Thus From My Lips

Romeo and Juliet

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2

What Will Not Be Spoken

by Rodney Jones

Because I had this faint memory of the thought
of a taste in my mouth and could not name it

I went through school sad I could not say it
if I had swallowed it or was it even edible

maybe I was too young when I first had it
I did not know the word yet though the taste stayed

as I grew older some nights I could nearly
describe it and would put my tongue to chalk

and paraffin and iodine and go into grocery stores
sniffing along every aisle thinking I would find it

but I did not find it until one day when
I was not looking there it was for an instant

it came to me I said it so I would remember
though in time I forgot that is why now I write


I think the official answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare write is 154, but I object!   History confirms there were two separate volumes of Shakespeare’s sonnets published, one in 1609 and one in 1640, both contain 154 sonnets so its easy to explain that answer.  I have two issues with the proclamation that 154 is correct.  First – the sonnet structure is deployed throughout his plays, either in full or in part, time and again.  If we include the sonnets contained within the 38 plays that Shakespeare wrote, it would add extensively to that list.  And second, why do we believe that the 154 sonnets that were published are the only ones he wrote?   Unlike his plays, in which many copies were published, edited and made public so they could be performed,  there is evidence that the publishing of his sonnets in 1609 was done without his consent.  The first edition was littered with errors, some of which have remained,  which suggest he was not directly involved in oversight of its publishing.  The sonnets content and  in some cases the casual nature of the writing, although brilliant but not polished suggest these were private poems intended for his lover, lovers or friends.  And because some of the content suggests he may have been bi-sexual and that if proven,  could have landed him in prison adds further evidence that he may not have intended for the sonnets to have been made public.   

But do we honestly believe that the 154 that were published are all the sonnets that Shakespeare wrote if these were private missives not intended for the public’s eyes and ears?  Maybe these poems were his way of satisfying his fantasies privately and he never wanted them to be shared.  Or, as prolific a writer as Shakespeare, maybe there were far more than 154 sonnets hidden about under pillows some place in England over his lifetime.   

Anyone who writes sonnets can tell you part of the reason they write them is they are ONLY 14 lines.  Sonnets still require a fair amount of work, but you aren’t writing Hamlet.  I write sonnets as play,  in part because I know if I get sick of the poem I am working on, I can quit, discard it and it isn’t like I have wasted six months on a draft of a screenplay I now hate.  I have a feeling that Shakespeare wrote sonnets as a way to relax and possibly as a way to not discard some ideas that maybe didn’t fit into the play he was writing at the time.  I think he wrote sonnets because he knew those he shared them with would enjoy them.  He may have written them to get laid.  And because poetry can have that desired effect on romance, my guess is its entirely possible that some of his best poetry died with the lucky lover who received it and no copy was left lying around to be discovered by whatever means the publisher acquired them. Regardless of what you believe about the conspiracy theories regarding the work attributed to Shakespeare possibly being penned by himself and others, despite no direct evidence that Shakespeare did not author everything attributed to him, it feels like the true answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare(s) write  – is a lot.  

One of the reasons that Shakespeare included the rhyme and meter of sonnets in portions of his plays are that 10 syllables is about what most people can say comfortably and project loudly in a theater on stage without taking a breath and second rhyme helps actors remember their lines.  The lines from this section of Romeo and Juliet below are 14 lines, with a rhyming convention of ababcdcdeef(e like)fg.  Is it a sonnet?  I think so but I am one to bend the rules a bit on what is and isn’t a sonnet. 

How would you classify the poem above by Rodney Jones?  All the lines have 10, 11 or 12 syllables, its fourteen lines long, but is it a sonnet? There is no rhyme at all, its certainly not a traditional sonnet, but how you interpret its construction depends on how you think about the influence of sonnets on poetry over time.  I offer these two poems up as evidence to the question as to how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in his lifetime?  You decide….  Have you ever sat down and read all 154 in a row in one sitting?  If you have, what jumped out at you as you progressed through the most famous sonnets of all time?  


Romeo and Juliet (Act 1, Scene 5, line 104)

by William Shakespeare

Juliet
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this:
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
Romeo
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Juliet
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in pray’r.
Romeo
O then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do,
They pray—grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Juliet
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
Romeo
Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take.
(Kisses her)
Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purg’d.
Juliet
Then have my lips the sin that they have took.
Romeo
Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urg’d!
Give me my sin again.

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A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. I am pleased to offer Fourteenlines as an ad and cookie free poetry resource, to allow the poetry to be presented on its own without distractions. Fourteenlines is a testament to the power of the written word, for anyone wanting a little more poetry in their life.

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