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Literature
A Brief Introduction To Sonnet

A Brief Introduction To Sonnet

Poetry as a specific form of arts and literature is a very exquisite way to transform a whole story, thought or expressions in a few lines. However, with the rising popularity of poems, several categories of poems were formed. In this particular expression of mine, I would like to choose and consider expressing my understandings towards a specific type of poem which we all know as a sonnet.
So what is a Sonnet and how was it originated ?
A sonnet refers to a poem which is written in 14 lines. Because literature has grown a lot since the Renaissance period, different types of sonnets now exist. We will certainly talk about it later.
Giacomo Da Lentini was a poet who is also credited with the discovery of a sonnet during the Renaissance period. The Renaissance period was a time when literature and art was promoted a lot. The world history is divided into three parts:

  1. Ancient
  2. Medieval
  3. Modern
  4. However medieval age has a lot of significance in modern day literature because this period was also known as the dark age. From 5 to 14th century, the world was struck in a time of war, revolutions, colonialism, totalitarianism and brutality, which is why no advancement was made in art and literature at all. The dark age ended in the 14th century and the Renaissance period began from Italy. Renaissance is a French word and this period was when literature and art was about to blossom. Dante Alighieri Petrarch began with rediscovering classical poets and promoting their work. Petrarch was also known as the father of human ideology as he presented forward the definition of humanism. Back in that time, it was believed that humans do not have a value but according to Petrarch’s ideology of humanism “Humans are everything and every other thing in the world is made for humans”.
  5. This ideology did bring about a change in literature and philosophy. Other than poets trying to rediscover literature, some famous artists arose during this period of time in Italy. Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael are few of the brilliant artists who made magnificent paintings and contributed to the revival of art and literature.
    Giacomo Da Lentini discovered a sonnet but the actual popularity of the sonnet is credited to Francesco Petrarch who used to write sonnets for his Love, Laura. Sonnets were known as a romantic form of poetry. Francesco Petrarch used to write sonnets in Italian but later on Thomas Wyatt translated his sonnets to English and so more people could understand them. It is how sonnets were promoted around the world.

Features and Types of a Sonnet:
The few features of a sonnet are listed below:

  1. A sonnet has 14 lines only
  2. A sonnet follows a regular rhyme scheme
  3. A sonnet is composed with strict metrical construction

A sonnet has three main types.

  1. Shakespearian Sonnets:
    As the name reflects itself, these sonnets were discovered by William Shakespeare. Shakespearean sonnets were written from 1592-1598. However, the main topics around which these sonnets revolved are:
  2. Love
  3. Lust
    3.Impermanence
    These were the most common sonnets and written in common English. These sonnets are usually written as a single stanza without leaving a space between the quatrains and the couplet. The rhyme scheme followed by Shakespeare in his sonnets is “ABAB CDCD EFEF GG”. These sonnets are divided in to three quatrains and a concluding couplet. A quatrain consists of 4 lines while a couplet consists of 2 lines. The 1st line in the first quatrain rhymes with the 3rd line. Similarly, the 2nd line rhymes with the 4th line. William Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and changed the octave and the sestet rule. Shakespeare would question and explain the scenario till the 12th line and provided his thoughts or solutions in the last two lines. Let us analyzes Shakespeare’s sonnet 55. To make it simple, we divide the sonnet into 3 quatrains and a couplet for better understanding.

Not marble nor the gilded monuments ………………………… A
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,………………… B
But you shall shine more bright in these contents………… A
Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time………. B

In the first quatrain, very accurately we can observe that the first line rhymes with the third line while the second rhymes with the fourth. The first quatrain explains that stones and monuments sooner or later lose their worth but this sonnet will stay as lovely as it is without having time leave any impression on it.

When wasteful war shall statues overturn,………………… C
And broils root out the work of masonry,…………………… D
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn…….. C
The living record of your memory………………………………. D

  The second quatrain also fits accurately on the rules of the Shakespearean sonnets. Here Shakespeare introduces the concept that war and destruction cannot destroy the fine memories of love.

’Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity…………………………… E
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room…….. F
Even in the eyes of all posterity…………………………………….. E
That wear this world out to the ending doom……………….. F

   The last quatrains ends with the issue and description of the situation following the same rhyme scheme. Here Shakespeare describes love as everlasting even if the end of the world is near.

So, till the Judgement that yourself arise,…………………… G
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes…………………… G

The solution for the love to last forever resides in these two lines where he concludes the sonnet by realizing that after the world is over you will rise again on the judgement day and our love will live again but till then you will live in these words. 
  1. Spenserian Sonnets
    Spenserian sonnets were first introduced by Edmund Spencer in the 16th century. He used it in his “The Fairie Queene”. The Spenserian form was adopted by many poets including “Byron”, “Burn” and “Keats”. Even though these sonnets had a structure similar to the Shakespearean sonnets that included three quatrains and a couplet. However, the difference was the in the rhyme scheme. Spenserian sonnets have a rhyme scheme as “AB AB BC BC CD CD EE”.
    Let us know analyze a Spenserian sonnet.

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,…………………… A
But came the waves and washed it away:………………………. B
Again I wrote it with a second hand,……………………………… A
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey……………… B

The first quatrain is once again composed precisely in the same rhyme scheme. In the first quatrain Spenser explains that he wrote his lovers name in the sand twice but both time a wave washed it away.

“Vain man,” said she, “that dost in vain assay,………………… B
A mortal thing so to immortalize;………………………………….. C
For I myself shall like to this decay,………………………………. B
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.”…………………….. C

The second quatrain is also rhyming in the most accurate way and here Spenser explains that his lover replies that what a silly thing he is doing because one day she will also die and disappear from the world like the name.

“Not so,” (quod I) “let baser things devise……………………… C
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:………………………. D
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,……………………… C
And in the heavens write your glorious name:……………….. D

The third quatrains follows the same rhyme scheme and here Spenser replies to his lover by saying that he will make her immortal by writing her in his poems and their love will live forever.

Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,……………. E
Our love shall live, and later life renew.”………………………… E

Throughout the sonnet we can see that it follows the same Shakespearean pattern of a sonnet but has a different rhyme scheme.

  1. Petrarchan Sonnets
    Introduced for the first time by Francesco Petrarch, these sonnets are the oldest sonnets ever created. Francesco Petrarch is credited with promoting sonnets by writing them for his love, Laura. Even though his sonnets were written in Italian but Thomas Wyatt translated them into English. By doing so, these sonnets became famous. These sonnets have a different structure as well as a different Rhyme scheme. Petrarchan Sonnets are divided into two quatrains and two tercets. However, there is a gap between the quatrains and tercets. The two quatrains make up a total of 8 lines and are known as “octave”. In these lines the problem is described and questions are asked. The last 6 lines or the two tercets are known as “sestet”. In these lines the solution is described. The 9th line is where we jump from the “octave” to the “sestet “and this turn is known as “Volta”. Also the rhyme scheme followed by Petrarchan sonnets is “ABBA ABBA CDE CDE”
    Let us analyze a Petrarchan Sonnet.

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,………………………… A
Stol’n 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
The sonnet can be seen as composed perfectly in the rules of the Petrarchan sonnet. However, the poet expresses his sorrow on how time had passed by so quickly but he still had not managed to achieve anything magnificent in his poetic career.

Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth………………………. A
That I to manhood am arriv’d so near;………………………………. B
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,…………………….. B
That some more timely-happy spirits endu’th…………………… A

Here the poet expresses that time did pass by quickly and that he reached an age old enough when a person should be mature but alas, he did not find the inner maturity in him.
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,……………………………….. C
It shall be still in strictest measure ev’n………………………… D
To that same lot, however mean or high,……………………… E

However, he still believes that sooner or later, it is all part of God’s plan and he will reach his aim or objective when God wills.

Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav’n:………… D
All is, if I have grace to use it so……………………………………. C
As ever in my great Task-Master’s eye…………………………. E

Finally, the poet hopes that he will, by the grace of God, someday achieve his maturity that will help him create something exquisite.

Other than these three main types of sonnets, we do have some other categories of sonnets as well which we will take a look on.

  1. Modern Sonnets
    With the passage of time as we entered the modern era, more poets contributed to literature and especially poetry. However, not all were successful. Poets such as Robert Laurel, W.H Auden, Elizabeth Bishop and Billy Colin devoted much of their work to the promotion of sonnets. The work started in the 20th century but did not quite work well. Modern poets tried to change the structure of sonnets which was not appreciated. But the even bigger issue was that modern sonnets did not support any rhyme scheme.
  2. Occitan Sonnets
    The Occitan sonnets is one of the most original forms of a sonnet. These sonnets were introduced in the 13-14th century. Occitan sonnets were also known as the sonnets of the romantic language. Even though the Occitan sonnets were developed with the Italian Sonnets, these were different, having different rhyme scheme which was “ABBA ABBA CD CD CD”. Also the tradition that a sonnet should be of 14 lines only was originated by the Occitan sonnets.
  3. Curtal Sonnets
    The Curtal sonnets were introduced by Gerard Manley Hopkins as he used them in three of his poems. These sonnets were different because GM Hopkins reduced the size of the Sonnet from 14 to 11 or to be more precise 10.5 lines. Due to this difference, critics do not believe the curtal sonnets to be of any contribution to the real definition of a sonnet. These sonnets end with a separate line which is composed of not more than two or three words. G.M Hopkins believed that the curtal sonnets were an upgrade to the Petrarchan sonnets as the style and structure was almost the same.

Many poets have made slight differences and their own contributions to sonnets such as:

  1. John Denn wrote religious sonnets.
  2. Milton wrote about Satire and serious issues as life and Death
  3. Wordsworth made his own model of a sonnet as well.
  4. P.B Shelly made her own rhyme scheme as well, which is “ABABACDCEDEFEF”

Why Poets Write Sonnets ?
There are a few particular reasons why a poet would choose a sonnet to write:

  1. A sonnet is just the right size. It isn’t short enough and not that long. It is just the size where a poet can convey his thoughts sufficiently.
  2. Sonnets are deeply linked with romance and love. A poet would choose the most accurate type of poem to convey his love to his lover.
  3. Writing a sonnet is challenging. It is because there are a certain set of rules to follow as one writes a sonnet. The poet believes in his skills and he writes a sonnet to prove to his lover that he chose the most difficult path for his lover to prove his love and that nothing bounds the poet when it comes to expressing his love for his lover.

My reason for choosing “sonnet” as the topic:
A sonnet is particularly a very interesting type of a poem. Specifically because it is a skillful task to write a sonnet and has a history of poets and their contributions to literature linked with it. Sonnet stands as a very major type of poetry as it was at first written to express love only but with the passage of time, the scope of a sonnet broadened. There was a lot of information available on a sonnet making it an excellent topic to discuss and express one’s views on.

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