Sonnet

Sonnet

Overview
A sonnet is one of several forms of poetry that originate in Europe, mainly Provence
Provence
Provence ; Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm) is a region of south eastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur...

 and Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. A sonnet commonly has 14 lines. The term "sonnet" derives from the Occitan word sonet and the Italian word sonetto, both meaning "little song" or "little sound". By the thirteenth century, it signified a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme
Rhyme scheme
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme between lines of a poem or song. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme. In other words, it is the pattern of end rhymes or lines...

 and specific structure. Conventions associated with the sonnet have evolved over its history.
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A sonnet is one of several forms of poetry that originate in Europe, mainly Provence
Provence
Provence ; Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm) is a region of south eastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur...

 and Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. A sonnet commonly has 14 lines. The term "sonnet" derives from the Occitan word sonet and the Italian word sonetto, both meaning "little song" or "little sound". By the thirteenth century, it signified a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme
Rhyme scheme
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme between lines of a poem or song. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme. In other words, it is the pattern of end rhymes or lines...

 and specific structure. Conventions associated with the sonnet have evolved over its history. Writers of sonnets are sometimes called "sonneteers," although the term can be used derisively. One of the best-known sonnet writers is William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, who wrote 154 of them
Shakespeare's sonnets
Shakespeare's sonnets are 154 poems in sonnet form written by William Shakespeare, dealing with themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality. All but two of the poems were first published in a 1609 quarto entitled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS.: Never before imprinted. Sonnets 138 and 144...

 (not including those that appear in his plays). A Shakespearean, or English, sonnet consists of 14 lines, each line containing ten syllables and written in iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter is a commonly used metrical line in traditional verse and verse drama. The term describes the particular rhythm that the words establish in that line. That rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables; these small groups of syllables are called "feet"...

, in which a pattern of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable is repeated five times. The rhyme scheme in a Shakespearean sonnet is a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g; the last two lines are a rhyming couplet.

Traditionally, English poets employ iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter is a commonly used metrical line in traditional verse and verse drama. The term describes the particular rhythm that the words establish in that line. That rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables; these small groups of syllables are called "feet"...

 when writing sonnets, but not all English sonnets have the same metrical structure: the first sonnet in Sir Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

's sequence Astrophel and Stella
Astrophel and Stella
Likely composed in the 1580s, Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella is an English sonnet sequence containing 108 sonnets and 11 songs. The name derives from the two Greek words, 'aster' and 'phil' , and the Latin word 'stella' meaning star. Thus Astrophel is the star lover, and Stella is his star...

, for example, has 12 syllables: it is iambic hexameters, albeit with a turned first foot in several lines. In the Romance languages, the hendecasyllable
Hendecasyllable
The hendecasyllable is a line of eleven syllables, used in Ancient Greek and Latin quantitative verse as well as in medieval and modern European poetry.-In quantitative verse:...

 and Alexandrine
Alexandrine
An alexandrine is a line of poetic meter comprising 12 syllables. Alexandrines are common in the German literature of the Baroque period and in French poetry of the early modern and modern periods. Drama in English often used alexandrines before Marlowe and Shakespeare, by whom it was supplanted...

 are the most widely used metres
Meter (poetry)
In poetry, metre is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study of metres and forms of versification is known as prosody...

.

Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet



The Italian sonnet was created by Giacomo da Lentini
Giacomo da Lentini
Giacomo da Lentini, also known as Giàcumu da Lintini and Jacopo Notaro, was an Italian poet of the 13th century. He was a senior poet of the Sicilian School and was a notary at the court of the Holy Roman emperor Frederick II...

, head of the Sicilian School
Sicilian School
The Sicilian School was a small community of Sicilian, and to a lesser extent, mainland Italian poets gathered around Frederick II, most of them belonging to his court, the Magna Curia. Headed by Giacomo da Lentini, they produced more than three-hundred poems of courtly love between 1230 and 1266,...

 under Frederick II
Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick II , was one of the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors of the Middle Ages and head of the House of Hohenstaufen. His political and cultural ambitions, based in Sicily and stretching through Italy to Germany, and even to Jerusalem, were enormous...

. Guittone d'Arezzo
Guittone d'Arezzo
Guittone d'Arezzo was a Tuscan poet and the founder of the Tuscan School. He was an acclaimed secular love poet before his conversion in the 1260s, when he became a religious poet. In 1256, he was exiled from Arezzo due to his Guelf sympathies....

 rediscovered it and brought it to Tuscany
Tuscany
Tuscany is a region in Italy. It has an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.75 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence ....

 where he adapted it to his language when he founded the Neo-Sicilian School (1235–1294). He wrote almost 250 sonnets. Other Italian poets of the time, including Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante , was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia ...

 (1265–1321) and Guido Cavalcanti
Guido Cavalcanti
Guido Cavalcanti was a Florentine poet, as well as an intellectual influence on his best friend, Dante. His poems in their original Italian are available on Wikisource .-Historical background:...

 (c. 1250–1300) wrote sonnets, but the most famous early sonneteer was Petrarca
Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

 (known in English as Petrarch). Other fine examples were written by Michelangelo.

The structure of a typical Italian sonnet of this time included two parts that together formed a compact form of "argument". First, the octave
Octave (poetry)
An octave is a verse form consisting of eight lines of iambic pentameter or of hendecasyllables . The most common rhyme scheme for an octave is abba abba....

 (two quatrain
Quatrain
A quatrain is a stanza, or a complete poem, consisting of four lines of verse. Existing in various forms, the quatrain appears in poems from the poetic traditions of various ancient civilizations including Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and China; and, continues into the 21st century, where it is...

s), forms the "proposition," which describes a "problem," followed by a sestet
Sestet
A sestet is the name given to the second division of an Italian sonnet , which must consist of an octave, of eight lines, succeeded by a sestet, of six lines. The first documented user of this poetical form was the Italian poet, Petrarch. In the usual course the rhymes are arranged abc abc, but...

 (two tercet
Tercet
A tercet is composed of three lines of poetry, forming a stanza or a complete poem. English-language haiku is an example of an unrhymed tercet poem...

s), which proposes a resolution. Typically, the ninth line creates what is called the "turn" or "volta," which signals the move from proposition to resolution. Even in sonnets that don't strictly follow the problem/resolution structure, the ninth line still often marks a "turn" by signaling a change in the tone, mood, or stance of the poem.

In the sonnets of Giacomo da Lentini
Giacomo da Lentini
Giacomo da Lentini, also known as Giàcumu da Lintini and Jacopo Notaro, was an Italian poet of the 13th century. He was a senior poet of the Sicilian School and was a notary at the court of the Holy Roman emperor Frederick II...

, the octave rhymed a-b-a-b, a-b-a-b; later, the a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a pattern became the standard for Italian sonnets. For the sestet there were two different possibilities:
c-d-e-c-d-e and c-d-c-c-d-c. In time, other variants on this rhyming scheme were introduced such as c-d-c-d-c-d.

The first known sonnets in English, written by Sir Thomas Wyatt
Thomas Wyatt (poet)
Sir Thomas Wyatt was a 16th-century English lyrical poet credited with introducing the sonnet into English. He was born at Allington Castle, near Maidstone in Kent – though his family was originally from Yorkshire...

 and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Henry Howard, KG, , known as The Earl of Surrey although he never was a peer, was an English aristocrat, and one of the founders of English Renaissance poetry.-Life:...

, used this Italian scheme, as did sonnets by later English poets including John Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

, Thomas Gray
Thomas Gray
Thomas Gray was a poet, letter-writer, classical scholar and professor at Cambridge University.-Early life and education:...

, William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

 and Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death.-Early life:Members...

. Early twentieth-century American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American lyrical poet, playwright and feminist. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and was known for her activism and her many love affairs. She used the pseudonym Nancy Boyd for her prose work...

 also wrote most of her sonnets using the Italian form.

This example, On His Blindness
On His Blindness
On His Blindness is one of the best known of the sonnets of John Milton. It may have been written as early as 1652, although most scholars believe it was composed sometime between June and October of 1655, when Milton's blindness was essentially complete....

 By Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

, gives a sense of the Italian rhyming scheme;

When I consider how my light is spent (a)
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide, (b)
And that one talent which is death to hide, (b)
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent (a)
To serve therewith my Maker, and present (a)
My true account, lest he returning chide; (b)
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?" (b)
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent (a)
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need (c)
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best (d)
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state (e)
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed (c)
And post o'er land and ocean without rest; (d)
They also serve who only stand and wait." (e)

Dante's variation


Most Sonnets in Dante's La Vita Nuova
La Vita Nuova
La Vita Nuova is a medieval text written by Dante Alighieri in 1295. It is an expression of the medieval genre of courtly love in a prosimetrum style, a combination of both prose and verse...

 are Petrarchan, but some – Chapter VII gives sonnet O voi che per la via Ch. VIII Morte villana.—in quatrains (which thus have a total of six verses) and in the two tercets, which get a total of four lines. This complicates the rhyme scheme.

Occitan sonnet


The sole confirmed surviving sonnet in the Occitan language is confidently dated to 1284, and is conserved only in troubadour manuscript P, an Italian chansonnier
Chansonnier
A chansonnier is a manuscript or printed book which contains a collection of chansons, or polyphonic and monophonic settings of songs, hence literally "song-books," although some manuscripts are so called even though they preserve the text but not the music A chansonnier is a manuscript or...

 of 1310, now XLI.42 in the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

. It was written by Paolo Lanfranchi da Pistoia
Paolo Lanfranchi da Pistoia
Paolo Lanfranchi da Pistoia or Pistoja was a noted Italian poet who wrote in both the Italian and Occitan languages. He is thus sometimes described as a troubadour. A native of Pistoia—he was a major cultural figure of the Duecento there—his sonnets have been praised for their...

 and is addressed to Peter III of Aragon
Peter III of Aragon
Peter the Great was the King of Aragon of Valencia , and Count of Barcelona from 1276 to his death. He conquered Sicily and became its king in 1282. He was one of the greatest of medieval Aragonese monarchs.-Youth and succession:Peter was the eldest son of James I of Aragon and his second wife...

. It employs the rhyme scheme a-b-a-b, a-b-a-b, c-d-c-c-d-c. This poem is historically interesting for its information on north Italian perspectives concerning the War of the Sicilian Vespers
War of the Sicilian Vespers
The War of the ' Vespers started with the insurrection of the Sicilian Vespers against Charles of Anjou in 1282 and finally ended with the peace of Caltabellotta in 1302...

, the conflict between the Angevins
Capetian House of Anjou
The Capetian House of Anjou, also known as the House of Anjou-Sicily and House of Anjou-Naples, was a royal house and cadet branch of the direct House of Capet. Founded by Charles I of Sicily, a son of Louis VIII of France, the Capetian king first ruled the Kingdom of Sicily during the 13th century...

 and Aragonese
House of Barcelona
The House of Barcelona was a medieval dynasty that ruled the County of Barcelona continuously from 878 and the Crown of Aragon from 1137 . From the male part they descend from the Bellonids, the descendants of Wifred the Hairy...

 for Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily
The Kingdom of Sicily was a state that existed in the south of Italy from its founding by Roger II in 1130 until 1816. It was a successor state of the County of Sicily, which had been founded in 1071 during the Norman conquest of southern Italy...

. Peter III and the Aragonese cause was popular in northern Italy at the time and Paolo's sonnet is a celebration of his victory over the Angevins and Capetian
Capetian
Capetian is an adjective, used to describe either:* The House of Capet, also called the Direct Capetians – the ruling family of France between 987 and 1328* The Capetian dynasty, a term applied to all direct descendants of Hugh Capet...

s in the Aragonese Crusade
Aragonese Crusade
The Aragonese Crusade or Crusade of Aragon, a part of the larger War of the Sicilian Vespers, was declared by Pope Martin IV against the King of Aragon, Peter III the Great, in 1284 and 1285...

:
   Valenz Senher, rei dels Aragones
a qi prez es honors tut iorn enansa,
remembre vus, Senher, del Rei franzes
qe vus venc a vezer e laiset Fransa
   Ab dos sos fillz es ab aqel d'Artes;
hanc no fes colp d'espaza ni de lansa
e mainz baros menet de lur paes:
jorn de lur vida said n'auran menbransa.
   Nostre Senhier faccia a vus compagna
per qe en ren no vus qal[la] duptar;
tals quida hom qe perda qe gazaingna.
   Seigner es de la terra e de la mar,
per qe lo Rei Engles e sel d'Espangna
ne varran mais, si.ls vorres aiudar.
   Valiant Lord, king of the Aragonese
to whom honour grows every day closer,
remember, Lord, the French king
that has come to find you and has left France
   With his two sons and that one of Artois;
but they have not dealt a blow with sword or lance
and many barons have left their country:
but a day will come when they will have some to remember.
   Our Lord make yourself a company
in order that you might fear nothing;
that one who would appear to lose might win.
   Lord of the land and the sea,
as whom the king of England and that of Spain
are not worth as much, if you wish to help them.


An Occitan sonnet, dated to 1321 and assigned to one "William of Almarichi", is found in Jean de Nostredame
Jean de Nostredame
Jean de Nostredame was a Provençal historian and writer. He was the younger brother of Michel de Nostredame.He was baptised at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence on 19 February 1522...

 and cited in Giovanni Crescembeni, Storia della volgar Poesia. It congratulates Robert of Naples
Robert of Naples
Robert of Anjou , known as Robert the Wise was King of Naples, titular King of Jerusalem and Count of Provence and Forcalquier from 1309 to 1343, the central figure of Italian politics of his time. He was the third but eldest surviving son of King Charles II of Naples the Lame and Maria of Hungary...

 on his recent victory. Its authenticity is dubious. There are also two poorly-regarded sonnets by the Italian Dante de Maiano.

English (Shakespearean) sonnet





When English sonnets were introduced by Thomas Wyatt
Thomas Wyatt (poet)
Sir Thomas Wyatt was a 16th-century English lyrical poet credited with introducing the sonnet into English. He was born at Allington Castle, near Maidstone in Kent – though his family was originally from Yorkshire...

 in the early 16th century, his sonnets and those of his contemporary the Earl of Surrey
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Henry Howard, KG, , known as The Earl of Surrey although he never was a peer, was an English aristocrat, and one of the founders of English Renaissance poetry.-Life:...

 were chiefly translations from the Italian of Petrarch
Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

 and the French of Ronsard and others. While Wyatt introduced the sonnet into English, it was Surrey who gave it a rhyming meter, and a structural division into quatrains of a kind that now characterizes the typical English sonnet. Having previously circulated in manuscripts only, both poets' sonnets were first published in Richard Tottel
Richard Tottel
Richard Tottel was an English publisher and influential member of the legal community. He ran his business from a shop was located at Temple Bar on Fleet Street in London...

's Songes and Sonnetts, better known as Tottel's Miscellany
Tottel's Miscellany
Songes and Sonettes, usually called Tottel's Miscellany, was the first printed anthology of English poetry. It was published by Richard Tottel in 1557, and ran to many editions in the sixteenth century.-Richard Tottel:...

 (1557).

It was, however, Sir Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

's sequence Astrophel and Stella
Astrophel and Stella
Likely composed in the 1580s, Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella is an English sonnet sequence containing 108 sonnets and 11 songs. The name derives from the two Greek words, 'aster' and 'phil' , and the Latin word 'stella' meaning star. Thus Astrophel is the star lover, and Stella is his star...

 (1591) that started the English vogue for sonnet sequences: the next two decades saw sonnet sequences by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

, Michael Drayton
Michael Drayton
Michael Drayton was an English poet who came to prominence in the Elizabethan era.-Early life:He was born at Hartshill, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England. Almost nothing is known about his early life, beyond the fact that in 1580 he was in the service of Thomas Goodere of Collingham,...

, Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel was an English poet and historian.-Early life:Daniel was born near Taunton in Somerset, the son of a music-master. He was the brother of lutenist and composer John Danyel. Their sister Rosa was Edmund Spenser's model for Rosalind in his The Shepherd's Calendar; she eventually married...

, Fulke Greville
Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke
Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, de jure 13th Baron Latimer and 5th Baron Willoughby de Broke , known before 1621 as Sir Fulke Greville, was an Elizabethan poet, dramatist, and statesman....

, William Drummond of Hawthornden
William Drummond of Hawthornden
William Drummond , called "of Hawthornden", was a Scottish poet.-Life:Drummond was born at Hawthornden Castle, Midlothian. His father, John Drummond, was the first laird of Hawthornden; and his mother was Susannah Fowler, sister of William Fowler, poet and courtier...

, and many others. These sonnets were all essentially inspired by the Petrarchan tradition, and generally treat of the poet's love for some woman; with the exception of Shakespeare's sequence. The form is often named after Shakespeare, not because he was the first to write in this form but because he became its most famous practitioner. The form consists of fourteen lines structured as three quatrains and a couplet. The third quatrain generally introduces an unexpected sharp thematic or imagistic "turn"; the volta. In Shakespeare's sonnets, however, the volta usually comes in the couplet, and usually summarizes the theme of the poem or introduces a fresh new look at the theme. With only a rare exception, the meter is iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter is a commonly used metrical line in traditional verse and verse drama. The term describes the particular rhythm that the words establish in that line. That rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables; these small groups of syllables are called "feet"...

, although there is some accepted metrical flexibility (e.g., lines ending with an extra-syllable feminine rhyme
Feminine rhyme
A feminine rhyme is a rhyme that matches two or more syllables, usually at the end of respective lines, in which the final syllable or syllables are unstressed.-English:...

, or a trochaic
Trochee
A trochee or choree, choreus, is a metrical foot used in formal poetry consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one...

 foot rather than an iamb, particularly at the beginning of a line). The usual rhyme scheme is end-rhymed a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g.

This example, Shakespeare's Sonnet 116
Sonnet 116
Shakespeare's sonnet 116 was first published in 1609. It is about eternal and unchanging love and has been cherished in the past four hundred years for its hopeful and promising note. Its structure and form are a typical example of the Shakespearean sonnet....

, illustrates the form (with some typical variances one may expect when reading an Elizabethan-age sonnet with modern eyes):


Let me not to the marriage of true minds (a)
Admit impediments, love is not love (b)*
Which alters when it alteration finds, (a)
Or bends with the remover to remove. (b)*
O no, it is an ever fixèd mark (c)**
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; (d)***
It is the star to every wand'ring bark, (c)**
Whose worth's unknown although his height be taken. (d)***
Love's not time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks (e)
Within his bending sickle's compass come, (f)*
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, (e)
But bears it out even to the edge of doom: (f)*
If this be error and upon me proved, (g)*
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. (g)*


  • PRONUNCIATION/RHYME: Note changes in pronunciation since composition.
    • PRONUNCIATION/METER: "Fixed" pronounced as two-syllables, "fix-ed."
      • RHYME/METER: Feminine-rhyme-ending, eleven-syllable alternative.


The Prologue to Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

 is also a sonnet, as is Romeo and Juliet's first exchange in Act One, Scene Five, lines 104–117, beginning with "If I profane with my unworthiest hand" (104) and ending with "Then move not while my prayer's effect I take." (117).

In the 17th century, the sonnet was adapted to other purposes, with John Donne
John Donne
John Donne 31 March 1631), English poet, satirist, lawyer, and priest, is now considered the preeminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are notable for their strong and sensual style and include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs,...

 and George Herbert
George Herbert
George Herbert was a Welsh born English poet, orator and Anglican priest.Being born into an artistic and wealthy family, he received a good education that led to his holding prominent positions at Cambridge University and Parliament. As a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, Herbert excelled in...

 writing religious sonnets, and John Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

 using the sonnet as a general meditative poem. Both the Shakespearean and Petrarchan rhyme schemes were popular throughout this period, as well as many variants.

The fashion for the sonnet went out with the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

, and hardly any sonnets were written between 1670 and Wordsworth's
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

 time. However, sonnets came back strongly with the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

. Wordsworth himself wrote hundreds of sonnets, of which the best-known are "The world is too much with us
The world is too much with us
"The World Is Too Much with Us" is a sonnet by the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth. In it, Wordsworth criticizes the world of the First Industrial Revolution for being absorbed in materialism and distancing itself from nature. Composed circa 1802, the poem was first published in Poems, In...

" and the sonnet to Milton; his sonnets were essentially modelled on Milton's. Keats
John Keats
John Keats was an English Romantic poet. Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement, despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death.Although his poems were not...

 and Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron...

 also wrote major sonnets; Keats's sonnets used formal and rhetorical patterns inspired partly by Shakespeare, and Shelley innovated radically, creating his own rhyme scheme for the sonnet "Ozymandias
Ozymandias
"Ozymandias" is a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, published in 1818 in the January 11 issue of The Examiner in London. It is frequently anthologised and is probably Shelley's most famous short poem...

". Sonnets were written throughout the 19th century, but, apart from Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death.-Early life:Members...

's Sonnets from the Portuguese
Sonnets from the Portuguese
Sonnets from the Portuguese, written ca. 1845–1846 and first published in 1850, is a collection of forty-four love sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The poems largely chronicle the period leading up to her 1846 marriage to Robert Browning...

 and the sonnets of Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement,...

, there were few very successful traditional sonnets. In Canada during the last decades of the century, the Confederation Poets
Confederation Poets
"Confederation Poets" is the name given to a group of Canadian poets born in the decade of Canada's Confederation who rose to prominence in Canada in the late 1880s and 1890s. The term was coined by Canadian professor and literary critic Malcolm Ross, who applied it to four poets Charles G.D...

 and especially Archibald Lampman
Archibald Lampman
Archibald Lampman, was a Canadian poet. "He has been described as 'the Canadian Keats;' and he is perhaps the most outstanding exponent of the Canadian school of nature poets." The Canadian Encyclopedia says that he is "generally considered the finest of Canada's late 19th-century poets in...

 were known for their sonnets, which were mainly on pastoral themes. Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest, whose posthumous 20th-century fame established him among the leading Victorian poets...

 wrote several major sonnets, often in sprung rhythm
Sprung rhythm
Sprung rhythm is a poetic rhythm designed to imitate the rhythm of natural speech. It is constructed from feet in which the first syllable is stressed and may be followed by a variable number of unstressed syllables...

, such as "The Windhover", and also several sonnet variants such as the 10½-line curtal sonnet
Curtal sonnet
The curtal sonnet is a form invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and used in three of his poems.It is an eleven-line sonnet, but rather than the first eleven lines of a standard sonnet it consists of precisely ¾ of the structure of a Petrarchan sonnet shrunk proportionally...

 "Pied Beauty" and the 24-line caudate sonnet
Caudate sonnet
A caudate sonnet is an expanded version of the sonnet. It consists of 14 lines in standard sonnet forms followed by a coda .The invention of the form is credited to Francesco Berni...

 "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire." By the end of the 19th century, the sonnet had been adapted into a general-purpose form of great flexibility.

This flexibility was extended even further in the 20th century. Among the major poets of the early Modernist period, Robert Frost
Robert Frost
Robert Lee Frost was an American poet. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and...

, Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American lyrical poet, playwright and feminist. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and was known for her activism and her many love affairs. She used the pseudonym Nancy Boyd for her prose work...

 and E. E. Cummings
E. E. Cummings
Edward Estlin Cummings , popularly known as E. E. Cummings, with the abbreviated form of his name often written by others in lowercase letters as e.e. cummings , was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright...

 all used the sonnet regularly. William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms...

 wrote the major sonnet Leda and the Swan
Leda and the Swan
Leda and the Swan is a motif from Greek mythology in which Zeus came to Leda in the form of a swan. According to later Greek mythology, Leda bore Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus, while at the same time bearing Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband Tyndareus, the King of Sparta. In...

, which used half rhyme
Half rhyme
Half rhyme or slant rhyme, sometimes called sprung, near rhyme, oblique rhyme, off rhyme or imperfect rhyme, is consonance on the final consonants of the words involved . Many half/slant rhymes are also eye rhymes.Half/slant rhyme is widely used in Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Icelandic verse...

s. Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War...

's sonnet Anthem for Doomed Youth
Anthem for Doomed Youth
"Anthem for Doomed Youth" is a well-known poem written by Wilfred Owen which incorporates the themes of the horror of war.It employs the traditional form of a petrarchan sonnet, but it uses the rhyme scheme of an English sonnet. Much of the second half of the poem is dedicated to funeral rituals...

 was another sonnet of the early 20th century. W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden , who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet,The first definition of "Anglo-American" in the OED is: "Of, belonging to, or involving both England and America." See also the definition "English in origin or birth, American by settlement or citizenship" in See also...

 wrote two sonnet sequences and several other sonnets throughout his career, and widened the range of rhyme-schemes used considerably. Auden also wrote one of the first unrhymed sonnets in English, "The Secret Agent" (1928). Robert Lowell wrote five books of unrhymed "American sonnets," including his Pulitzer Prize-winning volume The Dolphin (1973). Half-rhymed, unrhymed, and even unmetrical sonnets have been very popular since 1950; perhaps the best works in the genre are Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney is an Irish poet, writer and lecturer. He lives in Dublin. Heaney has received the Nobel Prize in Literature , the Golden Wreath of Poetry , T. S. Eliot Prize and two Whitbread prizes...

's Glanmore Sonnets and Clearances, both of which use half rhymes, and Geoffrey Hill
Geoffrey Hill
Geoffrey Hill is an English poet, professor emeritus of English literature and religion, and former co-director of the Editorial Institute, at Boston University. Hill has been considered to be among the most distinguished poets of his generation...

's mid-period sequence 'An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England'. The 1990s saw something of a formalist revival, however, and several traditional sonnets have been written in the past decade.

Spenserian sonnet


A variant on the English form is the Spenserian sonnet, named after Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

 (c.1552–1599) in which the rhyme scheme is, abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee. A Spenserian sonnet does not appear to require that the initial octave
Octave (poetry)
An octave is a verse form consisting of eight lines of iambic pentameter or of hendecasyllables . The most common rhyme scheme for an octave is abba abba....

 set up a problem that the closing sestet
Sestet
A sestet is the name given to the second division of an Italian sonnet , which must consist of an octave, of eight lines, succeeded by a sestet, of six lines. The first documented user of this poetical form was the Italian poet, Petrarch. In the usual course the rhymes are arranged abc abc, but...

 answers, as with a Petrarchan sonnet. Instead, the form is treated as three quatrains connected by the interlocking rhyme scheme and followed by a couplet. The linked rhymes of his quatrains suggest the linked rhymes of such Italian forms as terza rima
Terza rima
Terza rima is a rhyming verse stanza form that consists of an interlocking three-line rhyme scheme. It was first used by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri.-Form:Terza rima is a three-line stanza using chain rhyme in the pattern A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, D-E-D...

. This example is taken from Amoretti.


Happy ye leaves! whenas those lily hands

Happy ye leaves! whenas those lily hands, (a)
Which hold my life in their dead doing might, (b)
Shall handle you, and hold in love's soft bands, (a)
Like captives trembling at the victor's sight. (b)
And happy lines on which, with starry light, (b)
Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look,(c)
And read the sorrows of my dying sprite, (b)
Written with tears in heart's close bleeding book. (c)
And happy rhymes! bathed in the sacred brook (c)
Of Helicon, whence she derived is, (d)
When ye behold that angel's blessed look, (c)
My soul's long lacked food, my heaven's bliss. (d)
Leaves, lines, and rhymes seek her to please alone, (e)
Whom if ye please, I care for other none. (e)

Modern sonnet


With the advent of free verse
Free verse
Free verse is a form of poetry that refrains from consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any other musical pattern.Poets have explained that free verse, despite its freedom, is not free. Free Verse displays some elements of form...

, the sonnet was seen as somewhat old-fashioned and fell out of use for a time among some schools of poets. However, a number of modern poets, including Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War...

, John Berryman
John Berryman
John Allyn Berryman was an American poet and scholar, born in McAlester, Oklahoma. He was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and was considered a key figure in the Confessional school of poetry...

, George Meredith
George Meredith
George Meredith, OM was an English novelist and poet of the Victorian era.- Life :Meredith was born in Portsmouth, England, a son and grandson of naval outfitters. His mother died when he was five. At the age of 14 he was sent to a Moravian School in Neuwied, Germany, where he remained for two...

, Edwin Morgan, Robert Frost
Robert Frost
Robert Lee Frost was an American poet. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and...

, Rupert Brooke
Rupert Brooke
Rupert Chawner Brooke was an English poet known for his idealistic war sonnets written during the First World War, especially The Soldier...

, George Sterling
George Sterling
George Sterling was an American poet based in California who, during his time, was celebrated in Northern California as one of the greatest American poets, although he never gained much fame in the rest of the United States.-Biography:Sterling was born in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York, the...

, Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American lyrical poet, playwright and feminist. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and was known for her activism and her many love affairs. She used the pseudonym Nancy Boyd for her prose work...

, Federico García Lorca
Federico García Lorca
Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca was a Spanish poet, dramatist and theatre director. García Lorca achieved international recognition as an emblematic member of the Generation of '27. He is believed to be one of thousands who were summarily shot by anti-communist death squads...

, E.E. Cummings, Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo , known as Jorge Luis Borges , was an Argentine writer, essayist, poet and translator born in Buenos Aires. In 1914 his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school, receiving his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The family...

, Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda was the pen name and, later, legal name of the Chilean poet, diplomat and politician Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. He chose his pen name after Czech poet Jan Neruda....

, Robert Lowell
Robert Lowell
Robert Traill Spence Lowell IV was an American poet, considered the founder of the confessional poetry movement. He was appointed the sixth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress where he served from 1947 until 1948...

, Joan Brossa
Joan Brossa
Joan Brossa i Cuervo Joan Brossa i Cuervo Joan Brossa i Cuervo (Barcelona, Catalonia,(1919–1998) was a Catalan poet in the Catalan language, playwright, graphic designer and plastic artist. He was one of the founders of both the group and the publication known as Dau-al-Set (1948) and one of the...

, Vikram Seth
Vikram Seth
Vikram Seth is an Indian poet, novelist, travel writer, librettist, children's writer, biographer and memoirist.-Early life:Vikram Seth was born on 20 June 1952 to Leila and Prem Seth in Calcutta...

, Rainer Maria Rilke
Rainer Maria Rilke
René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke , better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was a Bohemian–Austrian poet. He is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language...

, Jan Kal
Jan Kal
Johannes Pieter "Jan" Kal is a Dutch poet. He lives in Amsterdam. Along with others, such as Gerrit Komrij, Jan Kuijper, and Jean-Pierre Rawie, he helped revive the sonnet in Dutch literature, and substantially all of Kal's work is in sonnet form...

, Ernest Hilbert
Ernest Hilbert
Ernest Hilbert is an American poet, critic, and editor born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1970.-Biography:Hilbert graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Rutgers University in 1993. He also received a Master's Degree and Doctorate in English Literature...

, Kim Addonizio
Kim Addonizio
Kim Addonizio is an award-winning American poet and novelist.-Life:Addonizio is the daughter of tennis champion Pauline Betz and sports writer Bob Addie....

, and Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney is an Irish poet, writer and lecturer. He lives in Dublin. Heaney has received the Nobel Prize in Literature , the Golden Wreath of Poetry , T. S. Eliot Prize and two Whitbread prizes...

 continued to use the form. Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop was an American poet and short-story writer. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and a National Book Award Winner for Poetry in 1970. Elizabeth Bishop House is an artists' retreat in Great Village, Nova Scotia...

's inverted "Sonnet" was one of her last poems. Ted Berrigan's book, THE SONNETS, is an arresting and curious take on the form. Paul Muldoon
Paul Muldoon
Paul Muldoon is an Irish poet. He has published over thirty collections and won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the T. S. Eliot Prize. He held the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1999 - 2004. At Princeton University he is both the Howard G. B. Clark ’21 Professor in the Humanities and...

 often experiments with 14 lines and sonnet rhymes, though without regular sonnet meter. The advent of the New Formalism
New Formalism
New Formalism is a late-20th and early 21st century movement in American poetry that has promoted a return to metrical and rhymed verse.-Origins and intentions:...

movement in the United States has also contributed to contemporary interest in the sonnet.

External links