Friday, June 11, 2010

on pride and poetry

During the end of this past semester in my honors class, we read a bunch of British love poems while we were simultaneously reading Pride and Prejudice.  After we read some Shakespearean sonnets, I assigned the students to write their own sonnet, which means they write a 14 line poem with a rhyme scheme of abab, cdcd, efef, gg, as Shakespeare did, and each line is in iambic pentameter, which means that each line has 10 syllables, or 5 iambs.  One iamb, or foot, is a 2-syllable combination of an unstressed syllable with a stressed syllable. The word "indeed" is one unstressed syllable and then one stressed syllable.  Each line has to start with an unstressed and end with a stressed syllable.

Needless to say, there is a lot to think about when writing a sonnet, not to mention that the poem has to mean something and make some kind of statement about love.  Some kids are really good at hearing the rhythm of iambic pentameter; the musically-minded kids are great at it.  Some students can't hear the difference between stressed and ustressed even when I exaggerate it with my voice:  MANhart.  BANgor.  CLASSroom.

We had fun writing a collaborative sonnet on the board so that they could practice thinking of lines with the right syllable count and rhyme scheme, and then I pretty much sent them on their way to go home and write a sonnet.

As always, there were some great ones and some funny ones and some students that clearly cannot hear the rhythm of words, and so they count out 10 syllables, but the stresses are all over the map.  Still, they tried hard.

Here is this year's champion sonnet, in perfect iambic pentameter with a Shakespearean rhyme scheme and a thought-provoking, though depressing, message about love.  She is 16 years old:

Sonnet 1:  My love is like a fish without its fins

My love is like a fish without its fins.
Comprised of nothing but the things it does
Not need.  It has no thrust.  It spins and spins
And yet, it goes nowhere but towards what was.
My love is like a dog without its leash.
Eternal sense of loyalty devoid
Of any purpose.  Lost without its niche.
Regected once, and sits forlorn, destroyed.
My love is like a frog without its croak.
A silent, friendless kind of love that rests
Alone.  The joy of life and sound provoke
Repugnant bitterness without contest.
A lack of force.  A gult of zeal.  My heart
 Is not equipped for love, so I must part.


Michelle said...

That could easily sum up my love at the age of 16... but WOW I could never have articulated it like that. Amazing! She must have one rockin' teacher :)

SNW said...

LOVE the first four lines especially. And don't mention dogs without leashes. And don't tell Mares that Stevie and Jackie took off on our last solo walk, sat on the neighbor's steps, tore off across several grassy lawns, all before the final showdown. (Jackie on someone's lawn with own leash in mouth; Stevie firmly sitting dead center in the middle of the road, bottom of hill.)


You have a wonderful family! I am really enjoying your blog

Kirsten said...

Maybe one of the best parts of teaching English--I especially loved discovering the surprise poet--scanning through papers, checking them for completion, and then WHAM--a poet. A writer in our midst!