Pippa Roberts’s Sonnet – from the Dark Lady of the Sonnets

In Response to Will Shakespeare’s Sonnet No.CXLVII, And Many Others, Written about Me

Indeed… my skin is black, or “coloured ill”,
And nothing in myself can ever please
A jealous soul, like yours. You hold me still –
And yet you see me as a dread disease!
Your reason once did lead you to approve
My every gesture, every word. You kept
Me safe within a web of gentle love
Which I, rebellious soul, was moved to accept.
But now that you, for “reason’s” sake can’t care,
And think I am the cause of your unrest;
You – lost to love – as all good white men are
Will warp with “reason” what I have expressed.
It seems to me that your white skin holds night
And my black skin still keeps the gentle light.


I don’t usually post my poems here, as I wait to publish them, but this was written specifically for a competition which required ‘a sonnet in response to Shakespeare’, and I don’t know where else to send it. There is a response to all his thoughts, in every line, and the form is a classical Shakespearean sonnet. It was disqualified, like many others, because it was traditional, even though it was a perfectly valid interpretation of what they were asking for.

Where does this come from? I know Hopkins wrote a curtal sonnet (invented by him), but it didn’t say ‘curtal sonnet’ in the competition guidelines. Don Paterson writes sonnets, but thoroughly understands the form and uses it well.

Interestingly a friend has just told me she had the same experience when she entered a haiku into a competition. Again the judge poured scorn on people who had written ‘traditional haikus’.

Please – you devisers of competitions… do give us a better idea of what you want, and what will be disqualified. Otherwise it becomes just a matter of who is ‘in the know’.