Discover the 10 best Shakespeare sonnets and poems, including explanations for the rankings and links to the actual poems.
As much as I love Shakespeare’s plays, I may draw more enjoyment from his sonnets. Each one is a little poetic jewel that at times feels like an unused soliloquy. While reading a play can take some time, each of these sonnets can be read and re-read in less than a minute.
(33 lamentable words coined by Shakespeare.)
Before diving into the list, I just want to explain the form. It involves 14 lines with the following rhyme scheme: ababcdcdefefgg. The first 12 lines tend to work together on an argument that is either strengthened or twisted on its head in the final couplet. In fact, the final couplets are so profound that I’ve included them with each explanation below.
Get your poem on with these poetic forms!
In The Complete Guide of Poetic Forms: 100+ Poetic Form Definitions and Examples for Poets, Writer’s Digest’s resident poetry expert and former Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere Robert Lee Brewer showcases more than 100 poetic forms to serve as both an informative resource and inspiration for new writing!
After all, poetic forms are essentially poetic games with rules and guidelines that can help focus poets on how to get from line one to line done. This guide includes those guidelines with an example to help writers visualize how to write their own.
Plus, it offers an incredible mix of the old favorites—like the sestina, villanelle, and pantoum—with more contemporary forms—like the fib, golden shovel, and hay(na)ku.
Click to continue.
10 Best Shakespeare Sonnets Ever
So without further ado, let’s look at my top 10 list of the best Shakespearean sonnets ever. I’ve tried to find a version of each poem online. Just click the links to read.
Sonnet 18: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” If there is a meta-sonnet in the 150+ poems Shakespeare left us, it’s this one that could be directed to a loved one but could just easily be directed to the sonnet itself and eternity. Closing couplet: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this and this gives life to thee.”
Sonnet 130: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Here’s an example of a poet taking a form that is supposed to do one thing—praise its subject with a lot of sweet nothings—and subverts that purpose. And in the end, accomplishes that original goal. Closing couplet: “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare.”
Sonnet 116: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds.” Often held up as one of the greatest love poems ever written. In fact, it made our list of the 10 best love poems ever. Closing couplet: “If this be error and upon me proved, / I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”
Sonnet 104: “To me, fair friend, you never can be old.” Shakespeare touches on all the seasons in this one (using “April” instead of the actual word “spring”), but what I love is the end of the second line: “…when first your eye I eyed.” Whether intentional or not, it plays nicely with the other mentions of “three” in the poem. Closing couplet: “For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred; / Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.”
Sonnet 129: “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame.” While many of the sonnets deal with love in an emotional or psychological way, this one dives right into the depths of lust and how it tortures even as it excites. Closing couplet: “All this world well knows; yet none knows well / To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.”
Sonnet 29: “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes.” Ultimately, this is the “grass is always greener on the other side” poem, in which the poet realizes that his subject’s love makes him “wealthier” than anyone else. Closing couplet: “For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings / That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”
Sonnet 106: “When in the chronicle of wasted time.” This sonnet dives into an issue that most writers have felt at times—the inability to capture the beauty of a subject in words. Closing couplet: “For we, which now behold these present days, / Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.”
Sonnet 27: “Weary with toil, I haste to my bed.” This is the predecessor to contemporary songs of the traveling musician who thinks of a dear one while on the road. Closing couplet: “Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind / For thee and for myself no quiet find.”
Sonnet 30: “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought.” The first 12 lines of this one lay down the blues when Shakespeare thinks of his past, including the over-the-top line, “The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan.” But it turns on a dime with the final two lines. Closing couplet: “But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, / All losses are restored and sorrows end.”
Sonnet 98: “From you I have been absent in the spring.” In this sonnet, Shakespeare mentions three of the seasons (spring, summer, and winter) and even name drops April. Closing couplet: “Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away, / As with your shadow I with these did play.”
10 Best Shakespeare Sonnets and Poems by Robert Lee Brewer appeared first on Writer's Digest.