25+ Facts About Sonnets That Will Unleash Your Inner Poet

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The word sonnet was derived from sonetto, an Italian word that means a sound or a song.

A sonnet is a classical form of poetry. The simplest form of the sonnet was known as the Shakespearian sonnet or English sonnet.

A sonnet is a 14-line poem in one stanza. Sonnets have a two-parts with a theme, a problem and solution, proposition and reinterpretation, question and answer in their 14 lines, and a volta between the two parts. All the sonnets have three important features; 14 lines, a rhyme scheme, and they are written in iambic pentameter.

A sonnet can be divided into four divisions called quatrains. The first three quatrains have four lines and apply an alternative rhyme scheme, and the final quatrain has only two lines where both rhyme. The first quatrain establishes the subject of the sonnet with four lines and an ABAB rhyme scheme. The second quatrain develops the sonnet's theme with four lines and a CDCD rhyme scheme. The third quatrain should conclude the theme of the sonnet with four lines and an EFEF rhyme scheme.

The three important sonnets are Italian or Petrarchan sonnets, the Spenserian sonnets, and the English or Shakespearean sonnets. The Petrarchan has its 14 lines framed in eight lines (octet). The Shakespearean sonnet imbibes in it three quatrains rhyming with ABAB CDCD EFEF and concludes with a rhyming heroic couplet. The Spenserian has a variation with quatrains tagged to their rhyming scheme.

The History Of Sonnets

The history of sonnets is drawn back to the 13th century in Italy, and it was spread popular in the 14th century by a scholar called Francesco Petrarca.

Giacomo da Lentini was a poet who lived in the 13th-century that invented this poetic style and the first sonnet. Many writers started adopting the poetic style after him. The sonnet form started during the Middle Ages in Italy and broadly spread during the Renaissance. Dante Alighieri, Guido Cavalcanti, and Francesco Petrarca were notable writers of the early times who adopted the style. Petrarch, the Italian poet, was popular for his sonnets and many writers adopted his form of sonnets. This poetic style was introduced into Portuguese literature by Francisco de Sa de Miranda. The Earl of Surrey, Henry Howard, and Thomas Wyatt introduced this style to England. Sonnets in Poland were written by Mikolaj Sep Szarzynski, Sebastian Grabowiecki, and Jan Kochanowski. Let's find out some more historical facts about poems and sonnets.

  • Soon sonnet sequence styles became popular among writing with connected series of sonnets.
  • A famous painter and sculptor, Michelangelo also wrote sonnets. He swapped them with Vittoria Colonna.
  • William Shakespeare's sonnets have given their major contribution to English literature and other writers of his time were Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, Samuel Daniel, and Michael Drayton who also wrote and published sonnet sequences.
  • Famous poets like John Keats, William Wordsworth, John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Donne have adopted this style in their writing.
  • Emma Lazarus and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were poets from the United States who wrote sonnets.
  • However, by the 20th century, the rigid format of a sonnet was out of practice, though some modern poets still followed the style. Most modern writers have broken the traditional style of rhymes pattern and styles.
  • The English alphabets are used to show the rhymes pattern in the 14 lines in a sonnet. The regular rhyme pattern is a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g.

Types Of Sonnets

Let us gather some more information on the different types of sonnets that exists. Sonnets are classified into three major types, which are classified below:

  • The Petrarchan Sonnet gets its name after the poet Francesco Petrarch from Italy in the 14th century. Though he bears the name, he did not invent the form of writing. Giacomo da Lentini was the one who composed this form of poetry in Sicilian literary dialect in the 13th century. This sonnet has 14 lines with two subgroups as sestet and octave. Octave has the rhyming scheme ABBA ABBA and sestet follows the rhyme CDE CDE or CDC CDC.
  • A Shakespearean sonnet is different from a traditional Italian sonnet. This style emerged during the Elizabethan era in England. This poetic form is commonly known as an English sonnet or Elizabethan sonnet. This sonnet has 14 lines with four subgroups, as three quatrains and a final couplet. Each line is framed in iambic pentameter with 10 syllables. Shakespeare's sonnets apply ABAB CDCD EFEF GG as their rhyme scheme.
  • A Spenserian sonnet is different from other sonnets with a complicated rhyme pattern as ABAB BCBC CDCD EE.
  • Miltonic sonnets were formed from Shakespeare's sonnets but with no constraints or formation of writing. They are stretched with no limits of length or rhyme. The writings are developed about the inner conflict of emotions than other subjects of the materialistic world.


Famous Sonnets In History

After the invention of the sonnet poems in the middle ages, it was widely used by many writers in various languages.

  • It set its mark in the 16th century after the poets like Earl of Surrey, Henry Howard, and Sir Thomas Wyatt published the writing style.
  • Writers have used poems in various genres to express love as a romantic sonnet, nature, memory, and many more to express their beliefs and pains.
  • Famous sonnets with eternal lines in the English language of these times have set a remarkable trace in English literature.


Must Read Sonnets and Poems

Here are some famous works by Shakespeare and other writers that everyone must read:

  • 'Whoso List To Hunt' by Sir Thomas Wyatt, 'Sonnet 18': Shakespearean sonnet 'Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day?, 'Sonnet 1' from 'Astrophil And Stella' by Sir Philip Sidney, 'What My Lips Have Kissed', and 'Where And Why' by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
  • Shakespeare's sonnets like 'Sonnet 29', 'Sonnet 130': 'My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun' popular works by William Shakespeare, 'Death, Be Not Proud', by John Donne, 'Sonnet 1' by Sir Philip Sidney, 'Composed Upon Westminster Bridge' by William Wordsworth.
  • 'Leda And The Swan', a famous work by William Butler Yeats, 'On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer', by John Keats, 'Holy Sonnet 10: Death Be Not Proud' by John Donne, Christina Rossetti, 'Remember, 'The Windhover' by Gerard Manley Hopkins, 'I, Being Born A Woman And Distressed' composed by Edna St. Vincent Millay, 'On His Blindness' by John Milton,
  • 'Illuminations I' by Tony Harrison, 'Sonnet: To Time' by Sylvia Plath, 'Ozymandias' by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 'Sonnet 14: If Thou Must Love Me' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Though Shakespeare, the famous English poet is popular for his plays, he has also written 154 sonnets.

Interesting Facts About Sonnets

Here are a few interesting facts about sonnets listed below:

  • They are poems with 14 lines in one stanza and are written with a rhyme.
  • Sonnet is framed in metrical construction, with mostly iambic pentameter.
  • Iambic pentameter has 10 syllables in five pairs for each line, and each pair has a second stressed syllable.
  • The sound of human heartbeat da- dum is used to describe iambic pentameter da- dum, da dum, da dum. Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 12' gives a good example of this da- Dum rhythm with its opening line.
  • Iambic pentameter lines in rhyme pattern with multiple couplets in sets of two as heroic couplets.
  • Sonnets feature two major characters, which are contrast events and emotions or beliefs. Poets use this style to explore these two elements.
  • A specific rhyme pattern for the sonnets from Shakespeare's works is found to be starting with a-b-a-b then moving to c-d-c-d with e-f-e-f rhyming and finally ending with g-g, also ending with the last two lines forming a rhyming couplet.
  • 'Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day?' is a masterpiece from Shakespeare's collection.
  • Another important element of the sonnet is the turn or volta, which indicates the changes from one rhyme to another and signals the change in the subject.
  • The three sonnet types are Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, Spenserian, and Shakespearean or English sonnet.
  • Sonnet forms can be distinguished by their unique rhyme scheme. There are also many other obscure sonnet forms. Some do not have a recognizable rhyming pattern.
  • Some famous sonnet authors are John Milton, John Donne, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edna St Vincent Millay, and Ezra Pound.
  • Sonnets can be knit together in a sequence as the last line of the first is repeated in the first line of the second into a crown of sonnets.

Written By

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