What is a sonnet? • Lyric poem of 14 lines with a formal rhyme scheme, expressing different aspects of a single thought, mood, or feeling, resolved or summed up in the last lines of the poem. • Originally short poems accompanied by mandolin or lute music, sonnets are generally composed in the standard metre of the language in which they were written—iambic pentameter in English, the Alexandrine in French, for example.
The term • The term sonnet is derived from the provencal word sonet and the Italian word sonetto, both meaning little song. By the thirteenth century, it had come to signify a poem of fourteen lines following a strict rhyme scheme and logical structure. The conventions associated with the sonnet have changed during its history.
Form • The two main forms of the sonnet are the Petrarchan (Italian), and the English (Shakespearean). • The former probably developed from the stanza form of the canzone or from Italian folk song. • The form reached its peak with the Italian poet Petrarch, whose Canzoniere (c. 1327) includes 317 sonnets addressed to his beloved Laura.
The convention of a sonnet • The Petrarchan sonnet consists of an octave (8 line stanza), and a sestet(6 line stanza). • The octave has two quatrains, rhyming a b b a, a b b a; the first quatrain presents the theme, the second develops it. • The sestet is built on two or three different rhymes, arranged either c d e c d e, or c d c d c d, or c d e d c e; the first three lines exemplify or reflect on the theme, and the last three lines bring the whole poem to a unified close. • Among great examples of the Petrarchan sonnet in the English language are Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella (1591), which established the form in England. There, in the Elizabethan age, it reached the peak of its popularity.
Petrarchan style How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth, (a)Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year! (b)My hasting days fly on with full career, (b)But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th. (a)Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth, (a) That I to manhood am arrived so near, (b) And inward ripeness doth much less appear, (b) That some more timely-happy spirits indu'th. (a) Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow, (c) It shall be still in strictest measure even (d) To that same lot, however mean or high, (e) Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven. (d) All is, if I have grace to use it so, (c) As ever in my great Task-master's eye. (e)
English Sonnets • Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, are credited with introducing the sonnet into England with translations of Italian sonnets as well as with sonnets of their own. • Though English sonnet is always identified as Shakespeare sonnet, he is not the first to introduce this from. Nonetheless the poet is the famous practitioner.
Shakespeare Sonnets • The English sonnet, exemplified by the work of Shakespeare, developed as an adaptation to a language less rich in rhymes than Italian. • This form differs from the Petrarchan in being divided into three quatrains, each rhymed differently, with a final, independently rhymed couplet that makes an effective, unifying climax to the whole. The rhyme scheme is a b a b, c d c d, e f e f, g g.
Shakespeare Sonnet 116 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 fixed mark (c) That looks on tempests and is never shaken; (d) It is the star to every wand'ring barque, (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)