I often have wondered why poets lock themselves into the constraints of certain poetic forms, particulary sonnets. They are so hard to write, yet the best poets have done so, from Shakespeare to Robert Frost. Consider the difficulties imposed by the Shakespearean sonnet:
- The sonnet must have 14 lines.
- Those 14 lines must be divided into two or three parts: the first part is always 8 lines and the second part is either 6 lines or a combination of 4 lines plus a final couplet.
- A sonnet must follow a rigorous rhyme pattern: a b a b, c d c d, e f e f, g g.
- Each line of the sonnet must have ten beats.
- For each of line, the second, fourth, sixth, eighth and tenth beat must be stressed (iambic pentameter).
- In the first 8 lines the poet states a problem or a situation; in the second four lines the poet offers a solution or a different perspective; and in the final couplet, if there is one, the poet offers a surprise.
Phew! Why would any writer box himself in to such a strict format?
It has to do with creativity. Research has shown that real breakthroughs in creativity occur right after the poet / thinker is stumped and gives up. It’s too hard! I can’t do this! I give up. And then the poet sleeps on it or drinks on it or walks his dog and voila! Out of nowhere (it seems) comes the solution, and not just any solution but the perfect solution. This is that lightbulb moment depicted in cartoons.
Problem leads to frustration leads to giving up leads to subconscious making connections leads to eureka.
With a devilish form like the sonnet, the poet is forced to turn his brains inside and out, churning outrageous ideas before the answer sneaks up, seemingly out of the blue. Without the difficulty of the sonnet form, the mastery of language, rhythm, rhyme and idea would not fuse into a gorgeous whole.
And that is why poets write sonnets.