I’m teaching a number of clases on poetry this National Poetry Month, and I wanted to make suggestion if you want to woo a sweetheart this poetry month but don’t know where to start. So here are some resources for you you use, and some links to some of my own work on the subject:
This website is very good at helping you organize your writing into small blocks, webs, charts, etc. This is really useful when you’re creating sonnets because it helps you set up your argument. You can even add pictures to think about the images you’re going to use in your poem!.
This website is very fun and useful for teachers and students. You plug in various adjectives, verbs, and nouns and it does the rest. The sonnets aren’t great, but you do get a clear idea of how sonnets work, and that makes it very useful for students.
3. Folger.edu- How to Write a sonnet
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to an aspiring poet is to read other poets and learn what you like. The Folger has a yearly competition of student sonnets which you can read on their website, and lots of handouts and info that teaches you about sonnet form, so check it out!
5. My post on sonnet writing, with more resources and advice:
6. My OUtschool Classes on Sonnets and Shakespeare’s writing:
If you want some one-on-one help with writing Elizabethan poetry, consider signing up for my online classes! I teach 2 classes on writing poetry and literary devices:
Love Poetry: Shakespeare Style
This class is a live brainstorming session where I’ll teach you to use the resources I’ve listed above to craft an Elizabethan sonnet of your very own! We’ll also discuss some of Shakespeare’s own sonnets, and the enduring mystery of the Dark Lady and the Fair Young Man.
This class is a general intro to Shakespeare’s writing. I discuss the structure of his plays and poems, and I play a fun game where I rewrite some very famous lines in iambic pentameter:
So thanks for reading this list! I hope this helps you out, and if you do consider signing up for my class, I’m offering a special discount for the Love Poetry course: Get $5 off my class “Love Poetry- Shakespeare Style!” with coupon code HTHESVFDPO5 until May 5, 2022. Get started at https://outschool.com/classes/love-poetry-shakespeare-style-k8lL9yLK and enter the coupon code at checkout.
Let thy verse flow like a river, ye merry balladiers!
Since Valentines Day is next week, I thought I’d talk a little bit about Shakespeare’s love poems. Every year I try to study a sonnet or two and write one of my own for my wife and my family. So here’s some insight into the sonnets and I hope that this inspires you to read and craft your own love poems.
What Is A Sonnet?
Shakespeare wrote 154 short poems called sonnets. They are 14 lines long Each line has 10 syllables, generally in iambic pentameter
12 of the 14 lines are grouped into 3 groups of 4 lines called quatrains The final two lines are called a rhyming couplet
A little History
The first collection of Shakespeare’s Sonnets was published in 1609, but NOT BY SHAKESPEARE.
We don’t know if this is the order he intended, we don’t know if he intended them to be published, and we DEFINITELY DON”T KNOW IF THEY ARE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.
Themes and Ideas
A lot of the sonnets use extended metaphors where the speaker describes his feelings by describing himself as another person, place, or thing. In some sonnets, he’s a painter or looking in a mirror, or an astronomer looking through a telescope or outdoors in nature and something reminds him of the beloved. Most follow a similar theme: You’re beautiful like… [or] I’m trying to write about you but… You wil age and die.
TIme and the sonnets
The most pervasive idea in the sonnet is a fight against Time. Time is often personified in the sonnets as being jealous, cruel, cold, unfeeling or petty. Time is also associated with the concept of Death. Like the Grim Reaper, he is the enemy of romantic love because he makes young lovers age and die.
THe BIG BUT..
In most of the sonnets there’s a “But” around the third quatrain (lines 9-12 or thereabouts), which challenges the power of time or Death. For example, the first 8 sonnets basically say: “You will age BUT… you will become immortal if you have children.” Couplet
The Young Man sonnets (1-126)
The first 126 sonnets (roughly) are about a young man with blonde hair. Though there is no evidence that the sonnets were autobiographical, many scholars have speculated that he might have been partially inspired by Henry Wriosley, the Earl of Southampton. Shakespeare dedicated two poems to Henry: The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis, which you can see the title page of here:
When I do count the clock that tells the time, And see the brave day sunk in hideous night; When I behold the violet past prime, And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white; When lofty trees I see barren of leaves, Which erst from heat did canopy the herd, And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves, Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard, Then of thy beauty do I question make, That thou among the wastes of time must go, Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake And die as fast as they see others grow; And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defense Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence
I love this sonnet for its use of alliteration, the use of words that sound the same: “count,” “clock” “tells,” “time,” “green,” “girdled,” etc. The use of “count,” and “clock” in particular makes you imagine the sound of a clock in your head. The sonnet makes you keenly aware of the passage of time, first from the seconds of a ticking clock, then to the changing of the seasons, then at last to the span of a lifetime. This sonnet might not inspire much in terms of feelings, but its technical construction literally works ‘like clockwork.’ If you’re interested in r Elizabethan clocks and other timekeeping instruments, click here for a fascinating blog: https://www.cassidycash.com/did-shakespeare-have-a-clock-part-1-of-5/
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
I go into detail explaining sonnet 18 in my class: “Love Poetry Shakespeare Style,” but to put it succinctly, this sonnet is famous for talking about the ways the beloved is Better than a summer’s day.
Sonnet 27- “Weary With Toil…
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts--from far where I abide--
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.
Not to seem crass, but this sonnet is literally panting with sexual desire. The speaker is exhausted but cannot sleep, with the image of his beloved haunting his thoughts. There are also a few religious allusions too where the speaker calls himself a “pilgrim,” much like Romeo and Juliet in their first meeting in Act I, Scene v. It almost seems like the beloved is both an angel that the speaker wants to bless him, and a succubus or vampire draining him of love and life.
XXIX “When In disgrace…”
Sonnet 29: “When in disgrace With Fortune and men’s eyes
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Sonnet 118- The “Marriage” Sonnet
Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.
– Shakespeare, Sonnet 29
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
This sonnet is one of the most famous poems in all of English literature all. In fact, it's quite personally important to me, because my wife recited it to me on my wedding day. It is full of powerful metaphors about how married love is stronger and more resilent than simple lust or infatuation. On my wedding day it was a powerful affirmation that my wife and I will endure age, change, Time, and eventually death, but our love will remain the same.
The Dark Lady Sonnets 127-152
Sonnets 127-152 seem to be collectively addressed to a woman with dark hair, dark skin, and musical talent, who seems to be in a love triangle with the speaker of the sonnets, and someone else. As you can see in this video, many theories have come up to try and expose who she really was, but again, he have no proof that these sonnets were in any way autobiographical.
As far as we know, the Dark Lady sonnets might simply have been a writing exercise for Shakespeare while he was writing Othello and Antony and Cleopatra. I’m not interested in the Dark Lady conspiracy, except for its usefulness for historians to highlight important Elizabethan women. I have to admit that I wouldn’t have known about Emilia Lanier, or the Countess of Pembroke if they hadn’t been roped into the Dark Lady theory. Otherwise, I’m only interested in the Dark Lady sonnets for their poetry and the interesting stories they tell.
In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;
But now is black beauty's successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature's power,
Fairing the foul with Art's false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland'ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
I admit this is a retroactive reading, but Shakespeare has been guilty of equating fair skin with beauty, so it’s nice to see this sonnet, which lends itself to a refutation of that notion. Much like how “Hath not a Jew eyes…” has been appropriated as a plea for tolerance, I hope this sonnet gains popularity as a source of pride for POC.
In the old age black was not counted fair, Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name; But now is black beauty’s successive heir, And beauty slandered with a bastard shame: For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power, Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face, Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower, But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace. Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black, Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack, Sland’ring creation with a false esteem: Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe, That every tongue says beauty should look so.
Sonnet 128 How oft when thou, my music, music play’st, Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st The wiry concord that mine ear confounds, Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap, To kiss the tender inward of thy hand, Whilst my poor lips which should that harvest reap, At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand! To be so tickled, they would change their state And situation with those dancing chips, O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait, Making dead wood more bless’d than living lips. Since saucy jacks so happy are in this, Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red, than her lips red: If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damasked, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound: I grant I never saw a goddess go, My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground: And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare, As any she belied with false compare.
I ended with this sonnet, because unlike the previous ones, Shakespeare beautifully shows the frankness and honesty in true love. Shakespeare doesn’t use extravagant praise or pretty metaphors, but instead just says he loves his mistress for who she is. I wish that all of you reading this will find a love that you can enjoy without false comparison, (but then again, what is life without a little poetry in it)?
You probably know that I love to speculate and do a little historical detective work and find out whether Elizabethans like Shakespeare celebrated our modern holidays and then compare and contrast how they celebrated them back then versus how we do today. Valentines Day is a day we associate with love and poetry, so of course, I wondered if the most celebrated poet of the Renaissance celebrated it himself!
Based on my findings, if Shakespeare celebrated Valentine’s Day, he probably did mainly what we did- writing letters and poems to his beloved and maybe sending a trinket of love. It’s unlikely he celebrated it like modern Catholics do to honor the martyrdom of a Catholic saint. In my research, I was surprised to learn that Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for hundreds of years and has its roots in a holiday that Shakespeare describes in one of his most famous plays.
Part I: The Feast of Lupercal: Valentine’s Day’s Dark ancestor
According to NPR’s podcast: “The Dark Origins of Valentines Day”, like Christmas, Halloween, and many other holidays, the Christian holiday of St. Valentines’ day was designed to replace the pagan holiday of Lupercal, which was a Roman fertility festival where men engaged in basically what we’d now call- swingers’ parties or key parties where they’d draw a woman’s name from a lottery and… couple for the night.
The Lupercal was also synonymous with the founding of Rome. Lupa is the name of the wolf that saved the infants Romulus and Remus, who would become the first kings of Rome. If you click here, you can read an article about a recent archeological discovery; a cave found under Rome that was once revered as the place where Romulus and Remus lived with Lupa:
Shakespeare actually starts his play of Julius Caesar on the Lupercal, and makes reference to its status as a fertility festival. In Act I, Caesar is watching Antony run a race and tells him to be sure to touch Calpurnia, owing to the superstition that if a man touches a barren woman on Lupercal, it will make her capable of bearing children:
Caesar. Calpurnia! Calpurnia. Here, my lord. 85 Caesar. Stand you directly in Antonius' way, When he doth run his course. Antonius! Antony. Caesar, my lord? Caesar. Forget not, in your speed, Antonius, To touch Calpurnia; for our elders say, 90
The barren, touched in this holy chase, Shake off their sterile curse. Antony. I shall remember: When Caesar says 'do this,' it is perform'd. Caesar. Set on; and leave no ceremony out. Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene ii, Lines 84-95
Shakespeare leaves out that, according to tradition, Antony should be naked and anointed with goat’s blood and slap Calpurnia with a goatskin thong, but that was part of the Roman Lupercal festival.
Part II: The Beginnings of St. Valentines’ Day
St. Valentine was either a Catholic priest or bishop who was martyred in the 3rd century AD (Source History.com). According to tradition, he conducted Christian marriages in defiance of Roman law, and rejected the concept of Lupercalian coupling, which is why Emperor Claudius murdered him. Thus, the holiday is intentionally meant to replace Lupercalia, and celebrate monogamous relationships under the Christian God. The popular story is that before his death, he sent a letter to the young daughter of a family he converted to Christianity and signed it: “Your Valentine,” thus starting the tradition of signing cards in this manner. In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius made Valentine’s day an official Catholic feast day to replace Lupercal once and for all.
Part III: The oldest surviving Valentines
Evidence is sketchy how the traditions of Valentines day evolved, in the Middle Ages, but in Catholic Europe the concept of celebrating married love on Valentine’s Day spread, and poets like Chaucer and Shakespeare helped popularize it.
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in the 14th century of how birds would choose their mates on Valentine’s Day:
For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
According to History.com, there’s a possibility that Chaucer invented the idea of a St. Valentines feast, and forever linked it with the celebration of love:
The medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer often took liberties with history, placing his poetic characters into fictitious historical contexts that he represented as real. No record exists of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day prior to a poem Chaucer wrote around 1375. In his work “Parliament of Foules,” he links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day–an association that didn’t exist until after his poem received widespread attention. The poem refers to February 14 as the day birds (and humans) come together to find a mate.
This theme has been repeated in other pieces of literature. In John Lydgate’s 15th century poem, “A Valentine to her that Excelleth All”, he writes of how it was the custom on Valentine’s Day for people to choose their love:
To look and search Cupid’s Calendar and choose their choose by great affection.
John Ludgate: “”A Valentine to her that Excelleth All”
The Paston’s oldest surviving valentines
In the 1470s in a series of correspondence, from Margery Brews to her husband John Paston refers to the latter as “My right well-beloved Valentine, John Paston, Esquire.”
Margery also wrote adoring letters to John, who was probably away frequently, fighting in the Hundred Years War, and advising Margary’s kinsman, John Fastolfe, (whom Shakespeare mentions in Henry VI, Part I. Her poetry is very tender and must have comforted her husband much:
And if ye command me to keep me true wherever I go,
I wis I will de all my might you to love, and never no mo(re).
And if my friends say, that I do amiss,
They shall not me let so for to do,
Mine heart me bids ever more to love you
Truly over all earthly thing,
And if they be never so wrath
I trust it shall be better in time coming.
Margery’s letters are some of the earliest surviving Valentine’s poetry that proves that the tradition of giving poetry to one’s beloved during the month of February was around in the 15th century, and probably while Shakespeare was a child in the 16th.
Shakespeare’s contributions to Valentine’s Day
Shakespeare mentions Saint Valentine’s Day twince within his works. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (a play that is set in Ancient Greece and has connections to Lupercal), he builds on Chaucer’s claim that Valentine’s Day is the day that birds couple for the night. Duke Theseus and Aegeus discover the fours lovers asleep. They are surprised that they are sharing the same ground, since Lysander and Demetrius (as far as the old men know), are rivals for Hermia’s affection.
Good morrow, friends. Saint Valentine is past: Begin these wood-birds but to couple now?
— A Midsummer Night Dream, Act IV, Scene ii.
Egeus. My lord, this is my daughter here asleep; And this, Lysander; this Demetrius is; This Helena, old Nedar's Helena:1685 I wonder of their being here together. Theseus. No doubt they rose up early to observe The rite of May, and hearing our intent, Came here in grace our solemnity. But speak, Egeus; is not this the day1690 That Hermia should give answer of her choice? Egeus. It is, my lord. Theseus. Go, bid the huntsmen wake them with their horns. [Horns and shout within. LYSANDER, DEMETRIUS,] HELENA, and HERMIA wake and start up]1695 Good morrow, friends. Saint Valentine is past: Begin these wood-birds but to couple now?
Shakespeare has a much darker reference to Valentine's Day in Hamlet.
Ophelia, has gone mad with the loss of her brother, her father, and Hamlet breaking her heart. She starts wandering the castle and can only communicate through songs. She sings a very melancholy song that alludes to the superstition that if two single people meet on the morning of Saint Valentine's Day they will likely get married: Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine. Then up he rose And donned his clothes And dupped the chamber door Let in a maid then out a maid Never departed more.
Ophelia seems to be darkly admitting that she and Hamlet have had pre-marital intimate relations and she is no longer a virgin, The song implies that Ophelia entered Hamlet’s chamber a maid (that is, an unmarried virgin), but is let out a maid (unmarried), while the Hamlet very clearly has taken her virginity. Hamlet re-enforces this suspicion by commanding her to go to a nunnery, one of the only recourses for single mothers. It is reasonable to assume that Shakespeare is implying that Ophelia is in fact pregnant, and is driven mad with sorrow that she now has to deliver her baby without any form of support from her father (who is dead), from her brother (who is in France), or her baby’s father, who wants her to leave and never return. Ophelia’s song is a lament that she wishes the superstition were true, and Hamlet had indeed married her. It’s unlikely that Shakespeare celebrated Valentine’s Day as a religious holiday, after all, Queen Elizabeth had made England a Protestant country. Celebrating a saint day could have been seen as idolatrous in Protestant England. Nevertheless, Shakespeare and other romantic writers helped transform Valentines’ Day into less of a religious holiday, and more as a secular celebration of love and monogamy, very different from its bloody, promiscuous roots.
If you’re like me, you are probably saddened by the loss of the great American actor, Sidney Poitier. He was part of the original cast of the great American play A Raisin In the Sun, and earned countless accolades for his roles on stage and screen like In the Heat Of the Night, Porgey and Bess, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? and The Greatest Story Ever Told.
In this interview, Poitier’s friend Denzel Washington talks about how Poitier was a beacon, not just for black actors but a gold standard for all actors.
Washington also discusses his role in the film Macbeth, in which he plays the title role. As I mentioned in my Much Ado About Nothing review, Denzel is a consummate performer of Shakespeare and I for one can’t wait to see him as Macbeth. This is nor just because he was an absolute joy in Much Ado, but because Denzel is famous for playing characters that start out as good men become violent and evil in films like Training Day, American Gangster, and Flight. I have high hopes that Denzel’s Macbeth will rank among his greatest performances.
Macbeth is now playing at selected theaters and streaming online on Apple+. I plan to see it and hope that you will too.
Your child will learn how to write poetry like Shakespeare himself, through a mix of presentations, a printable guideline, and some fun quizzes to test your knowledge of Shakespeare’s sonnets! Designed for ages 13-18.
We will cover what a sonnet is, namely a type of poetry Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter with a particular rhyme scheme. Using a combination of Prezi video presentation and Google Slides, I will go in-depth to explain how he organized his poetic ideas into a very compact form. Using primarily Google slides, we will then analyze Shakespeare's sonnets for their themes, literary devices, and the way he uses the poetry to enhance and heighten emotion and ideas. I will focus mainly on Sonnet 18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" I will cover Shakespeare's use of such literary devices as: - Metaphor - Simile - Personification - Rhetorical Question - Irony - Paranomasia Analyzing this sonnet will allow the class to grasp the basics of how a sonnet is constructed, and begin to prepare to write their own. While the presentation is in play, students will be given an access code to an optional Nearpod presentation, that will allow them to construct an iambic pentameter line, quiz themselves on the vocabulary I cover, and provide visual aides to better understand Shakespeare's sonnets.
In the next part of the course, We will engage in a group brainstorming session. I will provide the students with potential topics (assuming they don't have one of their own), and then we will construct a short story using madlibs around that topic that will later be condensed into a sonnet. I will demonstrate to the students how to use imagery and poetic language to enhance the ideas and feelings in the poem. After this, I will use the nearpod and Google slide presentations to guide the students how to tell their own story using such devices as metaphor, personification, allusion, and sensory details. They can jot their ideas down on the provided handout to help organize their thoughts. In addition, the optional handout will have useful brainstorming activities such as a web link to websites like Rhymezone.com, (which helps poets find rhymes to words), and imagery boards that will allow the students to think of sensory details to include in the sonnet . The class will draw attention to the handout activities, and pause briefly to allow the students to do them.
In the last part of the class, I will give the students step-by-step instructions on how to transform their brainstorming ideas into a sonnet. I will begin by showing them how to construct an iambic pentameter line. I will engage the students by clapping out the beats for this line and allow them time to do the same, so they may internalize the rhythm. This will be accomplished via a Google Slides screen. The final page of the handout has a page to write a draft of their final sonnet, with the line numbers conveniently provided. I will go over every section of the worksheet so the students know how to utilize it effectively.
After all this practice and training, the students will be able to create a basic 14 line sonnet which will give them practice not only writing poetry but also using and recognizing literary devices. It is my hope that this course will not only help the student(s) gain an appreciation for Shakespeare's poetry but also develop their own ability to speak and write eloquently and persuasively.
From now to January 13th, I’m offering a $5 discount for any class that is $10 or more! You can take my Shakespeare classes for as little as $4! Go to my Outschool.com class and enter the coupon code: HTHESNIF6B5 at checkout!