Monday, October 7, 2013

Germanic pentameter

The older I get, the more I realize I have been shaped by my father's German heritage.  Since I was a young child I've been a stickler for "following rules," and during rehearsals for our symphony's latest concert ("The French Connection" which was all songs by French composers) I realized I prefer listening to AND playing Baroque and Classical music by the German composers: Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner.  You get the picture.

Perhaps my regimented self-discipline is also the source of my preference for reading and writing structured poetry.  When I discovered the sonnet form in ninth grade, I fell in love--not with the "love" themes for which the sonnet form is famous, but with the strict construction of both Shakespearan and Petrarchan sonnets.  Paradoxically my poetic creativity is unleashed when there is a skeletal form upon which to add the sinews, muscles, and flesh of words.

Here is my first sonnet, written in high school (yes, I still have my worn-out notebook of hand-written poetry):

Sonnet I:  The Cockroach

I do believe I fear all nature's pests,
But most especially the cockroach here.
He looks most fearsome in his coat and vests,
But hairy legs are what I really fear.
I dread the morbid clicking of his wings,
Though knowing his intentions are meant well--
It's just that I abhor all crawly things,
And worst of all, they wish with me to dwell!
It's quite unnerving when you wake at night
To see two beady eyes atop your chest--
You jump and scream with horror and with fright,
And then discover he's brought all the rest.
So if eternity for me is hell,
I'm sure it's in the cockroach citadel.

I also learned how to use the "love" theme, too.  This one actually has a date:  December 29, 1975:

Sonnet III

My love is all I have to offer thee,
And knowing that you know my love is real,
I ask an answer to my final plea,
And humbly wait with patience and with zeal.
I haven't long to wait, for now I see
A lifetime in eternity is short;
It's now or never that I make my plea,
For as you see it's now my last resort.
If I had beauty, grace, or face so fair
With skin as sweet and pure as honeydew,
Or hair and eyes to shame the brightest star,
Then I'd love me the best and not love you.
But not for me these blessings from above,
So all I have to offer you is love.

One of the most enjoyable classes I've ever taught to children is poetic forms.  It was an especially delicious challenge if I had one or more students (usually boys) who "hated" poetry.  In every single instance, by the end of my classes they had learned to love poetry, mainly because they didn't realize playing with words could be so much fun.

So, in the spirit of poetry classes past, I'm posting some iambic pentameter "starters" for a sonnet, blank verse, or a poem of your own construction, taken from those I made up for my classes.  (In case it's been a few years since you learned about poetic forms, an iamb is a poetry foot with a soft first syllable and a hard second syllable--da DUM.  Therefore iambic pentameter is a line composed of five iambs:  da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM.)

My beagle is a sweet but stupid pet

My father is a famous fighter ace (or "boxing champ" etc.)

My mommy loves to hug and kiss on me

My brother is a hyperactive boy

I have a large iguana in my room

There is a crocodile beneath my bed

I woke up with my hair all tied in knots

It seems the world is really quite insane

My tennis shoes can bounce me very high

Computers make the strangest time machines

A book is an adventure, don't you see?

If you were me, it follows I'd be you

It's raining, raining, raining all the time

I really like to write in sonnet form
Dem Deutschen Volke

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