The term sonnet derives 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. These have changed during its history. This article focuses mainly on the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet and the English or Shakesperian sonnet.

Table of contents
1 The Italian Sonnet
2 The English Sonnet
3 The Modern Sonnet
4 See also
5 External links

The Italian Sonnet

The rules of the Italian sonnet were established by Guittone d'Arezzo (1235-1294), who wrote almost 300 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)

In its original form, the Italian sonnet was divided into a octave of eight lines followed by a sestet of six lines. The octave stated a proposition and the sestet stated its solution with a clear break between the two. The octave rhymed a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a. 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. Typically, the ninth line created a "turn" or volta, which signaled the change in the topic or tone of the sonnet.

The first known sonnets in English, written by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surry, used this Italian scheme, as did sonnets by later English poets including John Milton, William Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. However, these poets tended to ignore the strict logical structure of proposition and solution.

This example, On His Being Arrived to the Age of Twenty-three by Milton, gives a sense of the Italian Form:

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)

The English Sonnet

Soon after the introduction of the Italian sonnet, English poets began to develop the native form. These poets included Sir Philip Sidney, Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel and William Shakespeare. 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 practioner.

The form consists of three quatrains of four lines and a couplet of two lines. The couplet generally introduced an unexpected sharp thematic or imagistic "turn". Usual rhyme schemes were a-b-a-b. c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f. g-g and a-b-a-b, b-c-b-c, c-d-c-d, e-e.

This example, Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, illustrates the form:

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 barque,
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.

A variant on this form is the Spenserian sonnet, named after Edmund Spenser (c.1552-1599) in which the rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b, b-c-b-c, c-d-c-d, e-e. This example is taken from Amoretti

Happy ye leaves! whenas those lily hand

Happy ye leaves! whenas those lily hands,
Which hold my life in their dead doing might,
Shall handle you, and hold in love's soft bands,
Like captives trembling at the victor's sight.

And happy lines! on which, with starry light,
Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look,
And read the sorrows of my dying sprite,
Written with tears in heart's close bleeding book.

And happy rhymes! bathed in the sacred brook
Of Helicon, whence she derived is,
When ye behold that angel's blessed look,
My soul's long lacked food, my heaven's bliss.

Leaves, lines, and rhymes seek her to please alone,
Whom if ye please, I care for other none.

The Modern Sonnet

As mentioned earlier, many English poets have used the sonnet form to great effect. The sonnet also became popular in French poetry, with even such avant garde figures as Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé writing sonnets.

With the advent of free verse, the sonnet came to be seen as somewhat old-fashioned and fell out of use for a time. However, a number of 20th century poets, including John Berryman and Seamus Heaney, rose to the challenge of reinvigorating the form successfully.

The 21st century has seen a strong resurgence of the sonnet form, and there are many sonnets now appearing in print and on the internet. Richard Vallance has a poetry site dedicated solely to the sonnet called Sonnet Poesia, and Sara Russell is publishing many sonnets on Poetry Life and Times. Michael Burch publishes The and there are sonnets from well known poets on his site.

See also

External links

These links are to sites with texts in English only:

The Sonett is also an automobile from Saab, see Saab Sonett.