The Sonnet

Form is sound. Sound is form. The pattern on the page is the tune in your ear. A sonnet looks and sounds like a sonnet. This is because words are not silent. They speak aloud in your mind. The human ear and heart enjoy rhythm and rhyme as the human eye enjoys pattern.

A sonnet is a poem of 14 lines written, usually, in iambic pentameter, that is, each line contained five strong beats, as in most of Shakespeare’s verse. See line 2 in the Shakespeare quotation below, how the five words ‘then’, ‘scorn’, ‘change’, ‘state’ and ‘kings’ carry five stressed beats.

A sonnet’s line endings rhyme in various ways. Using the alphabet as a code for the rhymes, look at the two main sonnet sound patterns: they are known as the Italian sonnet, which rhymes a,b,b,a/ a,b,b,a/ c,d,e,c,d,e, and the Shakespearean sonnet, a,b,b,a/ c,d,c,d/ e,f,e,f/ g,g. The Italian sonnet (also called the Petrarchan sonnet after the poet Petrarch) has 8 lines, then 6 lines. Often there’s a pause between the two parts, and often the thought shifts at that point.

The Shakespearean type of sonnet is usually printed in a block, without verses. Shakespeare’s sonnets are often love poems, and his concluding couplets are mood music for lovers:

‘For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.’

My variation of the form uses an a,b,c,a,b,c/d,e,f,d,e,f/ g,g pattern. The poem is one of 9 written about a beautiful Medieval garden, now restored, and the tragic story, dated about 1600, is true.

What the Wood Remembers
Places are made of hearsay and memory.
There’s talk in these trees of five young servant girls
found dead in their beds one winter morning
choked, they say, by the fumes of a blocked chimney.
Think of a house waking to cold ash, no curl
of smoke from thirty hearths burning.
The silence of the dead instead of chatter
and quick feet running on the stairs,
fuel for the fires and jugs of scalding water,
slop buckets, the sculleries awash, clatter
of crockery on slate, the chink of silver.
People of no account, poor farmers’ daughters.
No names. No documents. No graves. Instead,
just talk of a tragedy, five young girls dead.