Shakespeare’s Favorite Poems


hey, welcome to 12tone! shall I compare thee
to a summer’s day? thou art more lovely and more temperate. rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
and summer’s lease hath all too short a date. that’s the beginning of William Shakespeare’s
Sonnet 18, probably one of the most famous poems ever written, even if many people only
know the first line. but this is a music channel, why are we talking
about poetry? well, poetry and music are actually pretty
closely related. writing a good poem requires a deep understanding
of sounds and rhythms. it’s like writing a song, except your instrument
is language. plus it helps if you’re writing lyrics, but
even if you’re not, learning poetry makes you a better musician, so today I want to
look at one of the most famous traditional forms, the sonnet. the first thing we need to consider here is
the meter. this is the underlying pulse that everything is built on top of. in music, this
is easy, because someone is usually playing that pulse, but poetry doesn’t have a backing
band. if a poet wants rhythm, they have to make
it themselves, and to do that they turn to the only tool they’ve got: words. humans don’t naturally speak in monotone. we accent certain parts of the words we’re
saying, like I just did with “parts”, “words”, and “say”. poets weaponize this natural tendency, carefully
arranging their words so that rhythms appear just by reading them out loud. this is the main difference between poetry
and normal writing. a novelist doesn’t really care where the emphasis
falls, and their prose tend not to have any cohesive structure to them. a poet, on the other hand, cares deeply, and
in order to describe the rhythms they create, we’ve developed a system that we call feet. a foot is a short repeating pattern of accents,
almost like a time signature but for words. there’s lots of different kinds, and we’ve
covered them before, but the important one for our discussion of sonnets is the iamb,
which is two syllables with the accent on the second one, like “hello”, “goodbye”, or
“explode”. compare those to the other main two-syllable
foot, the trochee, which puts the stressed syllable first, like “summer”, “music”, or
“12tone”. as a brief aside, when I talk about the importance
of meter, I’m talking specifically about western poetic traditions. other kinds of poetry, most famously the haiku,
get their structure in different ways, but in European poetry, meter is king. anyway, back to the point. most english-language sonnets are written
in what’s called iambic pentameter, which sounds scary but actually just means that
each line is made up of five iambs, like “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”. notice that sometimes the foot can stretch
across words, so even though “summer” is a trochee, it combines with “a” and “day” to
form two iambs instead. the other important part of poetry is rhyme,
and here, sonnets get much more complicated. there’s a general agreement that sonnets are
14 lines long, but there’s a couple different ways to fill them in. the simplest one is probably the Shakespearian
sonnet, which breaks it into three groups of 4 lines with an extra two at the end. a group of four lines is called a quatrain,
and each quatrain has the rhyme scheme ABAB, meaning that the first line rhymes with the
third and the second rhymes with the fourth. if we look back at Sonnet 18, we see “summer’s
day” rhyming with “month of may” and “too short a date” rhyming with “more temperate”,
at least if you pronounce it like Shakespeare would’ve. the Shakespearian sonnet features three of
these quatrains, each with its own set of endings, and then wraps up with a couplet,
which is just two lines that rhyme. in sonnet 18, we have “So long as men can breathe, or
eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” this final couplet helps
wrap things up and signals the end of the poem. but that’s not the only rhyme scheme you might
find in a sonnet. one of my favorites is the Spenserian sonnet, which is a lot like the
Shakespearian sonnet, but a little more connected. each of the quatrains still takes the form
ABAB, but in addition to that, the first line also rhymes with the last line of the previous
quatrain. so, if Sonnet 18 were a Spenserian sonnet,
the first and third lines of the second quatrain would have to rhyme with “date”. but those are pretty similar, and they’re
both relative newcomers: the earliest known sonnets weren’t English, they were Italian,
and these are best exemplified by the poet Petrarch. Petrarchan sonnets have a somewhat more involved
form. the first 8 lines are combined into one giant
rhyme scheme called an octave, which means something completely different to poets than
it does to musicians. in a Petrarchan sonnet, the octave always
has the rhyme scheme ABBAABBA, which means… well, it’s kind of like a couplet sandwich:
you’ve got this couplet in the middle, in between two more couplets that also rhyme
with each other, all stuck in the middle of one last couplet that rhymes with our first
one. if that sounds confusing, don’t worry: all
that matters here is that the 8 lines are all connected. the second half is what’s known as the sestet,
which covers the remaining 6 lines. here, the structure is looser. sometimes they
have two rhymes, like the form CDCDCD, and sometimes they have three, like CDECDE. there’s no hard and fast rules as to how this
part should be arranged, although technically you’re not supposed to end with a couplet. people did it anyway, though, ’cause poets
are the original punk rockers. this sudden change in rhyme scheme brings
up an important structural element in sonnets: the turn, or volta. sonnets are usually divided into two parts,
with a sudden thematic shift marked by a change in sections. in Sonnet 18, that change occurs between the
second and third quatrains: the first part describes the subject as beautiful in the
moment, but the line “And every fair from fair sometime declines” tells us that beauty
is impermanent. however, at the start of the third quatrain,
we get the line “But thy eternal summer shall not fade” and from there on out, the subject
and their beauty become immortalized by the poem itself. the volta is most commonly found in the ninth
line, especially in Petrarchan sonnets since that’s where we switch to the sestet, but
it can go anywhere, at least in theory. you can even leave it out, if you’re feeling
especially punk rock. sonnets can be an interesting challenge because
they force you to think about language in ways you may not be used to. they have enough structure to them to guide
you through the process, but there’s still enough freedom to allow for a wide range of
expression. they can be difficult, but they’re great practice
and besides, they’re just fun. anyway, thanks for watching! if you want to
help make these videos possible, please consider supporting 12tone on Patreon or checking out
our store. you can also join our mailing list to find
out about new episodes, like, share, comment, subscribe, and keep on rockin’.

37 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s Favorite Poems

  1. Thank you for recapping 11th grade English. Didn't care about it back then, but it's pretty rad now that I give a damned about things.

  2. Good video that shows that to improve your music, you also must look at other arts. Not just listen to a lot of music and hope that you will improve (though it is a good methode), but also see how other arts are structured and how you can you can apply that structure to music.

  3. Great video! You managed to make poetry actually interesting.

    But we better see more music videos 😉

  4. There is also such thing as "Crown of sonnets". It's 14 sonnets linked together so that last line of a previous sonnet is a first line of a next one. And the last line of last sonnet is a first line of a first sonnet. And there is 15'th sonnet made up of this repeated lines! "Corona astralis" by Maximilian Voloshin is an example of stunning beauty and complexity of such poetic form.

  5. Dude, I want to hear you sing. I'm putting together the Youtube Super Group. You'll sing. Samurai Guitarist on guitar. Adam Neeley on bass. Moot Booxlé on keys. Still looking for a drummer though. You said you used to sing metal so come on man, sing!

  6. There's also the German sonnet, which is similar to the Petrarchan sonnet, except the octave is split into two quatrains and the sestet is split into two triplets.

    There's also the French sonnet, which has pretty much the same rhyme scheme as the German sonnet, but the French count syllables instead of feet (because their language doesn't really have stressed syllables), so each line is 12 syllables long, usually in two groups of six.

  7. Great video! Great to hear about things like music (poetry in this case) to help strengthen or inspire music in the musician.

  8. As usual, an excellent video. Though now my mind is flooded with potential first musical lines to set Sonnet 18 to music. I'm sure it's been done already, but I'm always on the lookout for favourite "lyrics" as I'd love to write something – almost anything! – to make it sound even more lyrical. Thank you!

  9. Could you, way off-topic, parody this video by overdubbing a funny narrative about your drawings. silly me.

  10. Great video! I'd like to note that ordinary language is metrical as well. Poetry uses the metricality already in language to build pretty objects/rhythms… sort of like building cathedrals out of Lego! 😀 (bad metaphor?)

    Modern phonologists (since the late 80s / early 90s) actually use feet and other metrical/prosodic categories (such as moras, which are important to haiku) in their analysis of languages' sound systems. Metrical structure is quite core to the phonologies of the world's languages (in fact, even sign languages have metrical structure (and poetry) that is very similar to that of spoken languages).

  11. A lovely and informative video as always! Really clear about the sonnet structure. However, I feel like it generalises a bit much about meter and rhyme, given that most poetry in the last 100 years hasn't used those much. Rhythm and sound are still vital, but in most modern poetry the rhythm is more like a free jazz solo or Stravinsky than a marching band of iambs and trochees. Given the way that 12 tone goes well beyond traditional functional theory, I'd like to think that this is just the start of a series that looks at how poetry brings out the musicality of language in the broadest sense 🙂

  12. How would you go about turning the words of a sonnet into the lyrics of a functional song? Is there a 1:1 meter exchange between poetry and music or is it less defined and leaves more room for interpretation?

  13. Sweet video! Are there any educational Youtube channels that focus primarily on poetry? thanks

  14. Were you trying to draw the Mandelbrot set at 3:27…? That just made me so happy. Thanks for this great video.

  15. As a theatre major, I applaud your knowledge of Shakespearean pronunciation. Good shit.

  16. Are you at all familiar with Leonard Bernstein's lectures at Harvard from 1973? In them he discusses the relationship between poetry and music extensively. I think you might enjoy it, although you should be prepared to devote A LOT of time to watching/listening.

    By the way yesterday was Lenny's birthday.

  17. Great video. I'd love to see more like this! I find the connection between meter and rhythm very interesting and would love to learn more. Thanks!

  18. Make a poem with 13 syllables per line with the 1st, 4th, 6th, and 12th syllables accented (3+2+6+2)

  19. in spanish we've a form of poetry called Decima wich is basically: ABBAACCDDC

  20. Dude, great video. Do you also write songs with lyrics?
    I would love some more videos about poetry, song lyrics and how they relate. Maybe you should consider starting a new series or second channel about that?

  21. I am a little late to the party, having just come across this video. But, as an English major, I was so very excited to see this on my favorite theory channel. 🙂

  22. Never heard any of that Shakespeare poem. Thought roses are red was the most well known poem.

  23. These commercials are killing me

    They’re so long

    And now it’s multiple commercials

    We’re back to TV folks

    We’ve finally come full circle

  24. It's vi Hart… But for music. How have I not heard of you before

  25. My Inner Writer: awesome, time to learn things
    My Inner Artist: shoves writer out of the way to watch lines being drawn

    I've discovered that this particular video format is not comprehensible to me due to my own short attention span.

  26. This video pretends like the last hundred years of modern poetry doesn't exist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *