Sonnets from Shanghai

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Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

My curator and fellow CFR contributor, Roger Armbrust is one of the most prolific sonnet writers that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, publishing over 1,200 on his blog and at reality: a world of views since 2007, in addition to two books of sonnets, oh, touch me there: love sonnets and The Aesthetic Astronaut. It’s with him in mind that I decided to have my students engage with the form, bribing them with bonus points and candy for the top sonnets in each class.

In some cases, choosing the best poems was an easy decision. Some of the students were more adept than others at following the conventions of the form (whether Spenserian, Shakespearean, or Petrarchan), and I’ve discovered that anything above and beyond the bare minimum of following instructions for these kids is a win. Some of the sonnets that made it to the top did so solely because their authors were lazy–choosing monosyllabic words over longer ones because they found it easier to find the rhyme with the former. I must admit that explaining rhyme hadn’t entered my mind as a difficulty before this assignment. Having gone through it though, I would recommend to any other ESL teachers working with poetry not to neglect it. It’s easy to us, and it may even be easy for younger kids learning English, but the older ones have a bit of trouble hearing the difference.

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Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser

For these sonnets, the assignment was as stripped-down as I could make it. I took out the rhythm component in order to make it easier to comprehend. I figured that if I, as an undergraduate student in English literature, had problems with meter, then they would probably have an even worse time. The instructions were simple: it must be 14 lines, it must following one of the rhyme schemes from the forms above, and it should include a problem and a resulting turn. You can be the judge of how well these stack up to those requirements.

Here then are the top three sonnets for each of my four classes. They are in order–the first three are from class A, the next three from class B, and so on. See if you can tell if any of the classes benefit from having better English speakers and writers than the others.

Protect Your Heart (Spenserian)
by Crystal
Remember the heavy rain on the night of Halloween
The jet lag I overcame to keep you company
Remember I was shivering because of the biting wind
The pasta you promise that you would make for me
The overwhelming feeling is not my fancy
Your bright smile lights up my whole world.
All these memories become the thousand pages in my diary
Your big hands warm me up in the cold.
Shimmering butterflies witness the oath like gold
And also these care and concern from the tender sound
But one day suddenly we do not say hello on the road
All the ups and downs make my head spin around
So protect your heart, your are Crystal in the rough
No longer take the pain since you have had enough

Point of No Return (Spenserian)
by Carver
You know, I really miss you,
It’s raining outside every day.
Wait, I think I forget something new,
OH, that’s moon’s ray.
Yes. No way,
Pass the point of no return.
In this confused May,
Just let my heart burn.
So I hope in the next turn,
Remember to give you birthday cake full of cream.
Now our love maybe comes into the urn,
My heart starts to scream.
I think I mustn’t give up.
So just let me pour the rest of loving wine into your cup.

Rewind (Petrarchan)
by Jessie
When I walked on that unending road
Views and feelings recalled the days with you
The painting hung in our bedroom captured a subtle hue
It’s too bad that those sweet dreams are now dead cold
Rain poured down like a satirical show
An almost unbearable loneliness prompted me to start something new
Trying my best to prevent the fleeting beauty of us from going mute
Your residual heat was fading away from that pink bow
No longer wanted to be tangled by those memories
But your indistinct back under the gleam of the moon
Blocked my words and pushed me back into the gloom
I wish I could rewind those enchanting melodies
I’ll recompose them and create a brand new move
Regardless of the past or the future, I always covet your heart could return

Drowning (Spenserian)
by Rena
I was drowning in your eyes
As I saw you for the first time
You just stole my heart like a spy
Even though I knew my love wouldn’t worth a dime
I felt like I swallowed a lime
When you started smiling toward that girl
I was covered by dust rime
And she was the brightest pearl
I’m living in a world of whirl
Trying to escape from your charm
No matter how the road curl
I will take this as my alarm
I will leave you by myself
And one day I will find my own elf

Living (Shakespearean)
by Promise
Where will you live after one thousand years?
The earth we live is bad.
And the human close their eyes and ears.
I still remember the original earth we had.

LIsten, the animals giggle loudly.
See, the plants were lush.
Listen, the birds sing lightly.
See, the air and the water were fresh.

The darkness covered the land.
The fresh water that fish has is its tears.
When the life’s of fresh air end.
Where will you live after one thousand years?

The universe? The spark? Or the earth?
We only have one earth.

Untitled (Shakespearean)
by Charles
Have desire
Have pain
Set me on fire
Then freeze me again
You are the sunshine
And dominate my right
You told me to have a try
But seem like walking in midnight
I don’t know where’s the end of this road
Just on your leading way
I don’t know whether my soul will be sold
Just care about what you say
When I finally land your land
I find my name curve on your back hand

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Just a Dream (Spenserian)
by Jeffrey
A robot with unbelievable stature, steps towards me,
With arm turning to an energy blade, swipes and swipes.
Frightened, frightened, frightened, is there a miracle help me defeat?
Combating a monster at that size.

After so many sins that I have done as an evil knight,
The day, the final day, no, the final minute that I can spend.
Doesn’t help, I reckon, jewels are not what can used to fight,
When finding nothing else in my treasure box, but shining gems.

Without any motion but just to clench,
Feeling contrite about what I did, in avoidance of dreary days.
Gazing at its bloody eyes, which impairs my normal sense.
Knowing that death is so much close, I eventually lose my final faith.

My life has gone to the very end, when hearing of that frightening bell,
Sudden glare before my eyes, it’s already a quarter to twelve.

Flies (Shakespearean)
by Frank
There are flies chasing after the light,
Enjoying their big feast
There are humans wandering in the night,
Acting like a sick beast.

They all eat, drink and suck,
Suck what they need out of the demon.
Buzz and murmur blended in the dark,
What makes a human a human?

“It’s the spirit!” someone called out aloud,
Lying beneath the spirit is innate desire,
Blinding their eyes with a thick cloud,
Burning their hearts with inviting fire.

Oh, we are just copies of each other,
My dear dear brother.

Life (Spenserian)
by Charlotte
There is a mature girl in the uniform
Which is black and white
Life is short
There is no colour or light

There is a childish panjandrum playing with the kite
Which is sapphire and cream
Life is of limited time
There is only pride and greed

There is a contemplative graybeard looking at the hand-held sheet
Which is marked in red
Life is a deep sea
There have no loss or get

Life is a wish, memory and magnanimousness
Just enjoy this moment’s kiss

Magical Love (Shakespearean)
by Lucy
Actually love is a very magical thing.
To different people, it will become different;
To couple, it becomes the sweet feeling;
To friends, it becomes the encouragement.

Father’s love just like the dark knight;
It can not be expressed or perceived easily.
Mother’s love just like the warm sunlight;
It can cure our physical and mental hurt tenderly.

Love is too difficult for me to hear its sound.
Sometimes it is so crazy and hysteric;
Sometimes it is so silent and profound;
Sometimes it is so beautiful and mystic.

Love is so arcane and various;
Who can tell me what its true colors is.

Hope (Petrarchan)
by Ben
You always think that you can live because you have strong feet
Look at yourself, look at your life.
You cannot enjoy everything when you fight.
If you lose your life, you must quiet when you can oversee.

Sometimes you feel some troubles because you can foresee.
As a man, you should stop to cry.
You haven’t abandoned in the light.
You can make a decision in the major scene.

Look, the hope of light is over here.
When you touch it, don’t open your mouth.
Because it is your spirit wealth.

You will be changed and you never fear.
The train will come and bring you to south.
Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, if you not get on it, I will go far.

WARRIORS (Shakespearean)
by Chris
Every night in my dreams
I see you
Every night in my dreams
I feel you
Located in San Francisco, you are the Golden State Warriors
All you guys make the competition exciting
In my eyes Warriors is grandness
Hope you guys keep fighting
Curry you are the MVP player
You can pass the ball unsearchable
The most hard working team, just like a warrior
Make the competition enjoyable
This is Warriors, fight for your dreams, just do it
This is Warriors, Fight for the championship, just do it!

Petrarch
Petrarch

In case you were wondering, yes he did take the beginning of that last poem from Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”.

I will be leaving Shanghai on Sunday, so I should be (barring any disasters) back in the south by the time this is published. I’ll spend the summer in Arkansas, seeing friends and visiting family, attending professional development and working on some fiction and business interests. I’ll continue to publish through the summer, but I suspect my work may turn more towards the southern than the Shanghai.

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James Wilson is a writer and educator from Little Rock, Arkansas. He is currently working as a literature teacher in an international high school in Shanghai. His previous international travel has taken him across Europe and parts of Asia, including Korea where he cut his teeth teaching English as a Second Language. He sometimes tweets from @TatumSmash.