In reading this you will get a brief description of the history of the sonnet and the basic idea on how to write one, both Italian and English.

The sonnet is a fourteen-line lyric poem. Lyric means the poem expresses a person' emotions as opposed to telling a stroy. The sonnet form developed in Italy in the Renaisannce, where the poet Petrach used the form to write a famous series of poems about his love for Laura. Since Petrach knew he could never have Laura for his own, his sonnets make extravagant comparisions to describe his deep despair at loving someone who could not return his love. His poems also describe Laura's great beauty in many famous metaphors.

The Renaissance English poet Thomas Wyatt introduced the sonnet into the English language from the original Italian. Wyatt both translated Petrach's poems and composed love sonnets of his own style similar to Petrach's but with a few changes. The sonnet spread like wildfire. It was popular beyond belief. By Shakespeare's time, everyone was writing love sonnets in the style of Petrach and Wyatt. The poetry world was flooed with metaphors like those Petrach used to describe Laura. It seemed everyone was in love with someone who had "lips like roses" and "sweet breath like the finest perfume". Could all of these women really have "snow white skin" and "flaxen hair of gossamer"? The love sonnet had been overused. It became trite and meaningless. Shakespeare began to write sonnets that made fun of Petrachan love sonnets. He also wrote serious sonnets about love, friendship, and religion. He continued while keeping a somewhat similar form. Since then poets have been writing sonnets about many topics other than love. Themes of religious devotion and nature have become as "traditional" as the theme of love. Enough though the sonnet style has changed, it is still popular even nowadays--fiver hundred years after it came to our language.

There are two main types of sonnets in modern English, the Petrarchan form (also called the Italian sonnet) and the Shakespearian form (also called the English sonnet). The difference starts in the ryhme scheme, but affects the knid of thoughts expressed in the poem.

The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet is a two-part (two stanza) poem consisting of one eight-line part, and one six-line part, the sestet. The rhymes in the octave are closely linked in the following pattern:

(OCTAVE: describes a problem or dilemma)

The sestet follows like this:

(SESTET: resolves the dilemma)

John Milton wrote an Italian sonnet (in English) at the age of twenty-three. His problem is taht he feels he hasn't accomplished much for his age and despite his mature appearance, he isn't mature as some other "timely-happy spirits". This is how the octave in than Italian sonnet is supposed to work; the octave sets up a problem of some sort, which the sestet resolves.

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stol'n on his wing my three and twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom show'th.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,
That I to manhood am arriv'd so near,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
That some more timely-happy spirits endu'th.

Yet be it less or more, soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure ev'n
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav'n:
All is, if I have grace it use it so,
As ever in my great task-Master's eye.

Milton has stopped worrying about being a late bloomer.

The Italian sonnet demands that the poet use a lot of words that end with the same ryhme. For instance, four lines have to end with the same sound as the first line-ending word. (youth, show'th, truth, endu'th) and four must rhyme with the second line ending word (year, career, near, appear). This is much harder in English than in Italian because English has fewer words that ryhme with each other.

Shakespeare was inventive enough to modify the structure of the sonnet while keeping the basic length and the same number of lines. He started writing sonnets in four stanzas instead of just two. Shakespeare's sonnets have three quatrains and one couplet. That means he has three stanzas with four lines followed by one stanza with two lines. Still, the Shakespearian sonnet, or English sonnet still has fourteen lines, jus tlike Petrach's. The English sonnet presents a three-part problem in the three stanza and then comments on the problem in the couplet. The English sonnet rhyme scheme is as follows:





Sonnet 73
That time of year though mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me though see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.

This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Shakespeare gives three descriptions of the problem that's bothering him: he feels old and exhausted. 1. He compares himself to the season of winter, 2. to the dusk of the day, and 3. to a dying fire that will soon be choked out by the same ashes of wood that once fed its flames. After illustrating the problem of old age in three ways, Shakespeare, in the couplet, quickly notes that his friend loves him all the more because Shakespeare will not be around much longer. In a sonnet, the last two lines have to be packed with that kind of deep meaning. After all, there are only two lines in which to make your most important statement.

To simplify the English sonnet structure, you might say that in stanzas one through three you describe the same problem three different ways. Then, in stanza four, you comment on that problem and attempt some deep thoughts.

Most English sonnets use lines made up of five groups of syllables, known as "feet". The foot commonly used is the "iamb". The iamb is made up of one weak syllable followed by one strong syllable. Since there are five iambs in one line, the "meter" or measure of teh poem called "iambic pentameter" (iambs = 5 groups of 2 syllables each; "penta" = 5).

You will notice that many sonnets have irregularities in the meter. Perhaps one of the feet might have the strong syllable first or ever two strong syllables. This is nothing to worry about, and in fact, a little variations from the established meter can lend importance to a particular line. But still, most lines in a sonnet should have 10 syllables.

But what about the funny poems where Shakespeare made fun of all the lovey dovey owrn out comparisons in Petrarchen sonnets? In sonnet 130, Shakespeare uses some of the exact same comparisons to think about his own sweet mistress. But, being the truthful person that he is, he realizes that she doesn't really have "eyes shining like the sun" or "lips as red as coral". He evern notes that instead of breath like perfume, his lady's breath can be bad. Back in the day, poets liked to say that their ladies were so angelic they "walked on air" but Shakespeare's lady doesn't, as you'll see in the poem. Notice the couplet at the end of the poem changes the mood from funny to serious; Shakespeare says that he actually loves his lady more than other poets love their ladies. He says he loves her more than any SHE be LIED by FALSE comparison. He loves her for who she really is.

Sonnet 130
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her skin is dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
An in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing song:
I grant I never saw a goddes go,--
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.

And yet, by heaven, I think my loves as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Shakespeare's joke is pointing out how exaggerated the excessive other sonnet writers' comparison have been. Those comparisons are unrealistic. Shakespeare made the joke better by using the exact formula and some of the same words that earlier poets used. If you are a beginner at sonnets, you could try a similar strategy. You could write a poem about your dog or cat and really exaggerate what a good watchdog or hunter your pet is. Would his growling scare a robber in the next country? Could she catch a groundhog and lay it at your doorstep? You could even sing the praises of your favorite thing like your iPod. If you really exaggerate how useful it is, it might be funny.

Once you have the kernel of an idea for a poem, the sonnet form itself can help you develop that idea into an octave and sestet, or qutrains and a couplet. Most lyric poems work by developing comparisons, or metaphors, to describe intangible feelings by bringing to mind tangible images. The sonnet form encourages you to go beyond describing your feelings by providing you a space at the end for deep thoughts on the images or feelings you have described in the first part of your poem.

Sonnets Review: just the basics
- 14 lines
- 10 syllables per line
- the first part presents a problem, perhaps in three different aspects
- the second part supplies a commentary or solution
- Italian sonnets require more rhyming difficulty
- traditional topics are love, nature, and religious devotion
- some sonnets are non-traditional or even humorous

What do you say? Go ahead and try to write a sonnet!

This took me over an hour to write, hope you guys enjoy!
Posted on December 24th, 2007 at 03:27am


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