Category Archives: Poetry

A Sonnet Upon Sonnets by Robert Burns

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Fourteen, a sonneteer thy praises sings;

What magic myst’ries in that number lie!

Your hen hath fourteen eggs beneath her wings

That fourteen chickens to the roost may fly.

Fourteen full pounds the jockey’s stone must be;

His age fourteen – a horse’s prime is past.

Fourteen long hours too oft the Bard must fast;

Fourteen bright bumpers – bliss he ne’er must see!

Before fourteen, a dozen yields the strife;

Before fourteen – e’en thirteen’s strength is vain.

Fourteen good years – a woman gives us life;

Fourteen good men – we lose that life again.

What lucubrations can be more upon it?

Fourteen good measur’d verses make a sonnet.

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The word sonnet comes from the Italian word “sonetto” which means “little song” and normally contains fourteen lines. Sonnets are divided into categories based on their rhyme scheme. Shakespeare’s poems follow the “abab cdcd efef gg” format. The other traditional sonnet types are Petrachan and Spenserian. The Spenserian sonnets follow the rhyming sequence of “abab bcbc cdcd ee”. The Petrachan or Italian sonnet was named for Francesco Petrarch who popularized the sonnet and began to appear in the 14th century.  This type of sonnet, has the rhyming pattern in the first octet of “abba abba” with the last six lines having various rhyming patterns.  It was lines in this sextet that mark the volta, or turn in the sonnet; so that the first eight lines posed a question and the final six answered it.

 
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Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

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tudor woman

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-fix’d 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 prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

by William Shakespeare

Sonnet 18 as read by Tom Hiddleston

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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 dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d:
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.

The video is taken from the Love App, which was launched in 2013 as part of National Poetry Day in the UK. The app features a collection of famous love poems and letters. The works are read by actors Damian Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter, Helen McCrory, Gina Belman and Tom Hiddleston. Besides encouraging an appreciation for poetry, the project supports Save the Children.

Along with Sonnet 18, there are works by Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen and e.e. cummings, as well as others.

Shakespeare in Popular Music, part One

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by Unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th century (late 15th century)

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th century (late 15th century)

Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal. T.S.Eliot

Sometimes,it’s not really stealing, its is simply paying homage to great words and great ideas.  I was actually surprised by the number of pop songs that have taken inspiration by Shakespeare’s words or plays. The variety of artists range from Bob Dylan to Dire Straits, with Canadian contributions by The Tragically Hip, The Barenaked Ladies and Rush.

A personal favourite is “Cemetery Gates by The Smiths. I fell in love with the lyrics, and was surprised that the words had a literary pedigree. The quote is from Richard III,  Act Five, Scene III

  RATCLIFF
Ratcliff, my lord; ’tis I. The early village-cock
Hath twice done salutation to the morn;
Your friends are up, and buckle on their armour.

KING RICHARD III
O Ratcliff, I have dream’d a fearful dream!
What thinkest thou, will our friends prove all true?

By this time in the play, Richard’s plans are falling apart and his conscience is bothering him. The ghosts of his misdeeds, figuratively and literally, are beginning to surround him and for Richard the end in nigh.  The Smiths version conjures Shakespeare and references Wilde, Yeats and Keats, as well.

“Cemetery Gates”
The Smiths

A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your sideA dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
While Wilde is on mineSo we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people all those lives
Where are they now?
With the loves and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived and then they died
Seems so unfair
And I want to cry

You say: “ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn”
And you claim these words as your own
But I’ve read well, and I’ve heard them said
A hundred times, maybe less, maybe more

If you must write prose and poems
The words you use should be your own
Don’t plagiarise or take “on loans”
There’s always someone, somewhere
With a big nose, who knows
And who trips you up and laughs
When you fall
Who’ll trip you up and laugh
When you fall

You say: “ere long done do does did”
Words which could only be your own
And then you then produce the text
From whence was ripped some dizzy whore, 1804

A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re happy
And I meet you at the cemetery gates
Oh Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re wanted
And I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
But you lose because Wilde is on mine

Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie “Editing Hamlet”

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I’m always surprised that Shakespeare is considered so serious and dull. His comedies are some of most bawdy and farcical works ever written, full of innuendo, gender flips and insults. The tragedies are moving; full of missed opportunities, miscommunication and the misinterpretations that lead inevitably to a tragic end. The histories are most somber, but it is here where the language has its greatest chance to shine.

 

atkinsonlaurie
“Of course, he may simply have had a good editor. I fell in love with this sketch years ago, with Rowan Atkinson as the editor and Hugh Laurie as Shakespeare.  Sorry about the fuzziness of the video,
Enjoy.

On Shakespeare by John Milton 1608-1674

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What needs my Shakespeare for his honour’d Bones,
The labour of an age in pilèd Stones,
Or that his hallow’d reliques should be hid
Under a stary pointing Pyramid?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of Fame,
What need’st thou such weak witnes of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thy self a live-long Monument.
For whilst to th’ shame of slow-endeavouring art,
Thy easie numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalu’d Book
Those Delphick lines with deep impression took,
Then thou our fancy of it self bereaving,
Dost make us Marble with too much conceaving;
And so Sepulcher’d in such pomp dost lie,
That Kings for such a Tomb would wish to die.

The poem was originally published as “An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramaticke
 Poet, W. Shakespeare,”. Though Shakespeare’s death occurred fourteen years
 before the composition date, Milton concentrates on the immortality of his art 
rather than on the sadness of his death.
Modern authors are still using Shakespeare for inspiration "The Shakespeare
 Project", will feature a broad spectrum of current authors using his plays
 as inspiration for new novels. The first in the series is
 Howard Jacobson's "Shylock is my Name" which
is a retelling of the Merchant of Venice from Shylock's point of view. The second
book is "Vinegar Girl" by Anne Tyler. Vinegar Girl takes another look at "The 
Taming of the Shrew."
Other upcoming works include Margaret Atwood's reworking of "The Tempest",
 Jo Nesbo exploring"Macbeth" is as a noir thriller, and Jeannette
 Winterson creating a new version of "The Winter's Tale".

 

Sonnet Twenty -Nine By William Shakespeare, adapted by Rufus Wainwright

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Sonnet 29

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,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself 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 remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

 Too many Shakespeare is simply something one is forced to study in high school, the beauty of the words and the rhythms lost to teenage ears. To others, Shakespeare is part of an elitist past, meant only for the world of academia. To many though, myself included, the words and the themes are still part of our personal journey, to be freshly discovered over again.

On his forthcoming album, Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare’s Sonnets, singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright has chosen to adapt nine of  Shakespeare’s sonnets in honor the anniversary of the poet’s death. The album features appearances as diverse as William Shatner, Carrie Fisher and Florence Welsh, from Florence and the Machine fame. Among the adaptions is a beautiful rendering of Sonnet 29.

Take_All_My_Loves_-_9_Shakespeare_Sonnets

There are a number of Youtube videos, including : https://youtu.be/ngk4sRQ2C-Y

I chose this one for it’s simple beauty.