April: The Joy of Sonnets

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

Shakespeare Sonnet 12

Holland Park Press is running a poetry competition (open until 27th April so still time to enter) which must address the theme ‘Is royalty relevant?’ I am not a poet nor am I a royalist, so in the spirit of expanding my writing horizons, it seemed like a good comp to enter.

My experience of writing poetry is limited to one or two free verse efforts and some genuinely terrible ‘woe is me’ early age 20-ish trauma ramblings. I truly love both the beauty and wit of much poetry though – which is one of the reasons I have rarely tried to attempt it. I cannot write poetry with the beauty of Maria Jastrzebska, the wit of Simon Armitage, the power of Carol Ann Duffy, the wisdom of Maya Angelou or the fun of Adrian Henri. (I mention these only among many other poets who’s work I have enjoyed) so it is a writing craft I mostly stay away from. In deciding to write something for this competition, I also decided to write a sonnet. In all honesty, in making that decision, I had no proper idea about what a sonnet is or how it should be structured. Obviously, I turned to Shakespeare for inspiration and immediately came across his Sonnet number 12. In the current context, it inspired and calmed. Life goes on and, we must engage with life as best we can. I think maybe sonnet 12 can be read as a call to being creative as life becomes challenging, and for me, writing is that.

I have taken the path of the English rather than the Italian Petrarchan sonnet (see diagram). Thus it followed the ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG line form. It had a thematic twist and ended with a ‘tada’! moment. It was hard to write a verse which adhered to the form and did not read as ‘forced’ – and to write about royalty (in my poem, about meeting the Queen) in a non-cheesy way. It was more challenge to write than I imagined it might be. I wanted the emphasis on certain syllables within the sentences to be fluid and to contribute to the overall cadence and rhythm of the piece without feeling contrived but I am not sure how well I achieved that. I doubt my sonnet will win any prizes, but I enjoyed writing it and learned something about poetic form.