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O! Sonnet, Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

Text by: Brittany Knotts

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.
-Leonard Cohen
I've always thought of poetry as the ultimate manifestation of passion in writing. It is an outlet for an author's hopes, dreams, fears, and every other imaginable item in the spectrum of human emotion. I love poetry as a whole, but being a girl who appreciates the simple classics, there is perhaps no form of poetry I enjoy more than the sonnet.

Originating in Europe (most likely Italy) in the mid-thirteenth century, the sonnet is typically a poem composed of 14 lines with a strict rhyme scheme and structure. The word sonnet comes from the Occitan (a romance language spoken in parts of France, Italy, and Spain) word 'sonet' and the Italian word 'sonetto,' which both translate to "little song" or "little sound." There are many forms of sonnets, but the two main types are the Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet and probably the better-known English, or Shakespearean, sonnet.

Petrarchan sonnets are generally composed of an octave (two quatrains, or stanzas of poetry containing four lines) that presents a proposition or describes a problem and a sestet (two tercets), which offers a resolution. The ninth line of the poem typically marks the turn or volta at which point the mood of the sonnet changes. When all is said and done, the Petrarchan sonnet generally forms a compact argument.

English sonnets are generally made up of 14 lines written in iambic pentameter, composed of three quatrains and a couplet with the volta appearing in the third quatrain (though Shakespeare's sonnets usually place the volta in the final couplet). They usually followed Petrarchan tradition and told of the poet's love of a woman.

The English sonnet's alternate name is very fitting — William Shakespeare composed 154 of them in his lifetime, and that's not including those that appeared in his plays (like the opening to Romeo and Juliet). Shakespeare is, without a doubt, the most notable sonneteer of the English language - if not all languages. He wrote passionately about everything from pain, frustration, and loneliness to time and beauty. But when it comes down to it, Shakespeare's most treasured and passionate sonnets are about love.

For your enjoyment, here is my personal favorite, William Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, along with another of his well-known works, Sonnet 18:

Sonnet 116
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.
Sonnet 18
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.