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Write Your Lover a Sonnet

Updated on July 4, 2014

How to Write a Love Song

The Writing Process: On Reading and Writing Sonnets as Love Songs

The sonnet’s sound and simple structure requires a sensibility, which is designed for lovers to share, even to embrace both in the writing and reading.

So much so that I would defy any writer or reader of sonnets to deny that they are not at heart either ardent lovers or persons in like daring to imagine themselves as tinder awaiting spontaneous combustion as a lover.

No siren’s song has more power than a love song because no passion on earth can surpass its pure integrity.

Since its invention by a rogue poet, Petrarch, the 14-line rhyming sonnet was meant as a love song. The form of the Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet was devised with an octave (abba,abba) and varying sestet such as (cdcdcd) or (cddcdc).

Shakespeare wrote his sonnets in what became known as the Elizabethan Sonnet form (abab,cdcd,efef,gg) ending in a rhyming couplet.

Here is one of my new sonnets using this sonnet form:

Elizabethan Sonnet
abab, cdcd, efef, gg

I loved you before I ever knew you: I had a premonition of you,
Years before we ever met, I dreamt you would somehow exist,
Even then, I had a revelation I hoped would come fully into view,
Truly, the days were long before you, but how could I not persist?
I knew I’d recognize you by the bright light of your soul, for instance,
The gleam of love within you could betray the words you would express,
Before we spoke, who could have told them fairer from such a distance?
So many thousands of miles we’d trek before we’d know a first caress,
Then moving closer still, what gift of fate drew us then adjacent,
That you could discern with your own ears my love so humbly pled,
And hearing then receive them with a tenderness so renascent?
Who knew that my idea of you, before these words were ever said,
Fulfilled a gift of prophecy that would serve to carry us through?
It’s no less than a wonder how I loved you before you ever knew.
+ + +

Edmund Spenser, author of the Faerie Queen, in the time of Queen Elizabeth II created the Spenserian Sonnet (abab,bcbc,cdcd,ee).

Here is an example of one of my Spenserian Sonnets:

Spenserian Sonnet
abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee

What is it about the Kelly velvet hillsides and the hoary avocado sea,
The vertical cliffs where the Gulf Stream commences its southern bend,
Slashing like a sculptor gone mad or a rancorous God who’s angry,
Heaving galaxies of lichen shrouded stones for potato farmers to tend,
Where the Famine and the Troubles such haunting aspects lend,
Music and verse ring with such eloquence in their whimsical way,
Let all, who can hear, rejoice as singers’ intonations mend,
Gaelic souls from Sligo and Trinity Green to Cork and Dingle Bay,
Where fiddle, bodhran, tin whistle, and even God, indulge to play,
Ould sod to Beckett, Wilde and Yeats, Heaney and James Joyce,
In this verdant, welcoming land, ‘tis the poet who rules the day.
Where else can one hear a republic croon in so magnificent a voice?
Primal hearts of Celtic chieftains pulse, setting inspiration free,
In genial confines of chic caprice, we’re stirred by synchronicity.
+ + +

The Occitan Sonnet (abab,abab,cdcdcd) was first sung by a troubadour named Paolo LaFranchi da Pistolia in 1284.

Here's another example of one of my sonnets in the Occitan Sonnet form:

Occitan Sonnet
abab, abab, cdcdcd

Only one existential vault by my faith is nearly half as grand,
And that would be the bounding, bottomless leap of love,
Needing faith, too, in the will power of a committed stand,
Whether life goes well or ill or halts, beneath heaven above,
We know that life rarely goes as our intentions have planned,
Still, see how faith and love fit, like your sweet hand in a glove,
Surrendering to fate when there’s sense in an exigent command,
Calm in the cloud of unknowing, love trills like a morning dove.
Without faith or love enough, life feigns the pall of a dystrophy,
Good faith is conveyed, when true love knows how much it’s due,
And in our love, our faith is affirmed by virtue of our history,
In every outcome your love justifies that your faith will ensue,
To resolve, by making more magnificent, love’s inherent mystery.
In this dear life in whom is my faith more worthy than in you?
+ + +

It's possible like improvisations on a jazz standard to find other variations on the most well known sonnet forms. As writers should make every effort to innovate and add new forms to the language in which they write, here is an example of one of several variations.

Lentzian Sonnet
ababab, cdcdcd, ee

When I close my eyes and picture you, a quaint gallery comes to mind:
Nights of jazz, half-mad with desire, in the sultry, sensual, French Quarter,
Among bluebonnets and white sand beaches in Texas, all the time I find,
You are ever there when I see a gallery of reflections of our daughter,
Skiing powder slopes, strolling rocky coasts, whenever you are kind,
Supping in Quebec, sipping in the Keys, unruffled as a swan in freshwater,
A pale moon catches the curve of your hip as you fall asleep on your side,
How you look at dinner and a show in the City: how you dress to kill,
Enfolding hands with a babyish girl combing for sea glass in low tide,
Your aspect when she plays Gershwin and Grieg in Manhattan, more still,
Your expression when the sense of a splash of wit hits home to reside,
Ah, your beatific face, how my eyes, my heart, my very soul you fulfill.
Portraits, landscapes, still-life, movies, abstract impressions in mixtures:
Ever are you etched, deep in my soul, in a gallery of miraculous pictures.
+ + +

The Thesis of a Love Sonnet

At the moment I am working bringing to light the sonnet in contemporary new forms.

"New England Love Sonnets" is my thesis -- not only that real love can be found by every soul who earnestly seeks it -- but also love is at least one aspect of human experience which makes life fully worth living.

Real love is worthy of every battle that you must fight, tooth and nail, in order to gain it. Love is a sacred, life-affirming quest, which is epic in scope unfolding with mystic riches over a lifetime.

I would be so bold as to posit that, even if you have come close to personal annihilation in the brave venture of seeking love, this process only serves to teach humility to prepare you for love as all love is humble.

Further,I am the living proof of the wisdom of this wild and unlikely thesis.

"New England Love Sonnets" is my best argument for authentic love as a leap of faith. However, to gain authentic love you must be willing to take this leap relentlessly until you learn what the past grudgingly yields from experience and discover real love.

Once you discover real love, every problem in your life can be overcome, except its loss, whereupon it is incumbent upon you to renew your search -- come what may.

If the sonnet becomes a vessel for love, then my work here is done and yours has just begun.

"New England Love Sonnets" will be published in October and I invite you to share it with someone you love.

Better still, write a sonnet for someone whom you adore. Then write another. And so it goes.

The Sonnet Form

The sonnet is an intriguing poetic form which has not received the literary attention in our time of which it is most worthy.

Its discipline may be considered too restrictive my some poets who prefer to launch into free verse. However, it is the ability to express genuine, deeply felt love in only 14 lines with a distinctive rhyming scheme which make the sonnet so attractive as a literary form.

Where else can an poet become challenged to write deep and moving insights about love in so short a form, except perhaps in the haiku, for brevity of passion and wit?

The sonnet was meant to be passionate and by design must employ simple language which is accessible to its readers.

There is an aspect of the sonnet which also intrigues me as sonnets traditionally provide a "turn" in which the theme may take a focusing direction to bring home the heart of the message in the sonnet often in a surprising or powerful few lines. The art of the sonnet invites the sonneteer to make the turn as late as possible in the 14 lines, usually in the last 1-2 lines -- the later the turn arrives, the better the sonnet may be deemed.

So I try to bring home my sonnets with late turns.

Why Write Sonnets?

I seek to add an enduring voice in my writing with far less regard to what may now be commercially popular or widely read or in vogue, as such timely considerations pass with time.

With a longer view I am in this business for the long haul and am convinced that great writing will sell better over a longer duration and serve as a more durable legacy than commercially driven work.

I write poetry and literary novels because they have legs and write for those who may read me downstream: I write as well for those readers who may read me long after I'm dead.

Humbly, I accept that within the universe I am a speck of dust. But, by God, I may as well live as if I intend to become an immortal speck of dust.

We work with one of the most lyrical, expressive and prolific languages on earth. This may sound absurd but I feel that every serious writer has a debt to pay to the Mother Tongue. Payment of that debt in full entails seeking to leave it a bit better by experimenting in new literary genres and existing forms to give writers who follow new options for even more expressive literary forms.

The literary forms with which we now write have come to us as gifts from the genius of dead poets and novelists.

So it goes that writers should make positive contributions to the living and breathing soul of their native language by expressing their work in its best light, ultimately to leave it better off by having worked in it.

What Is a Viable Writing Process?

After a period of reflection I build a road map for the written work to gain a sense of direction. Sometimes, the road map is detailed and precise, and at other times it is purposely more vague to allow for improvisation along the way. The first approach brings tighter first drafts and the second adds passion to the writing.

If I have a tight road map, then I always go back and seek to animate it.

If I venture off in a general direction, then I always go back to apply the necessary discipline to button-up the work.

In either case I use a reiterative process, which may entail a great many re-readings and edits. My novel, "For the Beauty of the Earth," was written rapidly as the words simply poured out of the vessel of my soul: 100,000 words in six weeks. Ultimately, I had to edit 52 versions of this novel until I became reasonably content with it.

"Bloomsday: The Bostoniad" was written over three years of focused work and required half as many drafts to render it as perfect as my imperfect talents would enable me.

I edit my writing until I can add no further value to the words and can't bear to read it another time and abandon it. Writing is never completed, only ultimately abandoned.

No work I have ever written is perfect despite my very best diligence as an editor and I accept this reality humbly.

Fortunately, critics enable us to gain insight into where a writer may have fallen short.

I have the most intelligent readers on earth and prefer to give them credit for their high intelligence and unsurpassed literary taste.


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