I accidentally listened to Melvyn Bragg and guests on ‘In our time’ this morning. I’m glad I did, because they were discussing Shakespeare’s sonnets, one of my favourite collections of poetry.
For me, the most interesting thing in this morning’s was not about the content of the sonnets (controversial, complex, certainly not all sweetness and light), but about their form: 14 lines, divided into 3 lots of 4 (quatrains) and a final two lines (couplet). With rhymes. An extremely tight box within which to work as a poet, and a box which was already old-fashioned by 1609.
Yet Shakespeare used this structure to express content that was new in language that was unconventional, to create a collection of poems that has outlasted most others of his era.
Discipline makes Daring possible.
PS. Guest professor and poet Don Paterson made a really interesting point that I think is worth sharing. To paraphrase: we humans get bored quite quickly when reading poems, somewhere between ines 8 and 9. So it helps to create some sort of turn or twist at that point in your sonnet, to re-pique the readers attention and interest, and carry them through to the end.