The Sonnet

A sonnet is a 14 line poem with a carefully written rhyme scheme. It is usually written in iambic pentameter, a meter of poetry with five patterns of stressed/unstressed syllables to a line. The sonnet can be divided into two sections. The first section usually presents the theme or raises an issue or doubt.

The second section operates to answer the question, resolve the problem, or drive home the poem’s point. The change that occurs between the two sections is called the turn and helps to move forward the poem’s action. Various forms exist, but there are two main sonnet types: The Italian or Petrarchan and the English or Shakespearean.

The Italian sonnet is named after the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374). During the early Renaissance, Petrarch developed the sonnet to its highest level. The Italian form was then introduced into English poetry in the early 16th century by Sir Thomas Wyatt. The two sections of the Italian sonnet are called the octave and the sestet. The octave consists of the first eight lines and contains a rhyme scheme of abbaabba. A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyming lines in a poem. The sestet consists of the remaining six lines and has a rhyme scheme of cdecde, cdccdc, or cdedce.

The English sonnet was developed first by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547). However, it was William Shakespeare that made it famous in England. The Shakespearean form is structured into four divisions: three quatrains (four line stanzas) and a rhymed couplet. It follows a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. Famous poets of the English form are Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, and Longfellow.

Both the Italian and the Shakespearean sonnet share some characteristics. Both form breaks or turns between lines eight or nine. Both also frequently end in a couplet. A Spenserian sonnet is a combination of the Italian and Shakespearean forms. It was invented by Edmund Spencer when he wrote the Faerie Queene in 1590. The Spenserian form uses three quatrains and a couplet. It also uses a linking rhyme scheme between the quatrains of abab bcbc cdcd ee.

The sonnet is considered to be one of the most artistic forms of poetry. The rules and restrictions that comprise its form make it both an artistic and technical challenge to poets. It is also pleasing to hear read aloud. The set rhyme patterns create a kind of musical effect on the ears. Writing a sonnet is a great way for a poet to challenge his or her creative, artistic, and technical skills.

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