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The poetry of originality:

Shakespeare's sonnet #76

It is hard to imagine that the greatest writer of all time was accused of lack of originality. But here we see in sonnet #76, Shakespeare trying to defend his adherence to the same sonnet format:

Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same...
        (Shakespeare's sonnets #76)

"We turn to Shakespeare's sonnets to learn not about Shakespeare's life but about our own. The beauty, feeling and understanding they hold throw off a continuing brightness, and within its circle the hand holding the page is also freshly lit." (Jane Hirshfield, page 35)

The originality of modern sonnets is more likely to lie in the substance and thought than in any new form. Free verse, which once sounded so original, can now sound tired, after listening to too many slackly constructed lines.

For some sonnets in a classical form with a contemporary twist, see Stephen Denning's Sonnets 2000. For example:

            17.

Long before we learn how short and forlorn
Is this life of ours, we know already
Of the world of tears, as we find stillborn
All our greatest joys, observing heady
Pleasures evanesce, and merriments die
Before their time, and glee transform to grief,
And all our rich enchantments putrefy:
We come to see that every bliss is brief.
We cannot dream of springs that do not fail.
Still less, can we rely on the sublime.
The search for permanence – to no avail:
All blossoms fall. And yet I see, in time,
The cruel bitterness of this defeat
Is what makes our few moments here so sweet.

References: See Stephen Denning, Sonnets 2000(iUniverse, October 2000)
Jane Hirshfield: Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, HarperPerennial, 1997.

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Sonnets 2000

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