Some poems have definite patterns and structures, one of the most common poems are sonnets. The structure of a sonnet helps explain what the sonnet is saying and might have underlying meaning in the sonnet. Three sonnets that are affected by their structure are, “Sonnet” written by Billy Collins, “A Wedding Sonnet for the Next Generation” by Judith Viorst, and “My Mistress’ Eyes are nothing Like the Sun” by William Shakespeare. Sonnets are fourteen line poems that, most regularly, are found with an eight line section (octave) and a six line section (sestet).
The octave is commonly divided into two four line sections (each called a quatrain), and the sestet into a four line part and a couplet. There is usually a “shift” in the poems mood and tone after the octave. There is a couple of different ways of describing this shift; one is to say that in the octave “this happens. ” And the sestet says “therefore I feel this way” or gives the ultimate statement on the situation described in the octave.
Another way of describing an octave versus a sestet is to say that in the octave presents a problem or situation that is resolved in the sestet.
The couplet at the end gives a chance to conclude the poem (Padgett 178). The sound and rime scheme of sonnets are written many different ways. Traditionally, sonnets are structured with iambic pentameter and there are a few fixed rime schemes. The Petrarchan Sonnets had a rime scheme of abba, abba, cde, cde.
The Shakespearean Sonnets’ quatrain has an alternating rime scheme: abab, cdcd, and efef. The final riming couplet has the rime scheme: gg (Roberts and Jacobs 612).
When the sonnet was adopted to English during the early 16th century, Shakespeare wrote his poems with seven rimes instead of five because not as many words rime in English as do in Italian (Padgett 178). In his sonnet titled, “Sonnet” Billy Collins uses the format to talk about what a sonnet is all about. In the first eight lines of the poem it talks about starting the poem and the structure of it; starting with the first line, “All we need is fourteen lines, well thirteen now” (Collins 623).
And later in the third line to talk about how traditional sonnets often are about love Collins writes “to launch a little ship on love’s storm-tossed seas” (Collins 623). Collins creatively writes in the fifth and sixth lines that Elizabethan poems are written with “iambic bongos” to describe their rhythm (Collins 623). The last six lines “make a turn” and talk about ending the poem “where all will be resolved” (Collins 623). And the change of the poem is that Collins stops talking about the format of the poem and about putting down a pen and going to be as the end of the poem.
To receive a poem titled “Sonnets” one expects a traditional sonnet that follows all the rules, but does not fully receive one. This poem doesn’t have a rime scheme and is only one stanza but other than that it has the form of a sonnet. It was written in iambic pentameter, which is traditional. The structure matters because it allows the poem to have fluency while talking about what it is itself. It would be silly to have a poem talking about sonnets be anything other than a sonnet. “A Wedding Sonnet for the Next Generation” written by Judith Viorst is traditional but the form is not perfect.
It does have a traditional rime scheme. The octave of the poem is saying how and why they love each other and always will. Viorst writes “declaring you’re far fairer in his eyes” and “Count all the ways she loves you” (Viorst 683). And later “When you’re old and full of sleep, he’ll cherish still the Pilgrim soul in you” and “you speak of love and vows to keep” (Viorst 684). And the sestet says that you’re “writing your own poem,” meaning that your marriage doesn’t have to be completely traditional; that you can do things your own way and they will work out.
She writes saying that it doesn’t always mesh perfectly but love is so wonderful when best friends marry (Viorst 684). Having a traditionally structured poem that has some imperfections that happen more often at the end of the poem reinforces the message of making things your own. Mocking lightheartedly of his own traditional love sonnets, in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130: “My Mistress’ Eyes are nothing Like the Sun”, he describes his lover that isn’t perfect and isn’t too special.
Saying how “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red” and “If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head” (Mabillard). But, the ordinary beauty and humanity of his mistress are important to him and he shows this by saying that his lover is far fairer than those how have misrepresented by ridiculous comparisons (Mabillard). Shakespeare takes his mistress at face value then tells the truth about her in the first three quatrains, then at the end of the poem (the couplet) he insists that love does not need to look like the sun or smell like flowers in order to be beautiful.
The sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, which gives it rhythm and helps it flow smoothly. The first quatrain there is one comparison of his mistress every line; the next two quatrains have one comparison for every two lines. This expansion is as if Shakespeare is developing an argument and concluding it in the couplet (Mabillard). Structure can play a very important role when writing or reading a sonnet. Collins, Viorst, and Shakespeare all show us how a sonnet’s message can be affected by its structure in different ways.
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