesn’t normally expect stress on ‘to’. ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?’ This is possible if the question is being asked directly as in ‘Do you want me to compare you to a summer’s day?’ ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?’ Which would be more in keeping with ‘Can I compare you to a summer’s day?’ You have to make up your own mind as to which is the most natural. Shakespeare was aware of this and allowed a certain amount of flexibility in his metres to compensate and to give a more natural feel to them. Shakespeare uses rhyme and changes in the rhyme scheme particularly to separate the quatrains (4-line units) from each other without having to physically split the poem. He also uses the punctuation for the same purpose. Note when

he uses the semi-colon (;) to give a long pause at the ends of lines 8 and 12 while also breaking the sense at these points – notice also how the colon (:) at line 4 does the same job. The following is another variation of the sonnet, which has been called a Spenserian sonnet after Edmund Spenser who is said to have originated the form. The example is by Edmund Spenser himself. Sonnet I Happy ye leaves! whenas those lily hands, Which hold my life in their dead doing might, Shall handle you, and hold in love's soft bands, Like captives trembling at the victor's sight. And happy lines! on which, with starry light, Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look, And read the sorrows of my dying sprite, Written with tears in heart's close bleeding book. And happy rhymes! bathed in the sacred brook Of Helicon, whence she derived is, When ye behold that angel's blessed look, My soul's long lacked food, my heaven's bliss. Leaves, lines, and rhymes seek her to please alone, Whom if ye please, I care for other none. Edmund Spenser This variant on the sonnet is distinguished by its interlocking rhyme scheme. This type of sonnet can occur with physical splits in the verse either into two 7line stanzas rhymed ABABBCB – CCDCDEE or split like a normal Shakespearian sonnet into ABAB – BCBC – CDCD – EE. In the above example it may be very conveniently split into a normal Shakespearian pattern due to the full stops after lines 4, 8 and 12. You could argue that the Spenserian sonnet offers a halfway house between the Petrarchan sonnet and the Shakespearian sonnet, and this would be no surprise given Spenser’s historical position between Petrarch and Shakespeare. However. The fact that the form has a closing couplet and can be

split in the Shakespearian fashion perhaps suggests a closer relation to the Shakespearian sonnet. Have another look at Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and Spenser’s Sonnet I above - is there any evidence of a volta or classic turn in either of them? How do you think Spenser’s sonnet compares to Shakespeare’s with regard to song-like qualities? (remember sonnet originally meant little song).

Project 2: writing the Shakespearian / Spenserian sonnet
Write 2 sonnets. In the first use the Shakespearian or Spenserian sonnet as a model and stick as closely as you can to it. In the second sonnet feel free to experiment with the form. Use the following themes as a guideline, or make up your own:

• • •

the birth or expected birth of a child. a love poem to an unattainable partner the existence or non-existence of a higher power or deity.

Variants on the sonnet form:

The Tailed or Caudate Sonnet
The example below from John Milton is a fine example of the form which extends the sonnet by either three or six lines. On the New Forcers of Conscience Under the Long Parliament Because you have thrown off your Prelate Lord, And with stiff vows renounc'd his Liturgy, To seize the widowed whore Plurality From them whose sin ye envied, not abhorred, Dare you for this adjure the civil sword To force our consciences that Christ set free, And ride us with a Classic Hierarchy, Taught ye by mere A.S. and Rutherford? Men whose life, learning, faith, and pure intent, Would have been held in high esteem with Paul Must now be named and printed heretics By shallow Edwards and Scotch What-d'ye-call. But we do hope to find out all your tricks, Your plots and packing, worse than those of Trent, That so the Parliament May with their wholesome and preventative shears Clip your phylacteries, though baulk your ears, And succor our just fears, When they shall read this clearly in your charge: New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large. John Milton If we analyse the form above we can see that the basic sonnet structure is still present. The first fourteen lines consist of a petrarchan sonnet. The octet consists of a question and the volta at line eight is where the poem changes tack to provide a meditation on the question. The rhyme scheme is as follows: The octet is ABBAABBA and the sestet is ABCBCA. The tail is the six lines which

follow the sestet and begin with the short line ‘That so the Parliament’. The tail, as in the case above, usually begins with a line which rhymes with the last line of the sestet. There then follows a couplet which in the case of a three line tail will close off the poem much in the same manner as the Shakespearian version. In the case above, there is a six line tail. This is brought about by repeating the process for tailing. A short line which rhymes with the line directly above it is added and followed by another couplet. The effect, as can be seen above is to create a triplet. Musically this can be a very unified form especially given the number of couplets present. For this reason perhaps, Milton rhymes the sestet avoiding couplets and this gives the effect that the first eight lines of the poem are very musically unified which helps bind the question, which has been formulated over eight lines, together. The sestet is looser, perhaps musically signifying the dissent and discord that Milton speaks about, while the end of the poem is musically unified again as Milton works towards his memorable close.

The Curtailed Sonnet
The following is a sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is rather an unusual one. In this sonnet Hopkins experiments with the form by shortening both the octave and the sestet in proportion to form what has been called a curtailed sonnet. Look at it for yourself and decide what features of the sonnet are still present. What is it, do you think, that makes a sonnet a sonnet?

Pied Beauty Glory be to God for dappled things-For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings; Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim. All things counter, original, spáre, strange; Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?) With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím; He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change: Práise hím. Gerard Manley Hopkins Remember as you read this that Hopkins worked to his own metrical system called ‘Sprung Rhythm’. Sprung rhythm may best be thought of in musical terms. If one considers a line of poetry as equivalent to the musical bar, then each bar can hold a certain number of notes or in the case of a line of poetry a certain number of stresses. Hopkins took this as the basis for his metrics in sprung rhythm saying that it no longer mattered how many unstressed syllables were present in the line since one is only counting the stresses. The result is that Hopkins’ lines have a crowded and breathless feel as he bounds over several consecutive unstressed syllables to get to his stress or as the line jams 2, 3 or 4 consecutive stresses up against each other. Notice also the complex rhyme scheme used which is reminiscent of Spenser’s interlocking rhymes. The effect of this was, of course, to concentrate the musical attributes of the sonnet just as he had concentrated the form. This suited the use he put the sonnet to perfectly, which was an ecstatic visionary praise. How does the volta or classic turn fit in with this? Other forms that might be of interest are the crown of sonnets, where there is a series of sonnets each beginning with the closing line from the last. This is a

striking use of the form and excellent examples may be found in John Donne’s Corona and Lady Mary Wroth’s A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated To Love. There is also a double sonnet form which is rare in English and consists of two petrarchan sonnets with an additional volta between them. Elizabeth Bishop’s poem The Prodigal is an excellent example. Finally, look at the following poem by the author. What features of the sonnet does it share? Which do you feel it is missing? On balance do you think it is a sonnet? Why? I’ll leave the bottom half of the page underneath it blank so you can make notes. Tongs Years nailed to the wall as an ornament, the tongs grow clatty, plastered with lime and disuse. Once, they would be taken down to cross your cradle with at night. Blessed and blanketed and doused with holy water, their lightning metal hid from thunderstorms. They could cure or curse and knew their own. The long years cut the shape of crooked fingers on the handle, have sooted them full-way up the shafts, burnt the claws to blackened stumps, dark as her eyes, dead as the ash in the fire. And when they take the coffin out, and before the house is sold, or tossed, or the roof falls in, take them out across the threshold; bury them. Nigel McLoughlin

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