July 9, 2019

Monday, July 9

July is the beginning of the second half of the year; the first six months are done. We are approaching the final year of the first fifth of the century. 

So much math! 

And the day is not yet done.

What I am preparing you for, however, is the discipline of writing a sonnet. In a sense, a logical math is involved. 

The most common type of sonnet is the Petrarchan sonnet. A Petrarchan sonnet is divided into two stanzas. There are ten syllables per line.  

The first stanza – the first eight lines – is called the octave.

The second stanza – the final six – is called the sestet. 

There is a turn in the sense of the poem, at the onset of the sestet.

In the first eight lines, our rhyme scheme is this:


In the final six, our rhyme scheme is this:



Here’s an example of a Petrarchan sonnet from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Remember the rhyme scheme and see if it follows:


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 candle-light. 

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.


From the Petrarchan sonnet evolved the Shakespearean sonnet. In the Shakespearean sonnet, the poet creates three quatrains and a couplet. 

The rhyme scheme is ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. 

The couplet acts sometimes as a conclusion, sometimes as a denial to the first three quatrains. Read Sonnet 130 of Shakespeare’s sonnet cycle, and see how the speaker compares, unkindly, his mistress to the beauties of nature. Then see where the concluding couplet goes.  


     My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
     Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
     If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
     If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
     I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
     But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
     And in some perfumes is there more delight
     Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
     I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
     That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
     I grant I never saw a goddess go;
     My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
     As any she belied with false compare.


For this week’s prompt, follow the rules of either the Petrarchan or Shakespearean sonnet, and write your own. Go slow. Give yourself time. This is an exercise in patience and discipline. 

Next Monday, read your poem aloud to yourself – or anyone who will listen. If you are a Candlelighter or about to be, send it along to me. I’d be delighted to read it. 

And of course, have fun with this!