Shakespearian sonnet

The sonnet has a long and distinguished history, dating back to the 14th century. It is one of the most famous verse forms in the English language, with over 1,000 examples written by poets worldwide. In this article, we will take a look at 11 of Shakespeare’s greatest sonnets: from his most famous (Sonnet 18) to some lesser-known gems that are still worth reading again!

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Shakespeare wrote many famous plays and poems. He was a great writer who had an incredible eye for detail regarding his work! Many people don’t know that the form we call “sonnet” today is actually from Italy in 16th century; however, this type of poem didn’t have as much variation back then due to strict rules about rhyme schemes or length. 

What is a Shakespearian Sonnet?

A sonnet is a poetic form that originated in Italy during the Elizabethan era. The term “sonnet” comes from the Italian word, ‘sonetto’ which means song or little sound and was originally meant to be sung instead of reading silently.

It has been said that when Shakespeare first published his Sonnets, they were referred to as ‘Songs’, rather than poems; this speaks not only into their musical quality but also reveals how integral music was considered for performance of these works before modern times where it’s more common for them just be recited aloud without accompaniment (or even at all).

11 examples of Shakespearian Sonnets

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decrease,
His tender heir mught bear his memeory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’st flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

Sonnet 1- William Shakespeare

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:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Sonnet 18- William Shakespeare

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts–from far where I abide–
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

Sonnet 27- William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Sonnet 73- William Shakespeare

O! how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
To make me tongue-tied speaking of your fame.
But since your worth, wide as the ocean is,
The humble as the proudest sail doth bear,
My saucy bark, inferior far to his,
On your broad main doth wilfully appear.
Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat,
Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride;
Or, being wrack’d, I am a worthless boat,
He of tall building, and of goodly pride:
Then if he thrive and I be cast away,
The worst was this, my love was my decay.

Sonnet 80- William Shakespeare

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

Sonnet 98- William Shakespeare

To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d,
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.

Sonnet 104- William Shakespeare

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have express’d
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

Sonnet 106- William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Sonnet 116- William Shakespeare

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Sonnet 129- William Shakespeare

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

Sonnet 130- William Shakespeare

Qualities of a Shakespearian sonnet

  • They are 14 lines long.
  • The structure consists of three quatrains (four-line parts) followed by one couplet (2 line part).
  • The first four lines are called “sestet.” 
  • The last two lines are called a “couplet.”
  • They are written in iambic pentameter with rhyming couplets.
  • Follows an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG structure

What Is Iambic Pentameter?

Iambic pentameter is the rhythmic pattern Shakespeare loved to use in his plays. Iambic means “having two parts”, – so it has one soft beat, and one strong beat repeated five times.

How many sonnets did Shakespeare write?

The bearded playwright penned 154 sonnets that were published posthumously via his ‘quarto’ in 1609. The sonnets cover themes such as mortality, love, beauty and infidelity.

What is Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet?

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, which starts “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” is possibly the most famous ever. The bard makes an impassioned plea for his beloved with lines that are still beautiful today after 400 years of being read and translated by people across various cultures. Sonnet 18 is famous for its eloquently written language and how it deals with a universally feared thing, death.

Shakespeare’s work stands the test of time more so than other writers because his stories don’t just put a scenario before the audience and let it play out. Still, they constantly challenge onlookers to think about right vs wrong–even in grey areas. Ultimately, he wants you to explore whether people should live by reason or passion

For more poetry conversation here are the top 20 forms of poetry you should know. If you are looking for something a little more academic, here’s how to write a research paper in 11 easy steps.

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