Shakespeare's Birthday Sonnet Contest

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This article is about Shakespeare's Birthday Sonnet Contest. For other articles about Shakespeare's Birthday, see Shakespeare's Birthday (disambiguation).

Alberto Sangorski. Songs and Sonnets by William Shakespeare. Manuscript, 1926. Shelfmark W.b.260.

Each year, as part of the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series, Folger Shakespeare Library invites students in grades 3 through 12 in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia to submit original sonnets for the annual Shakespeare's Birthday Sonnet Contest. All entries must follow Shakespearean sonnet form: 14 lines of iambic pentameter with an ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG rhyme scheme. A judge selects the top sonnet in each of the following categories: grades 3-6, grades 7-9, grades 10-12. Winners in each category receive a full set of William Shakespeare's plays. Runners-up receive a copy of William Shakespeare's sonnets. Winners and runners-up are invited to read their entries at Shakespeare's Birthday Open House each year.

Submission Rules

Students are invited to submit original sonnets each year for the annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Contest.

Sonnets may be written on any subject but must follow Shakespearean sonnet form:

  • 14 lines of iambic pentameter
  • an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme

A judge from the Folger staff will select the top sonnet in each of three categories:

  • grades 3-6
  • grades 7-9
  • grades 10-12

Winning sonnets will be published on the Folger website and the winners will be invited to read at Folger's Shakespeare’s Birthday Open House.

Submissions are no longer open at this time. Please check back in Spring of 2016 for information about the next content.

2015 winning entries and runners-up

Hannah Coffin, winning entry, grades 10-12

Winter’s Frozen Coat

When days are short and birds have taken flight

To reach their distant refuge from the storms.

A frozen blanket coats the world in white,

To be picked up and changed to many forms.

Each flake unique with beauty of its own,

All so complex and detailed perfectly.

By wild and brazen winds the gems are blown

To drift into the branches of some tree.

You reach your hand outwards to catch a flake,

Only to learn its not meant to be felt

By those who would of nature only take –

And let these treasures best left untouched melt.

The frozen crystals look so soft and bright,

But sometimes things that seem so gentle bite.

Emily Zhang, second place (tie), grades 10-12

For an Ocean

Atlantic’s tides are heaving flush and bright.

Its vastness open syntax, still and strung

with wine, whose anxious depths refract dark’s light.

The ocean, coated consonants, all wrung

and full and dry. Unstill but silent, cast

with slicks as stale as sand. The air so wry

it chokes all thrashing storms. Consider all

the other bits of brightness, open, left to dry

like sudden drops of what is static. Sprawls

of morning, mourning. Harmless and arranged.

Consider rolling waves, painted in scrawls

soon violently violet. All changed

with drawn breaths slow as swells. A canvas verse

That’s transitory, each stage certain, terse.

Billy Grummer, second place (tie), grades 10-12

Why I Would Rather Be Dancing Right Now

Creations of mine lack a certain fire,

Humanity they want, instead are cold.

Emotions feigned become me like a liar.

One medium, however, makes me bold:

Not poetry, which facts it only states,

And when I sing, it's someone else's words,

My acting has the voice but not the face,

The tales I write have no soul, they're just verbs.

The unexpected victor would be dance,

Which breathes new air for lungs of songs adored.

With each new move I learn, my world expands.

I, overzealous, make my muscles sore.

The words and sounds and faces are mechanic,

But movements, like my heartbeat feel organic  

Yvonne White, winner, grades 7-9


She fetched, she protected, just the best dog,

As harmless and lovely as a flower;

I raced her to the nearest floating log,

She shook off the water, giving me a shower

All of us loved to cuddle with Daffy,

She could not wait to go outside and play

Daffy ran faster than a born athlete,

She loved herself a sunny summer day

Against her will, we gave her a fun bath,

I closed my eyes knowing all was okay

As she kissed me goodnight I laughed and laughed,

A border collie full of care and love

Daffodil is missed, smiling from above.  

Marguerite Montagner, winner, grades 3-6

Time Doesn’t Freeze Like a Snowflake

The snow falls silently in the dark night,

before they crumple on the frozen ground.

The snowflakes dance and swirl in the streetlight,

they drift and land softly without a sound.

Flakes flash in the second before they land-

I reach out and a single flake here here,

glistening in the palm of my hand.

Brown blurs frolick in the white carpet-deer!

But this beauty will not forever last.

It will leave like money already spent,

and it will become a thing of the past

Like a letter in the mailbox and sent.

Soon spring will come and fog and snow will lift.

Enjoy it for every single moment is a gift.  

Eleanor Walsh, second place, grades 3-6


A lithe shape slinks across the floor in black

I blink back shadows and raise my drained head

The demon stretches and arches its back

Abruptly, the shape springs onto my bed

I tremble and pull back, numb with cold fear

I squeeze my eyes shut. I’ve given up hope.

Satan is closer, the future is clear-

The Devil’s Spawn tilts its head, I can't cope-

Wait. Is that a meow? Is that a paw?

I slump back against the pillows, relieved

While my sweet cat retracts her sharpened claws

I rest my furious heart, and now I breathe

The world will play tricks, but it’s not a lie

For sometimes the mind sees more than the eye

2014 winning entries and runners-up

Winter lament

Zachary Majd, winning entry, grades 3-6

The cool, crisp air swirls round the street today.

Change has come and with it an ageing frown.

The buds of last summer, worn to a fray,

once they were sprouts, springing up from the ground.

Oft times the burden feels too great to bear,

the cost of winter, heavy on a heart.

You wish youth would remain and pause right there

as not to feel the cold pierce like a dart.

But the clocks cannot be turned back nor time

relived nor memories lost, ghosts revived.

And as time closes in doomful bells chime,

trunks grow gnarled, branches gray, success deprived.

Life promises were not what they would seem.

Now spring seems much like an ironic dream.

Storm at Sea

Mia Ellis, runner-up, grades 3-6

The sky is dark and blue and green tonight

and waves are churning round in sea foam green

an ocean storm is coming within sight

and it will be the worst one I have seen

lightning starts to crackle from the dark sky

fog devours sand and water alike

a single seagull flies and gives a cry

the storm at sea is just about to strike

as clouds close in around the shiny moon

and winds are howling through the air in rage

dancing through the waves dancing to no tune

flying like wild birds out of their cage

and as the cloth of ocean starts to fray

I sit at home, so close yet far away.


Jordan Thompson, winner, grades 7-9

Clear blue water glistening in the sun,

Salty waves crashing on the sandy shore.

At the horizon sea and sky are one,

But life beneath lies at its beauty's core.

Darting rainbows just below the surface,

Fish swimming about the coral at play.

The reef's colors are intertwined like lace,

It's shadows an escape for would be prey.

As you dive deeper, the blue turns to black.

Sharks cruise the ocean hunting for their meal,

Their razor sharp teeth perfect for attack.

Hunger competing only with their zeal.

But hunters are needed for the sea life,

For harmony exists only with strife.

Gallus Victorious

Olivia Henshaw-Black, runner-up, grades 7-9

My hen glows red in her feathery shawl

With long taloned feet below scaly legs.

She primps and she preens while perched on a wall

Then hops off to lay a nest of brown eggs.

She struts and she strolls and utters a "Brwak"

Then catches sight of a scuttling bug.

It quick dives to safety under a rock.

She pulls a worm from the earth with a tug.

A hawk circles above watching my hen

Dreaming of scrumptious chicken for dinner.

One bird remains when I look out again

But it is my hen who is the winner!

Hawk feathers are strewn all over the place.

Victory shines on my hen's beaky face.


Mary Sorensen, winner, grades 10-12

A smudge of dampened white, then two, then four,

The ivory grows num'rous in the sky.

With every passing hour, slow but sure,

The microscopic angels flying by

Cover each every surface left exposed

With no regard for man's convenience.

The flats turned hills turned mountains, the repose

Of every icy slave, obedient

To will of science, master, piling high

Each silver tower, growing greater yet.

The residents, at first filled with delight,

Now, cold in dark, are worried and upset.

Though with suspicions, never would they know.

Their tiny town be buried deep in snow.

Humanity as an Apple Tree

Dash Yeatts-Lonske, runner-up, grades 10-12

For years we've hacked it, cut it, made it bleed

And now once more, we wrap it in our hands

Composed of all religions, types, and creeds

Which apple is the sweetest in the land?

We throw each in the air to touch the stars

And see five thousand apples strive to soar

Each one is fighting for the right to Mars

And once again devolving into war

Apart they come back hurtling down to earth

Against the ground they bruise and mix and break

Yet even now there's cause for joy and mirth

For in each apple there's a seed that takes

We can unite this apple tree for all

And stop this endless, pointless, bloody brawl.

Earlier Shakespeare's Birthday Sonnet Contest winning entries