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The sonnet is a very rigid, specific form. There are two
main sonnet types, the Petrarchan and the Elizabethan or Shakespearean. Shakespeare’s
18th sonnet is the prime example of the latter: a perfectly regular (and in my
opinion, incredibly beautiful) sonnet. This enables a conversation Because the
form is so carefully structured that poets of different periods have to pour
their thoughts into the same mound. That makes for an incredible template if
you think about it. The Shakespearean sonnet is fourteen lines (as is the
Petrarchan). It is patterned in iambic pentameter, which means that each line
has ten syllables or five “feet” mean two syllable units, five for a
total of five syllables. The rhyme scheme is: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Fourteen lines
total, comprised of three quatrains (four lines each) and a final couplet. The
first quatrain introduces the problem (having to do with love, usually. The
second three reiterate or give more examples. The third quatrain tends to set
the ideas on their head, often introduced with the word “But.” The
couplet makes the final point. So, think of that: the daunting, careful
structure. The poet has to really work at this, to set their ideas into this
form. This strict adherence to form is the basis of the dialogue between past
and present.

Shall I compare
thee to a summer’s day,                                                                                                                         Thou
art more lovely and more temperate.                                                                                                     Rough
winds do shake the darling buds of May,                                                                                            And
summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

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Famous lines from sonnet 18. So
different time periods and background. Shakespeare, late 1500s. Compare his
background to a modern poet, say a German poet writing in 1930s/40s under Adolf
Hitler. It’s a conversation between time and culture, with the constant being
the strict structure of the poem. As I said, too, the subject of an Eliz.
sonnet tends to be LOVE.  Modern poets
will often change this up and write on very different subjects of concern, such
as WAR.  

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