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14-the number of lines in a traditional sonnet

While Shakespeare did not “invent” the sonnet, he wrote 154, with themes of mortality, love time and beauty. A collection was first published in 1609.

A Shakespearean sonnet has a standard format of 14 lines in total. 3 quatrains of 4 lines each ending off with a rhyming couplet.

When I first read a sonnet by Shakespeare, I added the phrase “iambic pentameter” to my vocabulary and knew then that I wanted to be a poet!

I learned that structure and poetic thought sometimes don’t match up in my mind, and I become fonder of the less traditional sonnet-with the number of lines ranging from 16-18.

This past week marked the passing of my father-October 7, 2002-and I wanted to remember him with a sonnet often used to celebrate the life of a loved one who has passed.  It has a fascinating history-

Do not stand at my grave and weep” is a consoling elegy with a mysterious genesis, as it was written by Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004), a Baltimore housewife who lacked a formal education, having been orphaned at age three. She had never written poetry before. Frye wrote the poem on a ripped-off piece of a brown grocery bag, in a burst of compassion for a Jewish girl who had fled the Holocaust only to receive news that her mother had died in Germany. The girl was weeping inconsolably because she couldn’t visit her mother’s grave to share her tears of love and bereavement.

I love that the words of the sonnet were in this woman’s heart and mind and she had to grab whatever was handy to get them on paper.

I hope you enjoy it and forgive my diversion from the number 14 to share this 12 line modern sonnet.

Do not stand at my grave and weep

By Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep:

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft starshine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry:

I am not there; I did not die.