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The Sonnet. The term sonnet is derived from the Provençal word sonet and the Italian word sonetto , both meaning little song . By the thirteenth century, the sonnet had come to signify a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme and logical structure.

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the sonnet
The Sonnet
  • The term sonnet is derived from the Provençal word sonet and the Italian word sonetto, both meaning little song.
  • By the thirteenth century, the sonnet had come to signify a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme and logical structure.
  • Traditionally, when writing sonnets, English poets usually employ iambic pentameter.

types of sonnets
Types of Sonnets
  • The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet is named after Francesco Petrarch(1304-1374), an Italian poet.
the petrarchan sonnet
The Petrarchan Sonnet
  • The Petrarchan sonnet lines break into an octave (or octet), which usually rhymes abbaabba, but sometimes rhymes abbacddc or even (rarely) abababab; and a sestet, which may rhyme xyzxyz or xyxyxy, or any of the multiple variations possible using only two or three rhyme sounds.
types of sonnets4
Types of Sonnets
  • The English or Shakespearean sonnet was first introduced by Henry Howard (1517-1547). Shakespeare made it famous.
the shakespearean sonnet
The Shakespearean Sonnet
  • The English or Shakespearean sonnet consists of three quatrains and a couplet which rhymes abab cdcd efef gg.
  • Shakespeare's sonnets are frequently more earthy and sexual than contemporary sonnet sequences by other poets.
  • Shakespeare purposely reverses conventional gender roles as displayed in Petrarchan sonnets to create a more complex and troubling depiction of love.
characteristics of sonnets

Love @ first sight

Unattainable object of love; unfulfilled love

Lady is ideally beautiful

Love as idolatry

Oxymorons to describe suffering of lover

Poet acknowledges self as author

Rhyme scheme

Strict adherence to form


Rhyme and stanza scheme

More realistic attitudes towards beauty and love

Undoing of Petrarchan notions of beauty

The form consists of three quatrains and a couplet.

The couplet generally introduced an unexpected "turn" called a volta.

Characteristics of Sonnets
petrarch or shakespeare
Blest be the day, and blest the month, the year,

The spring, the hour, the very moment blest,

The lovely scene, the spot, where first oppressed

I sunk, of two bright eyes the prisoner:

And blest the first soft pang, to me most dear,

Which thrilled my heart, when Love became its guest;

And blest the bow, the shafts which pierced my breast.

And even the wounds, which bosomed thence I bear.

Blest too the strains which, poured through glad and grove,

Have made the woodlands echo with her name;

The sighs, the tears, the languishment, the love:

And blest these sonnets, sources of my fame;

And blest the thought—Oh! Never to remove!

Which turns to her alone, from her alone which came.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are 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;

And in some perfume is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound.

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

Petrarch or Shakespeare?