Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Bard strikes back

No sooner had I uploaded my last post than I got a challenge. Nothing to do with the topic of movie violence, or whether I'm right or wrong to have reservations about it. I halfway imagined somebody would be upset about my not worshipping the ground Steven Spielberg walks on ... or something. But, no. Or, not yet anyway. The challenge was along the lines of, "All right, Smarty-pants, if you're so clever, how DO you write a sonnet?"

Okay, kids, since I've never been one to run away from a challenge, here goes:

Sonnets 101.

A sonnet is a rhyming poem where the lines and rhythm (metre) are set in exact patterns. Just (duh) take a look at an existing sonnet, and reverse-engineer it. I'm going to paste in the sonnet I wrote for THE SWORDSMAN, and we'll pick it to pieces right here...

How shall I say that I have never known
A thing more fair than life, than love, more rare?
Yet must I say, more precious, still, than these
Is friendship's very soul, and mateship's care.

A lie would pass these lips, were I to claim
That I have never wooed — nor loved, nor lost;
Yet all my lost affections leave me thus:
Cherishing friendship's pleasure ... and the cost.

For, seldom do the years design this joy:
Two hearts, two souls, around one cause entwined,
Where friendship, courage, joy and all the rest
Yield such sweet sorceries as soothe the mind ...

All this is surely true. Yet, still I say:
When friendship turned to love, I bless'd the day.

THE SWORDSMAN is a kind of 'court of the Medici' gay fantasy novel, so the 'sound and feel' of the sonnet reflect this ... and it's why I chose to use a sonnet instead of another poetic form. This pattern was 'The In Thing' for a long time, in exactly this era, from before Leonardo till well after Queen Elizabth I.

Notice it has 14 lines: 3 sets of 4, and two danglers.

Notice that the rhyming lines are 2 and 4 in each of the three 'verses' and then the dangling couplet rhymes.

Notice that EVERY line has 10 syllables. Not one less, nor more.

Lastly, notice that the 'punchline' to the whole piece is in the couplet at the end.

The sonnet form is uncomfortably like the limmerick. A limmerick is five lines, where the 'punchline' is saved for the last line, and lines 1, 2 an 5 rhyme, and lines 3 and 4 rhyme, albeit differently with each other:

If one caught a Chinchilla in Chile
And shaved off his beard, willy-nilly
It could rightly be said
That one have just made
A Chilean Chinchilla's chin chilly

Welllll ... the sonnet is distressingly similar in form, but I've never yet read a funny one. Now, there's a thought! (Can you imagine Shakespearean limmericks??)

How do you write a limmerick? First think of three rhyming words where the third one has the potential to be used as a punchline. Then, use the other two to frame the setup in Lines 1 and 2, and you're only short of the bridge:

On the chest of a barmaid at Yale
were tattooed the prices of ale,
and upon her behind,
for the sake of the blind,
was the same information in Braille.

(and yeah, okay, that's the 'printable version,' I know. Young children might be reading this. Although I can't imagine why.)

How do you write a sonnet? First, grasp the GIST of it. What's it about? This gist is the punchline, though the poem isn't funny. (I would LOVE to see a hilarious sonnet ... and a heartbreaking limmerick...) Once you know what the sonnet is about, you explore the concept and then have the inestimable joy of beating it into the format of 4x 4-line 'stanzas' plus one rhyming couplet...

Take it away, Bill, let's have Number 57! What a belter that one was:

Being your sad slave, what could I do but tend
Upon the times and hours of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend
Nor services to do, till you require:

Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu:

Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save where you are, how happy you make those;-

So true a fool is love, that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

...and yep, that was one of the two sonnets from Shapespeare's pen, rather than my own, that I used in FORTUNES OF WAR!

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