A sonnet is a poetic form which originated at the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in Palermo, Sicily. The 13th century poet and notary Giacomo da Lentini is credited with the sonnet's invention and the Sicilian School of poets who surrounded him is credited with its spread. The earliest sonnets, however, no longer survive in the original Sicilian dialect, but only after being translated into Tuscan dialect.
The term sonnet is derived from the Sicilian word sonetto (from Old Provençal sonet a little poem, from son song, from Latin sonus a sound). By the thirteenth century it signified a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme and specific structure. Conventions associated with the sonnet have evolved over its history. Writers of sonnets are sometimes called "sonneteers", although the term can be used derisively.
The sonnet was created by Giacomo da Lentini, head of the Sicilian School under Emperor Frederick II.Guittone d'Arezzo rediscovered it and brought it to Tuscany where he adapted it to his language when he founded the Siculo-Tuscan School, or Guittonian school of poetry (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 Petrarch. Other fine examples were written by Michelangelo.
The structure of a typical Italian sonnet of the time included two parts that together formed a compact form of "argument". First, the octave, forms the "proposition", which describes a "problem", or "question", followed by a sestet (two tercets), which proposes a "resolution". Typically, the ninth line initiates 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.
Later, the ABBA ABBA pattern became the standard for Italian sonnets. For the sestet there were two different possibilities: CDE CDE and CDC CDC. In time, other variants on this rhyming scheme were introduced, such as CDCDCD. Petrarch typically used an ABBA ABBA pattern for the octave, followed by either CDE CDE or CDC CDC rhymes in the sestet. The Crybin variant of the Italian sonnet has the rhyme scheme ABBA CDDC EFG EFG.
Most Sonnets in Dante's La Vita Nuova are Petrarchan. Chapter VII gives sonnet "O voi che per la via", with two sestets (AABAAB AABAAB) and two quatrains (CDDC CDDC), and Ch. VIII, "Morte villana", with two sestets (AABBBA AABBBA) and two quatrains (CDDC CDDC).
The New York born Sephardic Jewish poet Emma Lazarus also published many sonnets. She is the author of perhaps the best-known American sonnet, "The New Colossus", which celebrates the Statue of Liberty and her role in welcoming immigrants to the United States.
In 1928, American poet and painter John Allan Wyeth published This Man's Army: A War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets. The collection, with a rhyme scheme unique in the history of the sonnet, traces Wyeth's military service with the American Expeditionary Force in France during World War I. According to Dana Gioia, who rescued Wyeth's work from obscurity during the early 21st century, Wyeth is the only American poet of the Great War who deserves comparison with British war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
Other modern poets, including Don Paterson, Edwin Morgan, Joan Brossa, Paul Muldoon have used the form. Wendy Cope's poem "Stress" is a sonnet. Elizabeth Bishop's inverted "Sonnet" was one of her last poems. Ted Berrigan's book, The Sonnets, "is conventional almost exclusively in [the] line count".Paul Muldoon often experiments with 14 lines and sonnet rhymes, though without regular sonnet meter.
At the height of the Vietnam War in 1967, American poet Richard Wilbur composed A Miltonic Sonnet for Mr. Johnson on His Refusal of Peter Hurd's Official Portrait. In a clear cut case of "criticism from the Right", Wilbur compares U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson with Thomas Jefferson and finds the former to be greatly wanting. Commenting that Jefferson "would have wept to see small nations dread/ The imposition of our cattle brand," and that in Jefferson's term, "no army's blood was shed", Wilbur urges President Johnson to seriously consider how history will judge him and his Administration.
Beginning in the 1970s and '80s, the New Formalist Revival has also created a revival of the sonnet form in American poetry. Between 1994 and 2017, first The Formalist and then Measure sponsored the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award, which was annually offered for the best new sonnet.
Rhina Espaillat, a Dominican immigrant and prominent New Formalist poet, has translated many Spanish and Latin American sonnets into English. No volume of her many translations, however, has yet been published.
The sonnet was introduced into Czech literature at the beginning of the 19th century. The first great Czech sonneteer was Ján Kollár, who wrote a cycle of sonnets named Slávy Dcera (The daughter of Sláva / The daughter of fame). Kollár was Slovak and a supporter of Pan-Slavism, but wrote in Czech, as he disagreed that Slovak should be a separate language. Kollár's magnum opus was planned as a Slavic epic poem as great as Dante's Divine Comedy. It consists of The Prelude written in quantitative hexameters, and sonnets. The number of poems increased in subsequent editions and came up to 645. The greatest Czech romantic poet, Karel Hynek Mácha also wrote many sonnets. In the second half of the 19th century Jaroslav Vrchlický published Sonety samotá?e (Sonnets of a Solitudinarian). Another poet, who wrote many sonnets was Josef Svatopluk Machar. He published ?ty?i knihy sonet? (The Four Books of Sonnets). In the 20th century Vít?zslav Nezval wrote the cycle 100 sonet? zachránkyni vného studenta Roberta Davida (One Hundred Sonnets for the Woman who Rescued Perpetual Student Robert David). After the Second World War the sonnet was the favourite form of Old?ich Vyhlídal. Czech poets use different metres for sonnets, Kollár and Mácha used decasyllables, Vrchlický iambic pentameter, Antonín Sova free verse, and Ji?í Orten the Czech alexandrine. Ond?ej Hanus wrote a monograph about Czech Sonnets in the first half of the twentieth century.
The first known sonnets in English, written by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, used the Italian, Petrarchan form, as did sonnets by later English poets, including John Milton, Thomas Gray, William Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
When English sonnets were introduced by Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) in the early 16th century, his sonnets and those of his contemporary the Earl of Surrey 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 developed the rhyme scheme - ABAB CDCD EFEF GG - which now characterizes the 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 sequences. 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 of 154 sonnets. 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. The form consists of fourteen lines structured as 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 (for example, Shakespeare's Sonnet 145 in iambic tetrameter), the meter is iambic pentameter.
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 fixèd 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). The Epilogue to Henry V is also in the form of a sonnet.
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. 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 bands, (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)
In the 17th century, the sonnet was adapted to other purposes, with John Donne and George Herbert writing religious sonnets (see John Donne's Holy Sonnets), and John Milton using the sonnet as a general meditative poem. Probably Milton's most famous sonnet is "When I Consider How My Light is Spent", titled by a later editor "On His Blindness". Both the Shakespearean and Petrarchan rhyme schemes were popular throughout this period, as well as many variants.
When I consider how my light is spent (A)
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide, (B)
And that one talent which is death to hide, (B)
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent (A)
To serve therewith my Maker, and present (A)
My true account, lest he returning chide; (B)
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?" (B)
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent (A)
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need (C)
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best (D)
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state (E)
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed (C)
And post o'er land and ocean without rest; (D)
They also serve who only stand and wait." (E)
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. Amongst the first to reintroduce the form was Charlotte Smith with her Elegaic Sonnets, (1784 onwards) to whom Wordsworth acknowledged a considerable debt. Wordsworth himself wrote hundreds of sonnets, of which amongst the best-known are "Upon Westminster Bridge", "The world is too much with us" and "London, 1802" addressed 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". In her later years, Felicia Hemans took up the form in her series Sonnets Devotional and Memorial. 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. Modern Love (1862) by George Meredith is a collection of fifty 16-line sonnets about the failure of his first marriage.
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote several major sonnets, often in sprung rhythm, such as "The Windhover", and also several sonnet variants such as the 10-line curtal sonnet "Pied Beauty" and the 24-line caudate sonnet "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire". Hopkin's poetry was, however, not published until 1918. 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.
Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote the major sonnet "Leda and the Swan", which uses half rhymes. Wilfred Owen's sonnet "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is 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.
Contemporary word sonnets combine a variation of styles often considered to be mutually exclusive to separate genres, as demonstrated in works such as "An Ode to Mary".
In the 16th century, around Ronsard (1524-1585), Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560) and Jean Antoine de Baïf (1532-1589), there formed a group of radical young noble poets of the court (generally known today as La Pléiade, although use of this term is debated), who began writing in, amongst other forms of poetry, the Petrarchan sonnet cycle (developed around an amorous encounter or an idealized woman). The character of La Pléiade literary program was given in Du Bellay's manifesto, the "Defense and Illustration of the French Language" (1549), which maintained that French (like the Tuscan of Petrarch and Dante) was a worthy language for literary expression and which promulgated a program of linguistic and literary production (including the imitation of Latin and Greek genres) and purification.
In the aftermath of the Wars of Religion, French Catholic jurist and poet Jean de La Ceppède published the Theorems, a sequence of more than 500 Alexandrine sonnets, with non-traditional rhyme schemes, about the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Drawing upon the Gospels, Greek and Roman Mythology, and the Fathers of the Church, La Ceppède was praised by Saint Francis de Sales for transforming "the Pagan Muses into Christian ones." La Ceppède's sonnets often attack the Calvinist doctrine of a judgmental and unforgiving God by focusing on Christ's passionate love for the human race. Long forgotten, the 20th century witnessed a revival of interest in La Ceppède and his sonnets are now regarded as classic works of French poetry.
By the late 17th century poets on increasingly relied on stanza forms incorporating rhymed couplets, and by the 18th century fixed-form poems - and, in particular, the sonnet - were largely avoided. The resulting versification - less constrained by meter and rhyme patterns than Renaissance poetry - more closely mirrored prose.
The Romantics were responsible for a return to (and sometimes a modification of) many of the fixed-form poems used during the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as for the creation of new forms. The sonnet however was little used until the Parnassians brought it back into favor, and the sonnet would subsequently find its most significant practitioner in Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867).
The traditional French sonnet form was however significantly modified by Baudelaire, who used 32 different forms of sonnet with non-traditional rhyme patterns to great effect in his Les Fleurs du mal.
Paul Verlaine's Alexandrine sonnet Langeur, in which he compares himself to, "The Empire at the end of it's decadence", while drinking in a low dive, was embraced as a manifesto by the Decadent poets and by literary bohemia.
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 ABAB ABAB CDCDCD. 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 Mario Crescimbeni's, Istoria 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.
Germany's national poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, also wrote many sonnets, using a rhyme scheme derived from Italian poetry. After his death, Goethe's followers created the German sonnet, which is rhymed . a. b. b. a. . . b. c. c. b. . . c. d. d. . . c. d. d.
The Sonnets to Orpheus are a cycle of 55 sonnets written in 1922 by the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). It was first published the following year. Rilke, who is "widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets", wrote the cycle in a period of three weeks experiencing what he described a "savage creative storm". Inspired by the news of the death of Wera Ouckama Knoop (1900-1919), a playmate of Rilke's daughter Ruth, he dedicated them as a memorial, or Grab-Mal (literally "grave-marker"), to her memory.
The German Jewish poet Herbert Eulenberg also wrote many sonnets.
The Greek poet Yannis Livadas in 1993 invented the so-called "fusion sonnet", which first appeared in a poetry collection entitled The Hanging Verses Of Babylon/ (Melani Books, Athens 2007), ISBN 978-960-8309-78-4.
In the Indian subcontinent, sonnets have been written in the Assamese, Bengali, Dogri, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Sindhi and Urdu languages.Urdu poets, also influenced by English and other European poets, took to writing sonnets in the Urdu language rather late. Azmatullah Khan (1887-1923) is believed to have introduced this format to Urdu literature in the very early part of the 20th century. The other renowned Urdu poets who wrote sonnets were Akhtar Junagarhi, Akhtar Sheerani, Noon Meem Rashid, Mehr Lal Soni Zia Fatehabadi, Salaam Machhalishahari and Wazir Agha. This example, a sonnet by Zia Fatehabadi taken from his collection Meri Tasveer, is in the usual English (Shakespearean) sonnet rhyme-scheme.
? ? ? ?
? ? ?
? ? ? ? ?
? ? ? ?
? ? ?
? ? ? ?
Sonnet 'Dubkani' by Zia Fatehabadi taken from his book titled Meri Tasveer
Although sonnets had long been written in English by Anglo-Irish poets such as Edmund Spenser and William Butler Yeats, the sonnet form failed to enter poetry in the Irish language. This changed, however, in 2009.
In an article about his translations, Sionóid wrote that Irish poetic forms are completely different from those of other languages and that both the sonnet form and the iambic pentameter line had long been considered "entirely unsuitable" for composing poetry in Irish. In his translations, Soinóid chose to closely reproduce Shakespeare's rhyme scheme and rhythms while rendering into Irish.
In a copy that he gifted to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford Upon Avon, Sionóid wrote, "From Slaneyside to Avonside, from a land of bards to the greatest Bard of all; and long life and happiness to the guardians of the world's most precious treasure."
In 1826, Poland's national poet, Adam Mickiewicz, wrote a sonnet sequence known as the Crimean Sonnets, after the Tsar sentenced him to internal exile in the Crimean Peninsula. Mickiewicz's sonnet sequence focuses heavily on the culture and Islamic religion of the Crimean Tatars. The sequence was translated into English by Edna Worthley Underwood.
Sonnets were also written by Adam Asnyk, Jan Kasprowicz and Leopold Staff. Polish poets usually shape their sonnets according to Italian or French practice. The Shakespearean sonnet is not commonly used. Kasprowicz used a Shelleyan rhyme scheme: ABA BCB CDC DED EE. Polish sonnets are typically written in either hendecasyllables (5+6 syllables) or Polish alexandrines (7+6 syllables).
Alexander Pushkin's novel in verse Eugene Onegin consists almost entirely of 389 stanzas of iambic tetrameter with the unusual rhyme scheme "AbAbCCddEffEgg", where the uppercase letters represent feminine rhymes while the lowercase letters represent masculine rhymes. This form has come to be known as the "Onegin stanza" or the "Pushkin sonnet."
Unlike other traditional forms, such as the Petrarchan sonnet or Shakespearean sonnet, the Onegin stanza does not divide into smaller stanzas of four lines or two in an obvious way. There are many different ways this sonnet can be divided.
In post-Pushkin Russian poetry, the form has been utilized by authors as diverse as Mikhail Lermontov, the Catholic convert poet Vyacheslav Ivanov, Jurgis Baltru?aitis and Valery Pereleshin, in genres ranging from one-stanza lyrical piece to voluminous autobiography. Nevertheless, the Onegin stanza, being easily recognisable, is strongly identified as belonging to Pushkin.
In Slovenia the sonnet became a national verse form. The greatest Slovenian poet, France Pre?eren, wrote many sonnets. His best known work worldwide is Sonetni venec (A Wreath of Sonnets), which is an example of crown of sonnets. Another work of his is the sequence Sonetje nesre?e (Sonnets of Misfortune). In writing sonnets Pre?eren was followed by many later poets. After the Second World War sonnets remained very popular. Slovenian poets write both traditional rhymed sonnets and modern ones, unrhymed, in free verse. Among them are Milan Jesih and Ale? Debeljak. The metre for sonnets in Slovenian poetry is iambic pentameter with feminine rhymes, based both on the Italian endecasillabo and German iambic pentameter.
According to Willis Barnstone, the introduction of the sonnet into Spanish language poetry began with a chance meeting in 1526 between the Catalan poet Juan Boscán and Andrea Navagero, the Venetian Ambassador to the Spanish Court. While the Ambassador was accompanying King Carlos V on a state visit to the Alhambra, he encountered Boscán along the banks of the Darro River in Granada. As they talked, Navagero strongly urged Boscán to introduce the sonnet and other Italian forms into Spanish poetry. A few days later, Boscán began trying to compose sonnets as he rode home and found the form, "of a very capable disposition to receive whatever material, whether grave or subtle or difficult or easy, and in itself good for joining with any style that we find among the approved ancient authors."
Spaniard Federico García Lorca also wrote sonnets.
Akhtar Junagarhi kaa sonnet ghaaliban 1914 kaa hai- Rashid kaa 1930 kaa aur Akhtar Sheerani ne andaazan 1933 se 1942 tak sonnet likhe- isii dauraan 1934 se 1936 tak Zia Fatehabadi ne bhi keii sonnet likhe (Akhtar Junagarhi's sonnet is from the year 1914. Rashid's sonnet is of 1930 and Akhtar Sheerani wrote sonnets between 1932 and 1942. During the period of 1932 to 1936, Zia Fatehabadi also wrote many sonnets)