Sure, you can buy the love of your life a bunch of flowers or pay for a swanky meal at a posh restaurant, but true romantics know it’s the thought that counts come Valentine’s day. And nothing shows how much you care quite like an old-school love poem.
Here we take inspiration from the master himself – Shakespeare – to give you all the tools you need to craft a love note that will outlast any rose.
Love poems go back further than anyone really knows. One of the oldest dates back to 3500 BC when a nameless Sumerian scraped the following into a clay tablet:
Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.
Short and somewhat sickly, it may have been, but it was a start. Fast forward to the days of Elizabeth I, and our beloved playwright Shakespeare penned some of greatest lines ever written. With quill and ink, he wrote the immortal words, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, the first line of a love poem that is still being quoted 500 years on…
What is a sonnet?
William Shakespeare wrote more than 100 sonnets, but one of the most famous is reproduced below.
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 dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
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.
How to write your own sonnet
Why write a sonnet? Because it’s a truly romantic and manly thing to do. A sonnet is a rhythmic, structured piece of writing that tells a story. It has a beginning, a middle, a twist, and a resolution. Think of writing your sonnet as a chivalric travail. A what? Think of it as a noble challenge – a form of verbal jousting that shows your true metal as a lover.
Sonnets are simpler than you might think. There’s just three things to include:
- 14 lines
- 10 syllables per line, written in iambic pentameter
- Some lines that rhyme
What is iambic pentameter?
Can you see the rhythm? It goes like this: duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH.
Make sure that each line has five ‘duh-DUHs’ and you’ll have the 10 syllables you need and perfect iambic pentameter.
How to structure your 14 lines
A sonnet is more than a pretty bit of verse. It’s a story comprised of exactly 14 lines. These lines are split into three ‘quatrains’ – verses with 4 lines, and one ‘couplet’ – a two line verse which you can think of as the punchline. Here’s the basic plan:
- First quatrain – This is the setup
- Second quatrain – Develops the idea
- Third quatrain – Introduces a twist and often begins with the word ‘but’
- Couplet – The resolution or punchline
Now to the final part of your sonnet’s structure. The rhyming aspect, which makes the verse come alive, is no accident either. Again, there are rules to follow to make your sonnet work, though fortunately they’re very simple.
In each verse of four lines, the first line rhymes with the third, and the second with the fourth. When you come to the final couplet, both lines rhyme with each other.
The magic ingredient
All you need now is some inspiration and you’re ready to begin writing your own sonnet. Looking for an idea to get you started? How does your loved one make you feel? How would you feel if you didn’t have them in your life? To what would you compare them? Think about using similes and metaphors from the natural world.