My neice Danielle Chamberlin from Houston recently took a college course in poetry, and was tasked withhaving to write a sonnet. With syllabus in hand, she called me and asked for my help, knowing I've written dozens of them over the years. As I told her, there is more to a sonnet than just cranking out iambic pentameter; it is an art that involves reaching down into the pit of your soul and searching for just the right notes that resonate with intensity and truth. In order to give birth to a sonnet, you have to have a pretty good understanding of the rhythm of words; in the English language, every multi-syllable word contains certain stressors, or emphasis on specific syllables within the word. For instance, the word 'before' is spoken giving the second syllable the accent, as in 'be-FORE'. Once you begin to see the way words flow, you can step into the making of a sonnet and stand a fighting chance. Now, I like to tell student sonneteers that imabic pentameter, the classic rhythm of a sonnet's line, means that there are ten syllables per line and that the stressors need to belong in every even numbered syllable, or as I call it, the "DUM". Here is an example of a line of iambic pentameter: da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM. Read the following iambic pentameter sentence outloud and hear where the stressors are: "Sublimely shifts the length of night and day". Did you notice the rhythm of that line? Here's another: "I hear you cry for me and scream my name". Do you hear it? Iambic pentameter forces the poet to find words that feed into the rhythm of the line. Read this sonnet I wrote and find yourself being lead from one line to the next:
Sublimely shifts the length of night and day
Until the journey home from work is dark;
Meanders forth a hint that sparrows hark,
Migration soon must take the place of play.
Ebullient children once, they now dismay
Returning back to school to ere embark;
'Sent on to worlds of high remark,
Considering their minds don't stray away.
Like leaves that turn from green to brown and gold
Our lives so much like summer's changing time
Soon bring us from the days of young to old.
Unbroken by the chilling, changing clime
Remains the oak, though still in winter's cold
Emerges in the spring as truth sublime.
Now, this sonnet is far from perfect, and if you have a keen ear you'll find the places that stray from the strict rhyth. Not only does a sonnet need to stay within imabic pentameter for each of it's fourteen lines, it must try to conform to certain rhyming schemes, and also consist of four movements within the poem. Expert sonneteers will toss a lazy attempt back in your face. If you are interested in this form of poetry, there are dozens upon dozens of websites out there than can help you. If you want to read the very best, look no further than William Shakespeare. Now, before I let your eyes rest from this lesson, notice that the above sonnet is not only done in iambic pentameter and consists of the standard fourteen lines and leads the reader through varying themes of the subject, if you look at the first letter of each line and then read downward, you will discover the sonnet's title. This is called acrostic poetry, and if you want me to jump into that subject you'll hav