Shall I Compare Thee?

darling buds of may

This week, we’re going back to poetry (and why not, given my most recent good news?).

While writing free verse is appealing (and what I do most of), creating more formally structured poetry can be very satisfying, too.

So, I’m suggesting you write a sonnet this week.

This is a 14-line poem, created in rhyming couplets, which has a thematic turn of some kind in the last six lines.

What to write about is anything you like really, but how about trying to get to grips with one of the abstract emotions? I suggest ‘hope’.

What are you hopeful about? Is hope lost or found? Can it be personified? Is a situation hopeless?

While you are thinking this through (and of course, jotting down your ideas as you go), take a few minutes to read some other poets’ sonnets. Shakespeare wrote lots of them (well, 154), and his rhyming style is one of the classic ‘English’ sonnet forms, as in this famous example:

Sonnet 18 by William 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 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 wand’rest 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.

The English sonnet has three quatrains, then a final rhyming couplet. It follows a typical rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, and is composed in iambic pentameter.

Clearly, you are writing in the 21st Century, so you won’t be using Shakespearean English in your poetry, but hopefully, you can get the idea of how to be creative using a formal structure like this.

Here’s a more modern take on the sonnet, by Carol Ann Duffy (although this is from 1992, still in the last century!):

Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

And with that, I hope you find some inspiration to write your own sonnet (and I hope you’ve spotted the picture is of some ‘Darling Buds of May’?).

Meanwhile, this the 99th creative writing prompt/exercise in a project which began in March 2020 as a series of 42 to while away Lockdown hours. If you’re new, there’s more info here, but the quick version is there’s a new post here every Wednesday at 5pm (Dublin time).