Sonnet Analysis By Billy Collins

In this article, we are going to analysis of "Sonnet" by Billy Collins.

Analysis of Sonnet by Billy Collins:

Here's a sonnet I like. Its was written in 1999. It's a sonnet about writing a sonnet. I like it because it's light and has a lot of Billy Collins wit in it. It's written in the two-part Italian form. let's start by reading the octave and see what we can make of it.

All we need is fourteen lines, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love‘s storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the end of lines,
one for every station of the cross.

The opening makes the point that writing a sonnet isn't all that difficult. All we need is 14 lines 13 now and after this one just a dozen. Line 3 contains a literary allusion.

You've heard of the Trojan War the mythical war of antiquity with Odysseus and Achilles and all those people.

Well, it started when a handsome Trojan Prince Paris ran off with a Greek generals wife whose name was Helen known to literature as Helen of Troy. She was known as the woman whose face launched a thousand ships.

Well, let's combine that information with the fact that an octave typically presents a conflict. And in the Italian sonnet, it's usually a love conflict. So the idea of launching a little ship on love storm-tossed seas suggests Helen of Troy but really it's just a metaphorical way of referring to any love conflict that's what Italian octaves are all about.

Then the poet goes back to noting how easily the lines get knocked out. Just like rows of beans and he notes in lines four and five that it's really easy. Unless you get Elizabethan and insist on the iambic bongos.

sonnet by billy collins


Well, what does that mean? Elizabethan refers to the Shakespearean or English sonnet. Shakespeare lived at least during most of his writing career when Elizabeth the first was Queen of England. It was a great time of artistic flowering in England and it is known to history as the Elizabethan age.

The ages of Shakespeare and we know from studying the Shakespearean sonnet a little bit that it is a form which uses iambic pentameter. And I am we might remember is a two syllable foot or meter with an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM.

The speaker humorously refers to those as iambic bongos. The points are that if you don't worry about the English form with all these rhythms and rhyme demands writing a sonnet isn't very hard.

Now let's look at the sestet

But hang on here while we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen.
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.

Of course, we know that the purpose of a sestet is to resolve the octave. It presents a turn in our thinking a resolution of whatever conflict we encountered in the octave.

If we have love‘s storm-tossed seas in the octave we will have an end to longing and heartache in the sestet. Now I think the last three lines are humorous. They contain an illusion.

A reference to the medieval poet Petrarch and his loved one Laura. Petrarch who lived in the 14th century. Developed the Italian sonnet form and a great many of these are love poems addressed to a woman named Laura. And of course, the jokey love resolution at the end of this on it is that Laura tells Petrarch to stop writing for heaven's sakes put down the pen.

The implied joke is that all Petrarch does is write love sonnets. He never gets around to making any kind of real love.

I also like the 13th line to take off those crazy medieval tights. Here's a picture of a fellow in the typical medieval dress in Italy in the 14th-century men would typically dress like this.

sonnet-by-billy-collins-analysis


It seems odd to us today and Billy Collins jokes around with that idea when he has Laura tell Petrarch to put down his pin take off those crazy medieval tights blow out the lights and come at last to bed.

Thus resolving the poem humorously but in a typical love the satisfying style of a real Petrarchan sonnet.

This sonnet is largely a parody of a Petrarchan sonnet. One parodic element is that Petrarch love for Laura was spiritual rather than physical.

We don't know much about her but she was someone he saw in church. He was thoroughly smitten with her and he wrote all these love sonnets but Petrarch never actually had a relationship with Laura. His sonnets aren't about physical love they're about platonic love and spiritual mingling and all that sort of thing.

So when Billy Collins has them jumping into bed at the end it's a joke. it's a parody of what really happens in a Petrarchan sonnet.
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