BACK IN THE DAY, Shakespeare, sick of the sticky-sweet love sonnets of his time—the kind that compared women’s eyes to placid lakes and their tresses to molten gold—penned a send up, “Sonnet 130.” In it, the Bard refutes any likeness his lover might have to the beauties of nature. Instead, mocking his sonnet-making contemporaries, Shakespeare harshly negates his love’s charms. And yet … and yet …
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)
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.
1) Now, that you’ve read (and enjoyed?) “Sonnet 130,” try modeling it! Is there someone (or something) you love in an unconventional way? Or whom you see as unconventional? How does your love stray from the ordinary way of things?
Even trickier, can you do the opposite of damning with faint praise by, as Shakespeare does, praising with a two-edged sword of truth?
2) Alternatively, write a love letter (or a poem or a personal essay or a scene for a novel or a short story) in which you or a character declares love for someone—at length and in detail—without using the word “love” or any of its synonyms!
(Bonus points for creating a sonnet! You’ll find descriptions of various sonnet forms and some instructions to help you get a sense of how they’re constructed on the LITERARY DEVICES website.)
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