Poetry Slam Fridays: The Sonnets’ Bonnet

Hey guys! Sorry I missed last week’s bonanza. School’s just started up and I was getting back on my feet. Any who, I’ve decided that next week I’ll start up on the many numbered sonnets we have to learn. Then I asked, what the hell is a sonnet?

  And with so many kinds of sonnet, I thought it would just be right to have a separate blog post for a manual of sorts on it. All sonnets have 14 lines, a ‘heartbeat’ rhythm, and go by the pentameter, a fancy way of saying that each line has 10 syllables made up of 5 ‘hard’ beats and 5 ‘soft’ beats.

Sonnets are typically hyperboles of the narrator’s emotions. What do you think of when I say sonnet? Love! Pain! My love’s so tortured! She’s so Beautiful! I am UNWORTHY! Yada yada…you guys know the drill of Courtly Love, the Renaissance, and original statements that have since the 1600s become clichés.

But here’s where it gets tricky. There’s the English or Shakespearean sonnet, with its Spenserian variant (thankfully the only one we will be meeting) and the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet. As I do not speak Italian and wish not to insult its native speakers, I’m only going to get pretentious about my native tongue.

Decoration and décor: Tone, Mood, Purpose, Theme

Like most poetry of the 16th and early 17th centuries, sonnets are typically about love. Not of the deep, lasting sort; the kind that pops up when a man sees an attractive woman he knows he has no chance with. Courtly Love was characterized by its characterization of love as torture, slavery, death, war, or a hunt.

Chauvinist isn’t? Well, yeah, but the women he’s courting is treated like a Queen. She’s the master of the relationship and the tyrant that wears the pants. As Kelli McBride’s PDF of Sonnet characteristics says: The lady has power in her gaze and can destroy or inspire with a look.


Imagery and diction

It’s all about the woman guys: her grace, her majesty, the dom in a BDSM-sesque relationship, never mind how that works out. Lady Tyrant is referred to as his Queen, his master, and the bane of his existence. The poet often objectifies her into a symbol, or simply a puckered mouth and curvy chest.

He honorably does this by comparing her to celestial objects and praising her eyes, hands, lips and of course, her breasts.

Devices typically used

I know guys, I wanna leave the party to, but let’s just be polite. Look, I’ll make it easy for you! Here is a list of devices typically used in sonnets:

  • Metaphor and Simile –a poem simply does last through the ages without at least one of these babies.
  • Puns—yes, the 1960s humor is back in a really old way; authors often use their and their love’s names for this device.
  • Inversions –the verb comes before the noun except when making a statement. Inversions usually make the line sound passive, when its really just placing emphasis on a different set of words. This usually places description of action over passion of subject.
  • Euphony –the heartbeat rhythm often checks the reader in a trance; it makes the poem sound beautiful automatically
  • Hyperbole –I AM JUST DYING FROM MY LOVE! WAAAA! And other extreme statements to illustrate the depth of their love.
  • Paradox –Love is pleasurable because love is painful. ‘Nuff said.
  • Apostrophe –when the moon becomes your own personal shrink…
  • 3 quatrains and an ending couplet. The rhyme scheme is: abab cdcd efef gg


Sonnet poets talk to the same people overly emotional teenagers do; no, not their SnapChat Friends! They chat about their swerved emotions with inanimate objects such as the moon, dead people, their loves in desperate letters…this ploy for attention in the literary world is called the apostrophe. (Remember that word when you’re writing your essays, it makes you sound fancy).


Usually, I hate rhyming poems. They seem shallow and easier to digest than other forms of poetry such as haiku and free verse, but every rule has its exception. I absolutely love Sonnet 30 by Edmund Spencer:

My love is like to ice, and I to fire;

how comes it then that this her cold so great

is not dissolv’d through my so hot desire,

but harder grows the more I her intreat?

Or how comes it that my exceeding heat

is not delayed by her heart frozen cold:

but that I burn much more in boiling sweat,

and feel my flames augmented manifold?

What more miraculous thing may be told

that fire which all things melts, should harden ice:

and ice which is congeal’d with senseless cold,

should kindle fire by wonderful device.

Such is the power of love in gentle mind,

that it can alter all the course of kind.


That heartbeat rhythm really sneaks up on you here: it feels like he’s just musing with me over a cold drink why his life sucks. It’s beautiful, moving and you can hardly notice its rhyme scheme, a simple, but noticeable: abab bcbc cdcd ee.

This poem is not on our list, but I might as well say it holds strong to sonnet structure that Edmund Spencer developed himself.


Thanks for stopping by! Next week we start the Sonnets…hope their party scene is as good as this week’s!

References: Kelli McBride’s PDF of Sonnet Characteristics, Yahoo! Answers, class notes.

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