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Page history last edited by Hansang Lee 15 years, 8 months ago


by Billy Collins (1999)


All we need is fourteen lines, well, 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 ends of lines,

one for every station of the cross.

But hang on here wile 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.


  1. In this particular poem, Collins chooses not to employ any meter or rhyme that is necessary for a sonnet. In fact, if the poem were not composed of 14 lines and had not the speaker and the title indicated to us that this poem is a sonnet, it would be almost impossible to figure out whether this is a sonnet or not. In that sense, the poet manages to convey his idea of sonnets more emphatically by creating a sonnet devoid of form which is a perfect example of his idea of a sonnet that is bound neither by form, rhyme nor meter.

Comments (3)

Peter Zhao said

at 6:41 pm on Oct 21, 2008

The poem has fourteen lines, and that is the only traditional characteristic of a sonnet that this poem demonstrates. It does not have any rhyme scheme and is not written in iambic pentameter, both of which are essential components of sonnets. Although the structure of this poem matches neither Italian nor English, based on what was said in the poem (direct references to Petrarch and the turn in lines 9 and 12), this poem is closest to an Italian sonnet. This nonconventional structure contributes a lot to the overall message of the poem. The author tells us in the first line that it was his intention to write this poem as a sonnet, saying all he needs is another thirteen lines after the first line. From counting down the number of lines that are left to belittling the traditional aspects of sonnets (saying how easy it is write without rhyme or meter, mocking iambic pentameter as a bongo, stating the turn to the reader directly) the author seems to have a very sarcastic tone towards the long-established writing style of sonnets. The structure really enforces this neglectful tone for conventional sonnet writing because the author himself ignores the traditional methods, such as rhyme, meter, and even the turn in line 9 (which would not have been a turn had he not directly said "turn"). It seems as if the author is saying to the reader “I can write an Italian sonnet, without obeying fixed rules.” With this structure along with the context of what was discussed in the poem, the poem seems to express a very modernistic view that poetry does not have to abide by standards and that it is meant to be written with unconditional freedom and without limitations.

Jieun Jun said

at 10:22 pm on Oct 21, 2008

The content of this poem refers to the traditional elements of an Italian sonnet in terms of rhyme scheme, iambic meter, and an announced 8-6 division. However, the fact that it does not incorporate these characteristics produces a strong hint of parody. Written in postmodern era of 21 century, this poem reflects some key aspects of a modern society such as a pursuit for individuality, freedom, and social chaos. The poem intentionally does not adhere to the archetype of a sonnet, nonchalantly and perhaps mockingly describing its elements with phrases "iambic bongos," "Petrarch" with "crazy medieval tights," "All we need is fourteen lines," and a common theme of love (line 3) . Collins writes "Sonnet" without the defining elements of a sonnet. The poem makes connections to the traditional literay materials from a postmodern perspective by using colloquial language and somewhat detached emotions.

nomeaku@... said

at 11:37 pm on Oct 21, 2008

The ultimate goal of the poem is to illustrate the author's belief that rhyme and meter are not necessary attributes of a sonnet. The sonnet is the form of poetry that is most heavily influenced by tradition and structure. So, when there are so many rules and regulations devised for creating something, it makes it even easier to break out of the everyday conventions and diverge from the already pre-determined path, which is the poet's primary purpose.

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