A Shakespearean Sonnet

I’m teaching my class all about the sonnet tomorrow, and so I’ve been pouring over my poetry anthologies, reveling in the imaginative renderings of this much loved form. Of course, one of the main poets that we associate with the sonnet is Shakespeare, and we now use the term Shakespearean Sonnet to describe the type of sonnet he wrote. However, I think one of my favourite Shakespearean sonnets was not actually written by Shakespeare himself. It is, in fact, written by Carol Ann Duffy, and it’s named after William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway.

Bed in Sunset

Anne Hathaway
“Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed…”
(from Shakespeare’s will)

The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights, I dreamed he’d written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love –
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.

By Carol Ann Duffy

This poem is from a fantastic collection of poems by Carol Ann Duffy called The World and His Wife in which each poem is written from the perspective of the wife of a famous, often historical figure. I highly recommend it as each poem is such a gem. In this poem, in particular, I love that she chose to write Shakespeare’s wife’s narrative in the form of the sonnet: the verse form which was clearly so close to his heart.

What’s your favourite sonnet? What do you love about this very special verse form?

UPDATE: I’ve had a request to share all the favourite sonnets I gathered through Twitter and this post, so, ever obliging, here they are:

Also if you head over to Autumn Song’s blog, you can read her post on sonnets and read a few by Edna St Vincent Millay.

Thanks go to @lindiop, @dmcordell, @captainstardust and @pfanderson from Twitter, as well as to the following commenters who contributed to this list: Mrs ChilliJoanna Young, DaleAutumn Song and Ellen Wilson.

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April 14, 2008. Creativity, Inspiration.

9 Comments

  1. Mrs. Chili replied:

    THANK you for posting this – I may never have seen it otherwise, and it’s just lovely!

    My I have two favorites – both from Shakespeare; Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments (#116) and When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes (#29). I love them for the sentiment, and they were the first sonnets that I ever really “got” as an English teacher student, so they will always have a special place in my heart.

  2. Darren Daz Cox replied:

    I like poetry that rhymes but dislike rules that turn creativity into a mental challenge, perhaps it is second nature to write in iambic pentameter for some but not for Me!

    I do like this one!!

  3. wendikelly replied:

    Amy, I have never heard of Carol Ann Duffy.

    I will have to look her up!

    In my thirties I got on a kick to read all of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I really enjoyed it. That was a looong time ago. I may go give them another read. Thanks for the idea.

  4. Karen Swim replied:

    My father loved Shakespeare and gifted me with anthologies as a young child. He had memorized many of the sonnets and would frequently quote them. I am forever grateful to my father for patiently guiding his little girl to an understanding of this higher art form. I am certain that it influenced my innate love for writing. I love this sonnet and all of these decades later, it still has the power to make me swoon. Great literature is truly timeless. Thanks Amy for sharing this with us.

    Karen
    xx

  5. Joanna Young replied:

    Hi Amy

    Sonnet 29 is my favourite too (with Mrs Chilli). The last line is always enough to wake me up.

    “For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”

    Joanna

  6. Dale replied:

    One of my favorite sonnets also explains what I like about sonnets: Wordsworth’s “Nuns Fret Not” http://www1.bartleby.com/145/ww309.html

  7. Autumn Song replied:

    Sonnets are one of my favourite forms of literature. And I like teaching them – I posted on that a while ago.

    http://autumnitas.blogspot.com/2008/02/sonnets.html

    The Edna St Vincent Millay ones September Blue left in the comments there are beautiful. I remember trying to teach one in Middle Scots once, about Penelope (Odysseus’ wife) that was amazing, but sadly the students felt it was too difficult to even try to read it. It’s a shame – it was worth the effort.

  8. Ellen Wilson replied:

    I love Shakespeare. My favorite sonnet of his? #15. When I consider everything that grows/Holds in perfection but a little moment,

    I had a great professor of Shakespeare, who really helped me understand and delve deeper into his work. Hopefully all good teachers can incite this passion. I know it’s hard though.

    I hope your class went well.

  9. amypalko replied:

    Thank you so much to everyone who shared their favourite sonnet! As you’ve probably seen, I’ve updated the post to include links to the sonnets suggested, so please do click through and have a read of them. There are some absolute crackers!

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