Week one is finished, and Sonnet I is duly memorised (mostly – I stumbled over a verb this morning). I’ve learnt some interesting things, and some might prove useful further down the track.
Thing 1: I don’t like reading sonnets in italics on a computer screen. In my previous post, I linked to the Shakespeare Sonnets site, and it is a very useful site for many other things. However, I found that reading the sonnet there made no impression on my brain. I don’t know if it’s the computer, or the italics, but I do suspect that the font has something to do with it. Instead, reading the sonnet in my
all-you-can-eat Everyman Complete Shakespeare made much more sense to me, despite the small print.
Thing 2: Knowing what you’re saying/repeating helps the learning process. This might not appear to be new and enlightening, but often when teaching, one tells the students to learn things even if they don’t understand, and that understanding can come later. I did not immediately understand this sonnet (see above, under Thing 1), so the first couple of times when reading it out loud, I didn’t know where to put emphasis, which in turn meant that meanings remained unclear. This is where the Shakespeare Sonnets site proved most useful. Figuring out what Bill was going on about meant I could make sense of the rhythm of the poem, and so it became easier to remember.
Thing 3: Breaking it down into small bits helps. If you glance at the photo below, you will see that I broke the sonnet up into four-line chunks. Then I repeated the first quartet, then the first and second, and then the first, second, and third. It’s no good learning the quartets separately, as you will have random lines floating around in your head, unattached. If, however, you’ve memorised it in this way, building up, then with a good run-up, you should be able to get through the whole poem. (Iambic pentameter’s a nuisance for getting bits of “Hamlet” into “Much Ado About Nothing”.)
Thing 4: Repetition, repetition, repetition. This is another “goes without saying” point, but it’s worth being made. I failed in this, this week. Having written the sonnet into my notebook, I didn’t re-write it, and I didn’t stick it up anywhere useful, where I’d see it regularly – until I put it on the window-sill over the sink: how to kill two birds with one stone. I got the first quartet memorised pretty quickly, by re-reading it, and going over it in my head at night, on the first night. Then, I left the poem in a closed notebook, which was not the right way to do things.
Thing 5: Caspian doesn’t like Shakespeare. I haven’t actually worked out what my cat’s objection is yet, but when he was on my lap, and I was reciting out loud, there was distinct displeasure. I’m not sure if it was a) Shakespeare; b) sonnets; or c) this particular sonnet, which has some strange consonantal clusters.
Shakespeare, Sonnet One
Tune in next week, for Sonnet II, and hopefully more enlightenment!