Girl Scouts of Colorado’s Outreach Program team developed this sonnet lesson for older Girl Scouts, particularly Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors.
Poetry is lyrical way to tell a story. Special attention is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by using a distinctive style and rhythm. One of the most famous poets is William Shakespeare, who not only wrote plays with poetry, but stand-alone poems as well. You may have heard the one that begins “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…” That’s Sonnet 18. Shakespeare used a specific style of poetry called the sonnet. Like most styles of poetry, the sonnet has rules regarding meter (the rhythm) and rhyming patterns.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are written in iambic pentameter, which is a fancy way of saying there are two specific rules to the rhythm.
Rule One is the beat of the poem. An iambic foot consists of a soft syllable followed by a hard syllable. The emphasis is placed on the second syllable of the foot. Ba Bump, Ba Bump. It sounds like a heartbeat. I’ll repeat our line of poetry above, bolding the heavy, hard syllable.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day.
See how every other beat is heavy. That’s the iambic foot!
Rule Two is length of each line. Penta is latin for five, and pentameter means there are five feet in each line of the sonnet. With each foot consisting of two syllables (a soft one, then a hard one), a line in pentameter has ten syllables per line. I’ve separated each foot below with a “//”, so you can see that there are five feet to the line.
Shall I // compare // thee to //a sum//er’s day.
That’s iambic pentameter!
Shakespeare’s sonnets also are written with a specific rhyming pattern. There are 14 lines of poetry. The first 12 are grouped into three groups of four (these groups are called stanzas), with the first and third lines rhyming with each other, and the second and fourth lines rhyming together. See below, the first stanza of our sonnet:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou are more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds to shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
You see how day and May rhyme together and temperate and date rhyme together (you have to imagine the pronunciation of England 400 years ago.) Each of the three stanzas have this rhyming pattern. Each stanza’s rhymes are independent of the other stanzas. You can use the same sound to rhyme, but it isn’t required. Stanza One: ABAB, Stanza Two: CDCD, Stanza 3: EFEF.
After the three stanzas of four lines each, there is a rhyming couplet – or a stanza of just two lines which rhyme. Let’s look at the last two lines of our sonnet:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
See and thee rhyme, and this is a rhyming couplet. With this couplet ending our sonnet, the final rhyming pattern is: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
Poems are written to be read out loud, so here is a link of Patrick Stewart, world-reknowned Shakespearean (and Star Trek) actor, reading Sonnet 18. Patrick Stewart is delighting fans during the pandemic by reading a Sonnet every day, and you can find those videos on Twitter at @SirPatStew. You can find more of Shakespeare’s sonnets at: poets.org/poems/William-shakespeare
Below is a sonnet in the style of Shakespeare about the Girl Scout Experience. Give writing a sonnet a try, and share it with us on the GSCO Blog or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Twitter and Instagram users should also use #GSColo.
Juliette found a group of girls in need,
And sold her pearls to keep the dream alive.
Some would say she planted a great seed
In us, she instills courage and a drive
To excel, to lead, to change the world we love.
Her legacy empowers us to bring
Our strengths to problems. We are tough!
Girl Scouts do more than sell cookies each spring.
Lisa, Sally, Dolores, Venus, Mae
Sandra, Madeleine, Tammy are a few
Who broke the mold, who chose to lead the way.
Girls Scouts all. Next on the list is you.
On my honor, three fingers held up high.
When you bleed green, the limit’s past the sky.
We want to hear how your girl is using her Girl Scout skills by taking initiative, caring for the community, and Girl Scouting at home. She can send in her story here.