Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? — a National Poetry Month post

Today, a sonnet of the Shakespearian sort from Shakespeare himself. I will be talking about sonnets quite a bit in the next two days. They (and many other forms) are part of what I'll be discussing at the SCBWI conference in Nashua, New Hampshire. But you can expect to hear a bit about sonnets of a different kind here tomorrow, when a special event will be revealed in honor of Poetry Friday. I'll say not much more except that it's a multi-blog event that's the culmination of months of work on the part of several bloggers. But I hope you'll come back to read all about it.

Here, without further ado (intimation intended), is the text of one of William Shakespeare's best-known sonnets, Sonnet 18*.

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 wanderest 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 sonnet was actually untitled. It is given a number from a collection of his works, the sonnets he wrote (and which were preserved) numbering over 100. It is often referred to as well by its first line, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

As all Shakespearian sonnets do, this follows the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The poet opens with the idea that seasons come and go and sometimes fall into decline. The "turn" in this sonnet comes in the 9th line, with the word "But", which contrasts the usual (fading away) with the difference on the part of the person to whom the poem is addressed. You, he says, will not fade or be forgotten. The final couplet (inset a wee bit) explains why: I've written a poem about you to remind them. Funny thing is, folks remember Shakespeare for this sonnet, but nobody knows for whom it was written (at least with any certainty). So much for sentiment.

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