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In defense of sonnets

4 Mar

A teaching colleague of mine and I have been having a fight about sonnets for nearly ten years now. She hates the sonnet for the reason many contemporary poets and students of literature do, claiming that all the math and formal structure overly restricts the poet and gets in the way of meaning. Personally, I think there are so infinitely many ways a writer or poet can deliver meaning that while form is a challenge and occasionally a puzzle, it doesn’t prevent the poet from saying whatever he wants. Form and meter adds a musical sense to poetry, helping memory and making the poem timeless. Free form can be memorable and timeless, too, but there’s something for me about writing in structure that is transcendent.

This may be blasphemous, but I think that when formal poetry fell out of style among poets, poetry fell out of style with audiences, and perhaps was replaced with more diverse music with secular lyrics. Someday I will research this. But for today I decided to make my point in sonnet-form. It seemed only proper.


To Stephanie, in defense of sonnets


Though formal stance may frustrate poets’ minds,

the pleasure light of unencumbered verse

is pale compared to careful crafted lines

of metered music, flowery, forged no worse

than steel, an armor ‘gainst the trials of time.    

The virtuous, pleasing puzzle fast holds thought,

a fleeting memory made solid rhyme.

In tempered measured language can be caught,

in word, all quick impassioned joy and woe.

Much can be said for such expression laid

so freely on the page, but in a so

embellished cage, some heaven can be made.

So gracious set your prejudice aside,

disparage not the sonnet, true and tried.