An Analysis of the Sonnet as a Form of Poetic Expression

Although I do not consider myself a poet, I am a regular reader of poetry and have over the years written poems myself. But, to my chagrin, I am invariably stumped when I try to work the New York Times daily crossword puzzle, an embarrassment for someone who thinks of herself as a wordsmith. One day about twenty years ago as I was taking a morning jog in Central Park, however, I started to pay attention to the rhythm of my footfalls on the pavement of the path around the Great Lawn. After mentally converting their iambic pentameter into a line of poetry, fourteen of which make up the length of a standard sonnet, I realized that I could extinguish my frustration in trying to work crossword puzzles and instead concentrate on composing sonnets, a pursuit that would give me intellectual and creative satisfaction rather than self-doubt about the acuity of my mental faculties.

To do this successfully I needed to study the sonnet format more precisely. Thus I learned that sonnets fall into two categories, one called the Petrarchan and the other the Shakespearian – both with a prescribed length of fourteen lines, each of which has the requisite five beats constituting iambic-pentameter within their initial eight-line expositions and following six-line conclusions. Beyond this they differ in that both have their own distinct rhyming scheme.

What pleasure I had in reading all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, each of which is divided into three quatrains followed by a concluding couplet! (The Shakespearian rhyming scheme therefore is this: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG). Nonetheless, the rhyming scheme of my choice is Petrarch’s ABBA ABBA for the octave and either CDECDE or CDCDCD for the sestet.

My life as an amateur Petrarchan sonneteer has continued over the years and remains a satisfying compensation for my frustrating inability to come up with the correct answers to the crossword’s definition challenges that overlap to form right angles – i. e. fill in the puzzle’s grid format. To overcome this embarrassment, I leave my thinking cap on the desk in my apartment as I walk out into Central Park where all of my sonnets to date have been memorized while being intuited through my senses. Upon my return, before memory shuts off its light, I transcribe each into typeface, thereby building a computer-file labeled POEMS, which contains poetry by others as well as my own.

You will find two examples of my Petrarchan-style sonnets in the entry titled Nine-Eleven Remembered, which I posted on September 9, 2022, two days prior to the twenty-first anniversary of the destruction of Twin Towers by Al Qaeda terrorists. The first sonnet to be incorporated into this journal entry is titled Tanner’s Spring. It was written after the emotionally draining day of watching television broadcasters describe the event and the nation’s shock, horror, and grief as footage of two colossal white plumes rising above the Manhattan skyline and a gray pall of debris-laden smoke settling over the Wall Street environs continued to appear on the screen. In the late afternoon I sought respite in Central Park, and it was there that the words for this sonnet sprang into my head as I stood beside the tiny pool of water named Tanner’s Spring at the base of Summit Rock, a secluded nook within the park where I could contact with the peace of the natural world enfolding me. 

The second sonnet included in the same entry was written the following spring on Earth Day, 2002, during a morning run around Great Lawn in Central Park. In addition to being a commemorative poem, Earth Day, 2022 strikes an environmental note, its message being that the cease of the relentless exploitation of natural resources and heedless fostering of economic practices that are causing the deleterious destruction our planet is a pressing necessity.

This year on November 6th the park was vibrant with fall color as often is the case on the day of the New York City Marathon, which annually falls on the first Sunday of this month. While listening to the cheers from the bystanders pressing against the event-controlling barricades placed along East and West Drives as runners demonstrating various levels of remaining energy passed by cheering bystanders, I found fourteen iambic pentameter lines forming in my brain as I gazed overhead at the leaves in splendid fall colors along my path through the park. I hadn’t written a sonnet in a long time, but here was a familiar annual Central Park event for which I had a special reason for celebrating since my now eighty-eight-year-old husband Ted had run thirty-three consecutive New York City marathons before slowing his pace and substituting his former six-mile daily marathon-training morning runs to frequent walks in the Central Park Ramble with me.

I have always deplored the fact that most people, other than landscape historians, consider the words of certain nineteenth-century aesthetic philosophers – “beautiful,” “picturesque,” and “sublime”– as obsolete scenic descriptors. It is a joy to walk in the park with Ted, who has an aesthetic eye and is not adverse to describing both natural and naturalistic scenery by design in enthusiastic terms. He agrees with me that Central Park is the greatest work of American art, so sitting on a bench in the Ramble with New York City Marathon excitement still in the air, he did not experience sentimental regret about having run his final one the year he reached the age of eighty-five. Rather, he turned his eyes skyward and admired the sunlight coming through the fall trees, giving their colors the luminance of stained glass. His appreciative remarks as we gazed at the treetops and the beautiful leaves wafting to the ground gave me the impetus to write this sonnet, which I here dedicate to him.

For Ted

I walked today in the park’s autumnal glow
Admiring the butter-bright gingko leaves
Descending like the coins from Zeus on Danae,
An arboreal cascade of the purest gold
Near a stand of copper-penny-colored oaks
And a grove of maples wearing ruby sleeves
That added even more brilliance to the glorious scene
With the star-printed patterns adorning their canopied coats              
I raised my gaze to the cerise-lipstick-smacked
Sourgum, a Southern tree called Tupelo                   
Which was blowing kisses to the meadow grass
Where bulb-planting gardeners were calling back
Spring when daffodils will unfold.                
And another kind of glory adorns the park.      


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