Monday, 4 February 2008


I love sonnets. Intricately constructed, carefully argued, neatly written. There's something very pleasing in the form of a sonnet.

I like teaching sonnets too. In my first-year classes at the university at the Beautiful Scottish City that I Miss, I asked students to find a sonnet and bring it with them to the tutorial. I told them Shakespeare wasn't allowed though - that's too easy to find. We could then talk about the sonnet form in relation to poems that they chose ("See, it doesn't just work with sonnets I pick; we can talk about the use of the sonnet structure in all sonnets..."). It's surprising how few times two students brought the same one, and I now know of some beautiful sonnets that I wouldn't otherwise have read.

This week I'm teaching Shakespeare's sonnets. I'd forgotten how much I like them. Here is one of my favourites. Enjoy!

Sonnet 138

When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue;
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not t'have years told:
Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.


September Blue said...

(Ha, this one! And you call me a cynic?)

Couple of my favourites: Edna St Vincent Millay:

Love is not all; it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber, nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise, and sink, and rise, and sink again;
Love will not fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor thin the blood, nor knit the fractured bone;
Yet many a man lies making friends with death
Even as I write, for lack of love alone.
It may well be that in a difficult hour
Half-mad with pain and moaning for release,
Or driven by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

And, same poet, Sonnet XLII:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

September Blue said...

And, um, since that was a bit bleak, a lighter note:

Sonnet To a Stilton Cheese (G. K. Chesterton)

Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour
And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby;
England has need of thee, and so have I--
She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour,
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen.
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men,
Like a tall green volcano rose in power.
Plain living and long drinking are no more,
And pure religion reading 'Household Words',
And sturdy manhood sitting still all day
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core;
While my digestion, like the House of Lords,
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay.

Autumn Song said...

These are great! I like the Edna St Vincent Millay ones very much. Anybody else got sonnet suggestions?