These sonnets are a bit late. Life got in the way. But here they are.

I said about 2 weeks ago that I’d write an English sonnet and one other. And then, maybe because I was working on it before I’d had my requisite two morning cups of coffee, I started writing an Italian sonnet first– which I had not intended on doing, because I thought it would be too hard.

Well, it was hard. Damned hard. And I’d gotten far enough by the time I realized what I was doing that I had to finish it, just because I couldn’t stand the thought of wasting all that effort. Trying to write a poem that sounds like something a human being would say, yet also is in iambic pentameter and also uses only two rhymes in the first eight lines, and has exactly 14 lines altogether, is a tough proposition. As you will see, I ended up using a fair amount of slant rhyme, but I found that just using exact rhyme made the poem sound like a greeting card. So I took some liberties.

After I struggled through it, I thought, well, maybe I should try rewriting the poem, but in one of the other forms to see if it was any easier. So here it/they is/are: two sonnets attempting to express the same idea (which I believe will be manifestly obvious from the title), but in different sonnet forms.

The first is an Italian/Petrarchan sonnet, rhyming abba abba cde cde, with the “turn” between the octave (lines 1-8) and the sestet (lines 9-14). The second is an English/Elizabethan/Shakespearean sonnet, rhyming abab cdcd efef gg, with the turn occurring at the final rhymed couplet.

I should say here that one of the things that I try to get my students to see is that forms are not arbitrary—simply there, well, just ‘cuz. They are there to help writers shape their content, provide a vessel that can provide shape to meaning, give substance to thought. So I tried to use the forms to help them shape the ideas I was trying to express.

Understanding what the form of a poem is, of course, can also help you read it and more fully enjoy it, sort of like how understanding the skeletal structure of a chicken or a turkey can help you carve it into delectable, toothsome slices. In poems, rhymes, meter, and so on help show a reader how to subdivide the poem into discrete chunks, and see how they resonate with and respond to each other.

My examples don’t do a very good job of this, so I hope you will excuse me for color-coding the rhyme schemes and dividing the poems into their quatranic, tercetic, and couplic parts (I made up all three of those words), but I hope that doing so will help you figure out my lame attempts at trying to mesh my intended meaning with the purported form.

You’ll notice that the first two lines of the poems are identical, because they did not need to be different (both poems begin ab). You see, I’m efficient that way.

Road Warrior v. 1.0 (Italian/Petrarchan version)

He went around the world in eighty days
Like Phileas Fogg of Jules Verne’s story of old,
But not to venture forth, to break the mold
Of those who would prefer, at home, to stay.

His wanderings governed by The Company,
He traveled on, wherever he was told,
Saw everything, the whole entire world
But found that he had never known the way.


A bold crusader for corporate interest,
A voyager for profit, road warrior,
His bravery a front for greed, no more.

No one will write of this man’s feeble quest
Or care that he ranged so wide or went so far.
Who was enriched? And who alone left poor?

Road Warrior v. 1.1
(English/Shakespearean version)

He went around the world in eighty days
Like Phileas Fogg of Jules Verne’s story of old,
But it was The Company that sent him on his way,
That told him where he went, in sun or cold.

The whole earth passed beneath his very eyes,
But hard to say whether he ever saw
Or noticed trees, the birds winging in the skies.
He simply focused on his work: that’s all.

To put a dollar in his pocket, more
Always had to be made; commerce and trade
Came first, forget the wonders of the world—
Time for that later, he’d always say.



p style=”padding-left:60px;”>One wonders, who was really on the take?
The road warrior: a hero for profit’s sake.

I’m curious to see what you all think of these poems. Which do you think is more successful?

I think I’ll spend another week (maybe more!) on the sonnet, because now that I’ve tried writing two different versions of the “same” poem, I want to try some of the other kinds of sonnets. The bug has bitten! So how about the form invented by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Edmund Spenser? Spenser wrote the long, epic poem The Faerie Queene, which may be the first poem I ever fell in love with–thanks to the inspired teaching of my professor at Carleton College, Theresa DiPasquale, who I now see (thanks, Google!) is a professor and chair of the English Department at Whitman College. She made us really dig into that poem– we spent an entire half of the term reading it. (I might also try writing a sonnet in the form developed by Milton, whose Paradise Lost was the poem we spent the second half of the term reading.)

The Spenserian sonnet rhymes abab bcbc cdcd ee, allowing for more varied rhymes than the Italian sonnet, but also creating greater aural cohesion than the English sonnet due to the rhyme that is carried over from quatrain to quatrain (the b rhyme is carried to the second quatrain, the c rhyme from the second to the third, and so on. You can really hear it if you read the poem below out loud). The turn, as with the English/Shakespearean sonnet, occurs in the final couplet. Here’s an example, from Spenser’s Amoretti:

What guile is this, that those her golden tresses
She doth attire under a net of gold;
And with sly skill so cunningly them dresses,
That which is gold or hair, may scarce be told?
Is it that men’s frail eyes, which gaze too bold,
She may entangle in that golden snare;
And being caught may craftily enfold
Their weaker hearts, which are not yet well aware?
Take heed therefore, mine eyes, how ye do stare
Henceforth too rashly on that guileful net,
In which if ever ye entrapped are,
Out of her bands ye by no means shall get.
Folly it were for any being free,
To covet fetters, though they golden be.

I would love to see you take up this challenge! Or just try writing a sonnet of any form. You can do it!!

And don’t forget to tell me which of the “Road Warrior” poems you prefer.


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