Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shakespeare, the Sonnets

I was so impressed the other night, at a reading, to hear Minnesota's poet laureate Joyce Sutphen recite a couple of Shakespeare sonnets off the cuff. This, just after I had taken a class at the University on Old Bill's sonnets, and had decided to read them all in order, something I have never done. I have my favorites, but I've also missed a bunch. So hearing a couple from someone who's committed a number of them to memory was such a pleasure.

What is it about those poems that continue to draw us? And what is it about the sonnet form? Sonnets often feel like letters to me. They're so often addressed to an intimate you, and so often to a loved you. One of the things I always notice when I hear a sonnet read is that it seems larger, more expansive than the 14 lines of 5 beats each into which it is usually tucked. Great sonnets are bigger than their form. Although I guess that could be said about all great poems.

I sometimes imagine a sonnet as a boat, a small boat with oars and that last two lines a rudder. It's always going somewhere, and I am being carried with it. Maybe I'll commit a boat or two to memory--


  1. The sonnets of G.M. Hopkins have always had this feel for me--larger than their length implies. But I hadn't actually realized that until I read your post. Thanks.