I know I don’t have time to write you now. A Sonnet.

In belated honor of Presidents’ Day, we collaborated with our friends last night to write a sonnet as though it were written by George Washington to his wife Martha in the year 1775.

The idea came from some great lesson plan resources I found at the Mount Vernon website.

Here is the basic idea for this particular creative experience:

  1. Read the two remaining letters from George Washington to Martha.
  2. Discuss and paraphrase them
  3. Write a sonnet

What? You don’t remember what a sonnet is? Gosh!

We didn’t really either.  Ryan did – mostly – but he was an English major. You should have seen Nathan’s face when I suggested writing a sonnet.  *big eyes * gulp * “Oh dear, I’m not ready for this!” *

Sonnet review:

  • Sonnets are romantic rhyming poems with 14 lines
  • The 14 lines are in four groupings: 4 lines + 4 lines + 4 lines + 2 lines
  • The emphasis pattern of each line is da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM
  • The rhyme pattern is, typically,abab cdcd efef gg

I’ve jotted down a skeleton example of the rhyming scheme.  If you can fill in words to make it a complete sonnet, you definitely win the prize (yet to be determined).

… … peach
… … cup
… … reach
… … up

… … love
… … blind
… … dove
… … kind

… … drive
… … sleep
… … a live
… … jeep

… … blue
… … hue

This process was so fun and interesting for several reasons.

"General George Washington at Trenton," oil on canvas, by the American artist John Trumbull.

One, I’ve never read these letters from George Washington.  It was fascinating to see the words that he used and to compare it to the style of language that is common today. The language of the founding fathers seems so very sophisticated.  I also thought it was interesting to compare Washington’s sentiments about being the nation’s leader with the bold campaign rhetoric we cannot ignor these days.  Here are some snippets:

My Dearest,

I am now set down to write to you on a subject which fills me with inexpressable concern—and this concern is greatly aggravated and Increased when I reflect on the uneasiness I know it will give you—It has been determined by Congress, that the whole Army raised for the defence of the American Cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the Command of it. You may beleive me my dear Patcy, when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment I have used every endeavour in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the Family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too far great for my Capacity and that I should enjoy more real happiness and felicity in one month with you, at home, than I have the most distant prospect of reaping abroad, if my stay was to be Seven times Seven years…
…I shall rely therefore, confidently, on that Providence which has heretofore preservd, & been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return safe to you in the fall—I shall feel no pain from the Toil, or the danger of the Campaign—My unhappiness will flow, from the uneasiness I know you will feel at being left alone—I therefore beg of you to summon your whole fortitude & Resolution, and pass your time as agreeably as possible—nothing will give me so much sincere satisfaction as to hear this, and to hear it from your own Pen…
…In short, my earnest, & ardent desire is, that you would pursue any Plan that is most likely to produce content, and a tolerable degree of Tranquility as it must add greatly to my uneasy feelings to hear that you are dissatisfied, and complaining at what I really could not avoid…
…I have, since I came to this place (for I had not time to do it before I left home) got Colo. Pendleton to Draft a Will for me by the directions which I gave him, which Will I now Inclose [5]—The Provision made for you, in cas<e> of my death, will, I hope, be agreeable.

-George Washington to Martha Washington, June 18th, 1775

Mezzotint of Martha Washington made by John Folwell, drawn by W. Oliver Stone after the original by John Wollaston, painted in 1757

Over the course of about an hour, the four of us adults collaborated to create this sonnet:

“I know I don’t have time to write you now”
a Sonnet by Ryan and Elisabeth Smith and Nathan and Naomi Bird
February 26, 2012

I know I don’t have time to write you now

I leave for Boston soon, but will take time

My ink will drip a line to tell you how

No time nor space from us could rend this rhyme


The call of duty has required me

To leave my love’s embrace and journey toward

A country’s birth to save a people’s dream

Yadda yadda hope you won’t be bored


Arrangements have been made to see you through

This time apart if it be short or long

Please fill your days with many things to do

The news of such will fill my heart with song


Though all these things will likely make you cry

I want you to be happy if I die


Follow this link to view or download the lesson plan for yourself: From George to Martha pdf

This really was such a fun activity. We all felt our brains being stretched and our creative juices being squeezed.

Happy belated Presidents’ Day.  And Happy Arting!


By Naomi Bird

Wife of tenor Nathan Bird, pianist, organist, former music therapist, writer, tea-drinker, mom of two mini-sopranos and two mini-tenors, and learner of loving the arts.


  1. Here is my sonnet, Naomi 🙂

    A Sonnet Challenge – My First Sonnet

    I caress and behold this lovely PEACH.
    Intoxicated, inhaling the aroma in my CUP.
    Swooning of the one just beyond my REACH.
    Oh bum! – I was sleeping, I just woke UP!

    Run to me, run to me, oh my LOVE.
    To anything but your devotion I’m BLIND.
    Fly to me, fly to me, like a DOVE.
    To me, my sweet, you are one of a KIND.

    Along the shore of the ocean we DRIVE.
    To a beach of perfection, to snog and to SLEEP.
    Then awake, awake, awake! – We’re ALIVE!
    Ahhhh – Crusing the winding roads in my JEEP.

    Oh, the skies, your eyes, so deeply BLUE.
    I am lost, so lost, very lost, in their HUE!

    1. Joanne! You ROCK!! and you totally made my day!
      I love it! I will contact you about sending a prize, which is still yet to be determined, but you definitely deserve it 🙂
      Thank you so much for contributing. Have a splendid Thursday.

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