What is a Sonnet? Definition and Example

A sonnet basically is a poem that includes 14 lines with a kind of fixed rhyme structure. Most often sonnets are written in iambic pentameter. The word ‘sonnet’ comes from the Italian word ‘sonetto’ which means a little song or a sound. Being a very popular classical formation ‘sonnets’ have compelled several poets for years. The great Italian poet Giacomo da Lentini invented the sonnets for the first time in the 1200s. although there are so many types of sonnets available in English literature but the simplest and common sonnet is the Shakespearian sonnet.

Prominences of sonnet

Before Shakespeare has become popular among the world of sonnets; every short lyric poem was named as a sonnet. But only in England in the times of Elizabeth and renaissance, Italy sonnets appeared as a fixed poetic formation containing 14 lines, commonly iambic pentamer in English literature.

So many other types of sonnets were composed in different languages by the poets who were writing, presented different rhyme schemes and metrical patterns. But the common thing between them was the thematic structure that includes a question and answer, problems, and their solutions under their 14 lines and a ‘turn’ between two different parts of the sonnet.

Sonnets are made up of these prominences

  • A particular rhyme scheme: the Shakespearian sonnet involves a particular rhyme scheme; for example ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG are the four distinct parts of the rhyme scheme.
  • Fourteen lines: every sonnet includes 14 lines, and those 14 lines can be separated into 4 different part called quatrains.
  • Iambic pentamer: most often sonnets are written in iambic pentamer, a poetic genre that includes 10 beats per line of the poem which is made up of stressed and unstressed alternating syllables.

As we have already mentioned that a sonnet can be divided into for different sections called quatrains. It is needless to say that the first three quatrains of the sonnet involve 4 lines each and built upon a different rhyme scheme. The last quatrain contains of two lines in which the rhyme scheme is same for both the lines. Let me explain you how the quatrains progress the sonnet

  1. First quatrain: the main subject of the poem must be expressed by the first quatrain of the sonnet.
  2. Second quatrain: the main theme of the poem/sonnet must be established by the second quatrain of the poem.
  3. Third quatrain: the theme of the sonnet should be described again in the third quatrain but in a different poetic manner
  4. Fourth quatrain: this is the last quatrain of the sonnet and contains last two lines of the sonnet and the conclusion of the sonnet should be expressed here.

Revolution of Sonnet

The Italian sonnet or the Petrarchan sonnet was the original version of the sonnet and Petrarchan sonnet is arranged into two different parts, octet (lines- eight, rhyme scheme- ABBA ABBA) and sestet (lines- six, rhyme scheme- CDCDCD/CDECDE).

most of the people are familiar to the Shakespearian or the English sonnet but this version of the sonnet came later as an addition to the English literature. And we all have already known that this sonnet is made up of four different quatrains including three describing quatrains and an ending quatrain. Shakespearian sonnet is mutation developed by Edmund spencer in which the quatrains of the sonnet are bonded up with their rhyme scheme.

Since the appearance of sonnet into the English literature in 16th century, it has proven that it is a good carrier of all kind of poetry and large enough that the details can be completely expressed through its images and symbols without becoming cryptic. Sonnets are also short enough to claim a spreading of a poetic thought.

For more intensely express a single theme some poets have written sonnets in a continuous cycle; including a series of sonnets addressing a same person or a same incident. Sonnet crown is another popular formation of sonnet. In which a specific sonnet series is linked by adding the last line of one sonnet into the first line of the next sonnet until the circle is closed by the poet.

An introduction to the Shakespearian sonnet

The most important and popular sonnets In English literature are mostly written by William Shakespeare. He had written 154 sonnets, in which first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man and rest 28 are addressed to a woman. All those 154 sonnets cover the themes of love, beauty, passing of time, infidelity and death. Here I’m gonna put some of Shakespeare’s great sonnets just to represent the significance of the Shakespearian sonnet.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day

This is the 18th Shakespearian sonnet and very much popular among all his sonnets

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

Here in this sonnet, poet compares a young man to a beautiful day of summer. How season changes and nature change its elegance. Same thing also happens to the humans and the young beautiful man will gradually age and die one day. But the most important thing is the beauty of him will be remembered through the lines of sonnet.

Dark lady

This is the 151st sonnet and this is all about a dark lady. The main object of the peem is the poet’s desire and is more pointedly sexual.

“Love is too young to know what conscience is;

Yet who knows not, conscience is born of love?

Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss,

Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove.

For thou betraying me, I do betray

My nobler part to my gross body’s treason;

My soul doth tell my body that he may

Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason,

But rising at thy name, doth point out thee

As his triumphant prize. Proud of this pride,

He is contented thy poor drudge to be,

To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.

No want of conscience hold it that I call

Her ‘love,’ for whose dear love I rise and fall.”

Final words

This is all I wanted to convey about the significance of sonnets in English literature. Petrarchan sonnets as well as Shakespearian sonnets are widely famous all over the world. The construction, thoughts behind the themes and structures of the rhyme scheme has been explained above.

So if you like what you have read then don’t forget to put your valuable comment In the comment section and also let me know I have missed something important point. I will update the post as early as possible.

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