Comfort in Truth (a sonnet)
It creeps, it crawls, it slithers up to me –
It seeks me out wherever I might hide.
And just when I begin to think I’m free,
Like shadow it lies lurking at my side.
Climbing my trunk, it stops to crush my chest;
Through nostril and down throat, it steals my breath.
Stretch out on soft white linens, lids to rest,
Against my inner walls, it projects death.
Sequestered in a corner, back to wall,
A scream attempts to tear apart my lips.
And though I am surviving in free fall
My only thought is hide it from the kids.
Fictions that once sustained me now cause dread;
Must strip to truth – recalibrate my head.
For so long, I stood resolutely against the rules of form, rhythm, and rhyme in my writing. I saw these as limiting, regulating, and creatively stifling. I turned my nose up at these rules, believing myself unfettered and therefore – newer? Fresher? Better? Poetry, if I chose that form of expression, I felt would best represent me if it eschewed the norms and standards. I felt above them, looking down upon them from my lofty throne of words.
Little did I realize that this was just another veil: by looking down my nose at such poetic expectations, I could see myself as above them, when in reality – deep deep underneath all of those beliefs – I felt inadequate and unequal to them. In truth, I feared those rules because I worried that I could not uphold them – that the challenge would be too great for my own skill.
But since when in my life have I ever shuddered at or shied from a challenge? What a self-limiting belief to think that I am not equal to those standards! What bullshit – what lies was I feeding to myself by refusing to try!
So I began with the best just to see what would happen: Shakespeare. If Shakespeare could write 160 sonnets in his lifetime, profound and moving, why couldn’t I? What’s even more enticing is that the sonnet has such strict rules of form, rhythm, and rhyme. Oh – hell yes. This is worth the try.
I researched sonnets and began writing, and this is what I learned about sonnets and myself in the process…
What is a Shakespearean sonnet? A Shakespearean sonnet is a poem of 14 lines written in iambic pentameter: a rhythm of 10-beats per line, specifically stressing the even beats. The rhyme pattern is ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG. In most cases, you’ll find that the final couplet, the GG lines, are a turn of thought – sort of a concluding thought like a wax seal on an envelope. Those two lines tend to drive home the purpose or message of the piece.
What did I learn about myself from this experience? The most important lesson I learned from this experience is that I’m selling myself short. My sonnets are not anything as lovely as Shakespeare’s, but – by Jove, they exist! They are a thing that I brought into this world!
When I started writing these sonnets, the first one took me about an hour – which seemed excruciating and interminable. But the second took less time, and the third and fourth, even less. Here’s why: when you learn the rhythm and rhyme scheme, your (well, my) brain begins to think in that scheme. It’s like four lines in, suddenly each thought you have is a ten-beat rhythm, and the rhymes come more and more quickly. Moreover, whenever a thought comes out in nine beats instead of ten, finding that extra syllable is terribly easy! It’s all just a matter of plug-and-play with words.
When plugging-and-playing with my words, then, the next challenge becomes to avoid filler words like “a” or “the” so that you can insert vivid words of multiple syllables instead. If you just do ten one-syllable words in a row every time, it gets rather prosaic and dull. Instead, I look closely at each line and attempt to eliminate single-syllable words unless they’re needed to fulfill the rhythm. If a single-syllable word is needed, I try to find one that’s interesting – not just filler – not just cantaloupe or watermelon, Markus.
Here’s another challenge I noticed: it’s difficult to break up those ten beats the way that Shakespeare does. He’s not afraid to use four beats of a line for one sentence and the last six for another sentence that then follows below. For example, he writes in Sonnet 2:
If thou couldst answer, “This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,”
So here you see, Shakespeare uses the first five beats of the first line as a signal phrase introducing the next 15 beats! The final five beats of that line are a part of the sentence that concludes in the next line. I have yet to master this. My brain just won’t break that rule so easily yet. My word, what a genius he is/was/will always be.
I want to keep this brief, so what’s my lesson here for you?
Remember back when I wrote I Love My Legs? Some people took that personally, and looked at their legs and said either, “yes, I love mine too,” or “meh, mine are sort of problematic.” I don’t want you to see my writing this literally! My pieces are ripe with lessons that can be applied thematically instead of literally. For example, the idea was not for you to look at your own legs, but rather your own body to decide which parts of your body you truly love the way I love my legs. For example, if your legs give you medical issues, but you’re a swimmer – how do you feel about your strong, stacked arms or shoulders? How’s your ass look in the mirror each morning? You get the point.
The same can be said here. I am not asking you to go out and write Shakespearean sonnets. I mean, if you want to, by all means, do! And then send them to me because I’d love to read them! No; rather, what I’m saying is what are you too afraid to try? Are you stuck, struggling underneath the weight of your own self-limiting beliefs? What have you always looked at and said, “I can’t do that because I’m not good enough”? Do you want to try that thing?
Go out, try new things. You are capable of far more in this world than you could ever imagine. Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t believe everything you think. Too often we tell ourselves, “I can’t” simply because others have told us we can’t. Yet – we can.
Find your dream and take small leaps toward it. Because you can.
My sonnets are not Shakespeare’s sonnets; none ever could be. Yet I did it. I wrote them. They follow the rules and they exist! I did it.
SO. CAN. YOU.