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Sonnets and Sonnet Form

An introduction to sonnets

Alison Michasiw

on 9 October 2014

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Transcript of Sonnets and Sonnet Form

Sonnets and Sonnet Form
A sonnet is a lyric poem consisting of a single stanza of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, linked by an intricate rhyme scheme.
First, what is a sonnet?
1. Italian or Petrarchan
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
An example of a Petrarchan sonnet is William Wordsworth's
"The World is Too Much With Us"
- Developed by the Earl of Surrey in the 16th century
2. English or Shakespearean
Featuring William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, and Helen Maria Williams ...
(No, you do not need to be named William to write great sonnets, but it does seem to help ...)
The two major rhyme patterns of sonnets written in the English language are ...
- Named after the 14th century Italian poet Francesco Petrarch
- Divided into an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines)
- The octave follows the rhyme scheme "abbaabba"
- The sestet follows the rhyme scheme "cdccdc"
- The Petrarchan form was first used to express the hopes and pains of an adoring male lover, but has since been used for a variety of subjects
- This sonnet form is known primarily as Shakespearean, after its greatest practitioner, William Shakespeare
- Divided into three quatrains (four lines) and a concluding couplet (two lines)
- The quatrains follow the rhyme schemes "abab," "cdcd," and "efef," respectfully
- The concluding couplet ("gg") consists of two rhyming lines
An example of a Shakespearean sonnet is William Shakespeare's "Let me not to the marriage of true minds"
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
The sonnet form, named for Edmund Spenser, is a variant of the Shakespearean sonnet and links each quatrain with a rhyme:
"abab bcbc cdcd ee"
"The Sonnet" (1839) by William Mulready (another William)
What can this painting tell us about the common themes of sonnets during this time period?
- Petrarchan sonnets often present a problem, situation, or incident in the octave, and a resolution in the sestet
- Shakespearean sonnets present three variations of a
situation in the quatrains, and an epigrammatic turn in the couplet
However, early in the 17th century, John Donne shifted the primary theme of sonnets from love, to a variety of religious themes. Later in the century, John Milton expanded the range of sonnets to encompass other serious themes.
A trend among Elizabethan sonneteers was the use of sonnet sequences or cycles.
A sonnet sequence or cycle is a series of sonnets linked together by an exploration of the varied aspects of a relationship between lovers.
An example of a sonnet sequence is Sir Philip Sidney's "Astrophel and Stella"
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