This is based on a true story – with some embellishments and anonymization. According to the first-hand eye witness, these events basically happened but with different names and stuff. Really. This is not a drill.
“Jay, I am NEVER going to be able to do this, did you finish yet?” Tim asked as he threw down his pencil.
“Hmm?” Jay looked up from his paper, lost in thought. For two 13 year old boys, they were doing pretty well focusing on their work. It was still early yet in the school year.
“This sonnet assignment. I can’t do it.” Ms Cusack’s first assignment in her 7th grade High Achievers Language Art Class had started in a frightening way for young Tim. He and his friend sat together after school in the public library, working on their assignments before winning some freedom to ride their bikes before dinner.
Jay’s reply was almost absentminded. “Oh, my sonnet is finished. I churned it out right away. Just because it’s the Shakespearean style doesn’t mean it has to be Shakespeare. Right?.”
“Ugh, how the heck did you do that? I’ve been staring at a blank piece of paper for an hour.” Tim looked at his friend incredulously.
“Just start writing rhymes, then alternate ‘em, and once you’ve got 14 lines you’re done. It doesn’t have to mean anything, you know.”
“Easy for you to say.” He looked defeated.
“Just move on to the math homework with me and finish your sonnet up later. Start with words that rhyme. That’s seriously all there is to it. Here, look at mine:”
He sighed and took the paper. Jay made it look so easy.
“Now we are in school and not at the fair,
And receive our grades again
And cut our long summer hair
These poems will make teachers grin
And when we eat in the cafeteria
From trays the color of a boat
I hope I don’t catch listeria
Or have to eat the brains of a goat….
“Good lord, Jay, I can’t even read this. Somehow this sucks and also is 10 times better than what I could come up with.” They both laughed.
“If you can’t get anywhere with it, just try it again after helping me with this math junk.”
Tim closed the folder on his English assignment and they worked on the math homework. After 20 minutes though, they ran out of the library when they saw their friend Brandon riding his bike outside through the library windows. He had promised to show them his “epic” bike jump he’d built in the woods during the summer. At the sight of the tiny pile of dirt that was supposed to function as a “ramp” Tim somehow forgot all about the Sonnet assignment.
Two days went by in the blink of a 13 year old’s eye, and somehow at the next class Tim turned in a piece of paper when class began, along with everyone else. But when he returned from the teacher’s desk to his seat near his friend, Jay noticed an odd look on his face. He sat down and blew out a breath of air as though he had just done something horrible. He must think his poem sucks, thought Jay.
The rest of the class was a mix of reading privately to themselves and occasionally discussing different poets and forms of poetry, and it seemed like Ms Cusack wanted to educate them on every English poet that ever lived. It was intensely boring and exhausting for Tim, and he hoped that the rest of the year wasn’t going to be as soporific.
Before class ended, Ms Cusack started silently walking by as they were reading something incomprehensible by John Donne; she was putting a paper face down on each student’s desk. As she came by Jay she put his sonnet face down – he reached up, and flipped it over, and saw at the top “5/10”. Well what the hell? he thought, somewhat bleakly.
“Tomorrow your assignment is to analyze your poem with our style guide, make sure you fully annotate the meter.” she said as she turned over the last paper. Tim looked like he was going to die right there. He was bright red. Then, after the teacher had moved on, he looked at his overturned paper, and Jay watched a look of shock appear on his face. Jay figured he’d gotten a similar grade. Maybe this advanced class had been a mistake?
The bell rang. Jay was trying to decide if he had a crush on the girl to his left, Maggie, and wanted to move at the right pace to leave the classroom with her, but Tim practically raced out of the classroom, and Jay was so curious he left Maggie in the dust.
Tim was practically skipping and hopping and started to laugh as Jay caught up to him in the crowded hallway. “You’re NEVER going to believe this. This is out of this world, dude.” They got to Tim’s locker first and amidst the din he said to Jay. “Dude. You can’t tell anyone.” His voice fell to a whisper. “You’ve got to see this”. He handed the piece of paper, which said
Assignment 1: Shakespearean Sonnet (8/10)
The little Love-god lying once asleep,
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vowed chaste life to keep,
Came tripping by, but in her maiden hand,
The fairest votary took up that fire,
Which many legions of true hearts had warmed,
And so the general of hot desire,
Was sleeping by a virgin hand disarmed.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by,
Which from Love’s fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy,
For men discased, but I my mistress’ thrall,
Came there for cure and this by that I prove,
Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love
She had graded Tim’s sonnet an 8/10. Jay looked up at his friend with his face screwed up in confusion. This sonnet looked weird. Impossible to read, but it had all the rhyming parts.
“You don’t get it yet do you? OH MY GOD.” Tim laughed and hit his forehead with the palm of his hand. “I didn’t write it. I couldn’t. I gave up but my parents are so crazy about me taking this class I had to turn in something.”
Jay’s face screwed up even more with confusion. “What do you mean?” He whispered and leaned in close so no one would hear their conversation. “Where did you get it? Did you cheat?”
“This is sonnet number 154, by William Shakespeare. The Bard. It’s not in our book, so I figured there was a good chance she wouldn’t recognize it. I found one of my dad’s books explaining all the sonnets, I figured I’d look through that and find something that would help me write one. This one is about a guy with a huge…” Tim looked around to make sure no one heard… “A huge DICK. so I think that’s why it wasn’t in our textbook. And she gave it an 8/10”.
They stood there in disbelief for a moment, and the laughter began, but also they each felt a deep sense of doubt and fear. Even Jay felt a sickening horror sink in; his only got a 5, raising his grade in this class seemed impossible now. How would they ever please this woman? They were late to gym class that day, and had to run an extra lap because they were tardy. It was salt on the wound.
There may come a day where I use this as an intro to a YA novel. For now it’s just a funny anecdote to exercise the ol’ writing bones. It really happened apparently.
Both young students made it through the school year.
“Ms C” never knew how she’d given the Bard basically a C on one of the sonnets so lauded over the ages. Or maybe she did?