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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 had come to signify a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme and specific structure. In the Romance languages, the hendecasyllable and Alexandrine are the most widely used meters
The conventions associated with the sonnet have evolved over its history. Sonnet writers are sometimes referred to as "Sonneteers," although the term can be used derisively.
Traditionally, English poets employ iambic pentameter when writing sonnets, but there are historical exceptions. The first sonnet in Sir Philip Sidney's sequence Astrophel and Stella, for example, has 12 syllables: iambic hexameter, albeit with a turned first foot in several lines. .One of Shakespeare's sonnets is written in iambic tetrameter.
Sonnet (sonnet) n. Son"net [F., fr. It. sonetto, fr. suono a sound, a song, fr. L. sonus a sound. See Sound noise.]
- A short poem, -- usually amatory. "[Obs.] Shak." "He had a wonderful desire to chant a sonnet or hymn unto Apollo Pythius. Holland."
- A poem of fourteen lines, -- two stanzas, called the octave, being of four verses [lines] each, and two stanzas, called the sestet , of three verses each, the rhymes being adjusted by a particular rule. "In the proper sonnet each line has five accents, and the octave has but two rhymes, the second, third, sixth, and seventh lines being of one rhyme, and the first, fourth, fifth, and eighth being of another. In the sestet there are sometimes two and sometimes three rhymes; but in some way its two stazas rhyme together. Often the three lines of the first stanza rhyme severally with the three lines of the second. In Shakespeare's sonnets, the first twelve lines are rhymed alternately, and the last two rhyme together."
Italian (Petrarchan) sonnetEdit
- Main article: Petrarchan sonnet
The Italian sonnet was created by Giacomo da Lentini, head of the Sicilian School under Frederick II. Guittone d'Arezzo rediscovered it and brought it to Tuscany 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 (1265–1321) and Guido Cavalcanti (c. 1250–1300) wrote sonnets, but the most famous early sonneteer was Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) (known in English as Petrarch). Other fine sonnets were written by Michelangelo.
The structure of a typical Italian sonnet of this time included two parts which together formed a compact form of "argument". First, the octave (two quatrains), forms the "proposition" which describes a "problem", followed by a sestet (two tercets), which proposes a resolution. Typically, the ninth line (the beginning of the sestet) 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.
The sonnets of Giacomo da Lentini, used the Sicilian octave (which rhymed a-b-a-b-a-b-a-b); later, the Italian octave (with its a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a pattern) became the standard for Italian sonnets. For the sestet there were different possibilities, c-d-c-d-c-d (the Sicilian sestet), c-d-e-c-d-e (the Italian sestet), and c-d-c-c-d-c.
The first known sonnets in English, written by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, used the Italian scheme, as did sonnets by later English poets including John Milton, Thomas Gray, William Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Early twentieth-century American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay also wrote most of her sonnets using the Italian form.
Most Sonnets in Dante's La Vita Nuova 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.
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 of 1310, now XLI.42 in the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence. It was written by Paolo Lanfranchi da Pistoia and is addressed to Peter III of Aragon. It employs the rhyme scheme a-b-a-b, a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d-c-d (Sicilian octave and sestet).
This poem is historically interesting for its information on north Italian perspectives concerning the War of the Sicilian Vespers, the conflict between the Angevins and Aragonese for Sicily. 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 Capetians in the Aragonese Crusade:
An Occitan sonnet, dated to 1321 and assigned to one "William of Almarichi", is found in Jean de Nostredame and cited in Giovanni Crescembeni, Storia della volgar Poesia. It congratulates Robert of Naples on his recent victory. Its authenticity is dubious. There are also two poorly-regarded sonnets by the Italian Dante de Maiano.
English sonnets Edit
- Main article: Shakespearean sonnet
Sonnets were introduced to England by Thomas Wyatt and his contemporary the Earl of Surrey in the 16th century. Their sonnets were chiefly translations from the Italian of Petrarch and the French of Ronsard and others. While Wyatt introduced the sonnet into English, it was Surrey who gave it a rhyme scheme, 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's Songes and Sonnetts, better known as Tottel's Miscellany (1557).
It was, however, Sir Philip Sidney's sequence Astrophel and Stella (1591) that started the English vogue for Sonnet sequence: the next two decades saw sonnet sequences by William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, Fulke Greville, William Drummond of Hawthornden, 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.
An English or Shakespearean sonnet consists of 14 lines, each line containing ten syllables and written in iambic pentameter, 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 or heroic couplet . The form's fourteen lines have a rhyme scheme of 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, although there is some accepted metrical flexibility (e.g., lines ending with an extra-syllable feminine rhyme, or a trochaic foot rather than an iamb, particularly at the beginning of a line).
This example, Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, 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 fixÃ¨d 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 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 and George Herbert writing religious sonnets, and John Milton 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, and hardly any sonnets were written between 1670 and Wordsworth's time. However, sonnets came back strongly with the French Revolution. Wordsworth himself wrote hundreds of sonnets, of which the best-known are "The world is too much with us" and the sonnet to Milton; his sonnets were essentially modelled on Milton's. Keats and Shelley 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". Sonnets were written throughout the 19th century, but, apart from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese and the sonnets of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, there were few very successful traditional sonnets. In Canada during the last decades of the century, the Confederation Poets and especially Archibald Lampman were known for their sonnets, which were mainly on pastoral themes. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote several major sonnets, often in sprung rhythm, such as "The Windhover", and also several sonnet variants such as the 10Â½-line curtal sonnet "Pied Beauty" and the 24-line caudate sonnet "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, Edna St. Vincent Millay and E. E. Cummings all used the sonnet regularly. William Butler Yeats wrote the major sonnet Leda and the Swan, which used half rhymes. Wilfred Owen's sonnet Anthem for Doomed Youth was another sonnet of the early 20th century. W. H. Auden 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's Glanmore Sonnets and Clearances, both of which use half rhymes, and Geoffrey Hill'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.
A variant on the English form is the Spenserian sonnet, named after Edmund Spenser (c.1552–1599) in which the rhyme scheme is, abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee. In a Spenserian sonnet there does not appear to be a requirement that the initial octave sets up a problem that the closing sestet "answers", as is the case 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. 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 hands, (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)
With the advent of free verse, the sonnet came to be seen as somewhat old-fashioned and fell out of use for a time among some schools of poets.(Citation needed) However, a number of modern poets, including Wilfred Owen, John Berryman, George Meredith, Edwin Morgan, Robert Frost, Rupert Brooke, George Sterling, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Federico Garcia Lorca, E.E. Cummings, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, Robert Lowell,Joan Brossa, Vikram Seth, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jan Kal, Ernest Hilbert, Kim Addonizio, and Seamus Heaney continued to use the form. Elizabeth Bishop's inverted "Sonnet" was one of her last poems. Paul Muldoon often experiments with 14 lines and sonnet rhymes, though without regular sonnet meter. The advent of the New Formalism movement in the United States has also contributed to contemporary interest in the sonnet.
Types of sonnetsEdit
Groups of sonnetsEdit
Forms commonly associated with sonnetsEdit
- Bertoni, Giulio (1915). I Trovatori d'Italia: Biografie, testi, tradizioni, note. Rome: SocietÃ Multigrafica Editrice Somu.
- T. W. H. Crosland. The English Sonnet. Hesperides Press, 2006. ISBN 1406796913.
- J. Fuller. The Sonnet. (The Critical Idiom: #26). Methuen & Co., 1972. ISBN 0416656900.
- J. Hollander. Sonnets: From Dante to the Present. Everyman's Library, 2001. ISBN 0375411771.
- P. Levin. The Penguin Book of the Sonnet: 500 Years of a Classic Tradition in English. Penguin, 2001. ISBN 0140589295.
- S. Regan. The Sonnet. Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0192893076.
- M. R. G. Spiller. The Development of the Sonnet: An Introduction. Routledge, 1992. ISBN 0415087414.
- M. R. G. Spiller. The Sonnet Sequence: A Study of Its Strategies. Twayne Pub., 1997. ISBN 0805709703.
- ↑ "Sonnet," Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913, 1913.MShaffer.com, Web, July 6, 2011.
- ↑ Ernest Hatch Wilkins, The invention of the sonnet, and other studies in Italian literature (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e letteratura, 1959), 11-39
- ↑ Medieval Italy: an encyclopedia, Volume 2, Christopher Kleinhenz
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Bertoni, 119.
- ↑ Philip III of France
- ↑ Philip the Fair and Charles of Valois
- ↑ Robert II of Artois
- ↑ Edward I of England
- ↑ Alfonso X of Castile
- ↑ Folger's Edition of "Romeo and Juliet"
- Poetic Form: Sonnet - Academy of American Poets
- "About the Sonnet," Modern American Poetry
- EDSITEment, Sor Juana the Poet: The Sonnets
- Sixty-Six: The Journal of Sonnet Studies
- How to Analyze a Shakespearean Sonnet
- Examples of sonnets on The Penny Blog
- Sonnet links from About.com.
- Shakespeare's sonnets in modern English at No Sweat Shakespeare
- Shakespeare's sonnets with accompanying commentary
- The Book of the Sonnet (edited by Leigh Hunt and S. Adams Lee, with an essay on the sonnet by Hunt). (2 volumes). Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1867; London: S. Low, Son & Marston, 1867. Volume I, Volume II.
- Audio / video
- BBC discussion on "The Sonnet". Radio 4 programme In our time. (Audio, 45 minutes)
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